What's the Diff... Home Automation vs. Smart Home?
I periodically get asked about the difference between "Home Automation" (HA) and "Smart Home" Technology (SHT). Generally, I provide a [typically] flippant answer that HA is for rich people and SHT is for everyone else. Realistically "home automation" is a more an abstract concept than an actual thing. However, putting aside the varying difference of the terms (depending on what you read), and understanding there's more to it, in a commercial sense I usually elaborate that HA is a Smart Home that's typically managed by a "controller". Such a controller is generally made up of a combination of proprietary hardware, software, devices, apps, and services, all installed, managed, and supported by a "professional" integrator.
Lets do a shallow IMHO dive into both HA & SHT... of course including my opinions... nothing I'm ever in short supply of. 😁
For transparency... I'm not a fan of HA or even most SHT for that matter... which I'll discuss later. I've been in many fancy-pants homes and, IMHO have yet to see a system worth the cost. I've personally interacted with properties having big name HA systems, and nearly always leave unimpressed... whether lacking intrinsic value, suffering from errors & issues, or simply just not living up to expectations, I've often felt that for most of us, a "professional" HA system is usually not the answer. However, for those definitely going the HA route... if you're paying new car prices for your system, it better F'n work 24 x 7 x 365 for years on end. Hopefully it becomes more than just a revenue stream for the provider / integrator.
So, among others, what exactly might a HA system do... what are the features? Well, here's a random list reflecting a few:
Provide "whole home" Wi-Fi.
Improve in-home cellular signal.
Provide wiring / low-voltage contracting services when needed.
Connect household speakers to one music feed / channel.
Add telepresence capabilities to your TVs.
Sync TVs & monitors to one feed / channel.
Provide video surveillance feeds on sync'd TVs & monitors.
Integrate an alarm system with video surveillance.
Integrate access control (doors / locks).
Control interior & exterior lighting.
Control HVAC system.
Control pool, spa, and other luxury amenities.
Add timer-based capabilities to features.
Add remote access capabilities to features.
Provide voice-activated assistants to manage features.
Provide table or wall-mount devices to manage features.
Provide proprietary app(s) to manage features.
Aside from the above, many other things can be potentially integrated, such as; window coverings, doorbells, fans, garage doors, landscape sprinklers, etc..
So, if you're rich, live in Beverly Hills, have Josh Flagg's bank account, wanna pose, or simply have cash to burn... then maybe a HA system is for you. Again, I'm biased, and IMHO, HA is legacy tech and often times can be replaced by simple OTS items you may already be utilizing. It's not uncommon for some to mimic an HA system using tech purchased from Apple, Google, or from your local Best Buy. Let me expand on this by taking the HA features noted above and providing possible thoughts on how to mimic HA with SHT.
Before I do... if you haven't read my previous posts... I simply don't recommend specific products & services and therefore don't get paid to do such, avoiding paid bias. Personal bias is one thing, but I believe being paid to be biased is dastardly. So, anything I recommend is purely for example purposes and I'm not getting paid for such or endorsing such in any way whatsoever. So, below is the list from above with added comments on possible applications.
For brevity, I'll just provide a few simple notes, and it'll be up to you to investigate the applicability of solutions on your own:
Provide "whole home" Wi-Fi. This can be super easy with something like a Google Nest Wifi mesh system. I talk more about Home Internet Here and Wi-Fi Here.
Improve in-home cellular signal. Often easily done with a Femtocell. You can find solutions like this from AT&T and this from Verizon.
Provide wiring / low-voltage contracting services when needed. Why tear up your walls? Most wired devices are ethernet based so you can just use the port built into one of your Wi-Fi hotspots. Most WAPs like the Google Nest have an Ethernet port, or if not, you could simply grab a range extender from Linksys, Netgear, or others.
Connect household speakers to one music feed / channel. There are soooo many options for integrated music throughout your house from the likes of Apple, Sonos, Bose, and many others. Happy surfing!
Add telepresence capabilities to your TVs. Many devices like the Amazon Fire TV Cube, Google Chromecast with Google TV, and Xbox allow you to connect USB Hubs along with a webcam to provide a telepresence experience. Belkin and many others make USB hubs. Logitech is a leading provider of Webcams. You may need a bit of IT skill and time to verify compatibility first, but I've seen it done for about $150. You could go super easy and just mirror your phone to your TV. Assuming you have an Apple TV device, just buy a Joby Gorilla Pod mount/holder, place your phone next to your TV, mirror it, and away you go.
