With the recent popularity of voice-controlled devices like Amazon Echo/Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit, there has been intensifying consumer interest in smart home technology. According to Tech Analysis Research , one in four U.S. households have smart home devices, with the most popular device being the smart speaker. People are discovering how to use voice control to engage with their favorite music, look up information, and connect to various apps that make life easier at home. But people who limit their smart homes to voice control are missing out on the life-changing experience of true home automation.
It’s true that voice control tools like Amazon Echo/Alexa can be linked to smart home applications – you can tell Alexa to dim the lights or turn on the thermostat. However, although voice control tools can help make your home “smarter” by connecting with smart home devices via remote control, these voice control tools are not truly home automation systems.
Voice control is a form of remote control: instead of flipping a switch to turn on a light, your voice is the trigger. The trigger issues a command, changing ‘on’ to ‘off’ or ‘off’ to ‘on’ or a request, to play a specific song or type of music.
Home automation, on the other hand, is triggered when specific conditions are met, i.e.:
- When garage door opens after sunset, turn on porch lights.
- When motion is sensed in the hallway between 11:30pm and 5am, send an alert/notification.
- If the carbon monoxide sensor detects CO, flash all lights and activate siren/warning signal.
Furthermore, automation can set not only an ‘off’ or ‘on’ state but the degree of ‘on’: i.e.:
- If motion is sensed in the kitchen between 6am and 9am, turn lights on to 100%.
- If motion is sensed in the master bath between 1am and 5am, turn lights on to 20%.
Key Differences between Remote Control and Home Automation
Here are a few key points to understand what makes home automation systems different from the “remote control” voice devices:
Voice Control Can Interact with Smart Home Devices, but Does Not Automate Them
Many people begin their home automation journey with a voice control device like Amazon Echo/Alexa. Next, they might connect with other smart home devices such as smart light bulbs, smart door locks, or smart alarm systems. Amazon Echo/Alexa can help you control your smart home devices, and this article outlines some of those, but they are just that, “remote control” -- used to turn things on and off with your command.
A true home automation system creates constant connection and interoperability for your entire home so that your home’s devices work when and how you want them to work. It’s the brain center that stores all the rules and conditions governing how and when you want your devices to work; a home automation system essentially runs itself.
Voice Control is Cloud-Dependent while Home Automation Systems Don’t Require the Cloud
Voice control devices like Amazon Echo/Alexa use cloud-based processing – and there are some advantages to cloud-based processing, as described in this article:
Amazon Echo is an example of a device that uses cloud-based services to analyze data. Could Amazon have made Echo with local processing? They could have, but that might have taken away Echo’s ability to understand rich, natural language and made the device less affordable. However, cloud-based processing comes with trade-offs, the biggest of which is the possibility of a privacy breach.”
who want to include security functions under the purview of their home automation system will require a higher level of privacy than cloud-dependent home automation systems can offer. If you are using smart locks, smart home alarms, and other security-related devices, you surely will not want your device data sent to or stored in the cloud. Data security and cloud-based processing are at odds with each other; they can’t coexist.
With local home automation systems, you don’t have to worry about data security. In fact, a local home automation system does not require Internet access, and even if your Internet connection is down, your local home automation system will keep working, since it is a localsolution. (However, even though a local home automation system itself is not cloud-reliant, make sure it’s still compatible with cloud-connected devices.)
Home Automation Systems are Customizable
Home automation systems are comprehensive, customizable, and scalable. You can add as many devices as you want, and the brain center serves as a central platform for the efficient, organized operation of your automated home. You can create simple or complex rules to automate any device in your home and dictate how and when your devices activate or turn off.
Voice control devices are creating lots of buzz, as people become intrigued by the possibilities of talking to a friendly AI voice and using their voice to cue up music or dim the lights. Smart speakers may be a good entree into the world of home automation, but “voice control” is not the same as “home automation”.
So which should you choose, voice control or home automation? The answer for many homeowners is both! The simplicity, efficiency and convenience of home automation is a life-changing experience. Pairing home automation with a smart speaker such as Amazon Echo adds an extra layer of control, allowing you to quickly override automations when you need to, or fill in the gaps to control devices you haven’t automated yet. Together, automation and control can be the perfect combination or ease.
 TechAnalysis Research author Bob O’Donnell, President and Chief Analyst, “The Evolving Smart Home” November, 2017.