Sync TVs & monitors to one feed / channel. This is one where there's a ton of different options. Me, I've seen it done cost effectively with Apple TV Devices combined with AirParrot software, via Wireless HDMI from IO Gear, or simply by running a longer HDMI cable (if near enough). Some companies like Tripp Lite make powered HDMI extenders.
Provide video surveillance feeds on sync'd TVs & monitors. This opens up a larger world of opportunities we'll touch on later, but for those in the Google world, the Google Home App can be used in conjunction with supporting hardware like certain Nest cams to display on your TV via a Chromecast device or enabled TV. Similarly, with Apple, you can utilize HomeKit along with and iPad, Apple TV Device, and certain Arlo cameras. I discuss cameras more in this Post.
Integrate an alarm system with video surveillance. This is becoming a native feature for providers, and found through commonly known brands like Ring, SimpliSafe, and others where one app can support both alarm and surveillance functions. I discuss alarms more in this Post.
Integrate access control (doors / locks). Most access control devices are vendor specific, but HomeKit supports quite a variety with Yale, Schlage, and Kwikset being popular options.
Control interior & exterior lighting. Many vendors like Philips, Sylvania, etc., support HomeKit or Google Assistant for app and/or voice control.
Control HVAC system. I'm sure you've heard of Nest Thermostats? However, if you're just coming out from under a rock, there's other large players like Honeywell that offer connected equipment.
Control pool, spa, and other luxury amenities. Are you really so lazy you can't just utilized the fancy controls that come with your fancy new spa or other equipment? Really!!! 🤪
Add timer-based capabilities to features. Many SHT vendor apps offer time-based control. HomeKit has a cool function called "scenes".
Add remote access capabilities to features. Obviously, this would be an intrinsic property of an SHT / IoT / connected device.
Provide voice-activated assistants to manage features. Using Google Assistant, HomeKit, and other tech that could be part of any connection could naturally provide Hey Google & Siri support.
Provide table or wall-mount devices to manage features. If you don't want to constantly utilize your phone, simply purchase a dedicated iPad or Android tablet, depending on your system requirements, and place in convenient location for anyone to manage the system. You can even buy cool low-profile iPad wall mounts that can be setup to provide photo slideshows and other programming when not in use... electronic wall art on the cheap! Just be sure to accommodate power requirements.
Provide proprietary app(s) to manage features. From my experience, I've found apps from Google, Apple, Ring, etc.. to be more safe and stable than proprietary HA apps. You should evaluate the quality of app before adopting any related SHT. I talk more about homeowner apps here.
You could probably infer that for many, the best starting point is to pick your ecosystem and go from there. As you can guess, two of the main players are Apple ang Google. I utilize both, but find Apple better for mimicking HA with SHT as HomeKit is really maturing well. The key is both strong Internet (see previous post HERE) and kick-ass Wi-Fi (also posted about HERE).
However, it must be noted that with SHT it's generally DIY time. So, if you don't have IT skills... maybe SHT is not for you. There are integration providers for some items, like Nest, which has certified installers ("Nest Pros"), but generally most of the time, you're on your own.
While some like the fact an HA system comes with "experienced professionals" who install and/or manage your system... Me, personally, I'd feel very oogy about having someone I never met prior to installation day (i.e. rando) having total control over my entire home... just sayin! I value my security too much to let such a thing occur. Plus I have better things to do than chat with that rando all day about their life.
Anyways, as noted, I'm not a fan of either HA or SHT, and always recommend against such. Life is complicated enough without a bunch of tech to manage. When did minor physical items like pulling blinds closed, clicking the light switch on/off, and turning down the A/C dial become such a plague on humanity. Like motorized tailgates on SUVs... really... all this clearly shows how human behavior has devolved since the 90's. #EndCommentary. Anyways, I digress... each piece of tech adds yet another potential point of vulnerability to your devices, network, home, and person. For me it's just not worth it, especially with HA, where that rando has access to your entire life... too creepy IMHO. At least with SHT, you can spread potential points of vulnerability among multiple vendors / scenarios. HERE's a link to a previous post on Smart Homes.
That's it for now... if not informative, hope this post was at least entertaining... thanks for stopping by today! 🐱💻 Always feel free to e-mail me comments. You can find my info on the "Team" Page.
DISCLAIMER: I'm just a guy who's been around tech and knows some stuff. I always remind others that what I say is purely FWIW, IMO, FFT, FYI, and many other acronyms... so while I strive to convey quality deets... you get no promises as to accuracy or validity of anything I write or say. I'm sure a lawyer would say; information not guaranteed, actual results may vary, and use at your own risk.