Technology is advancing at a pace that very few South Africans are able to keep up with. We’ve all heard about Smart Homes and Smart devices but, what exactly are these, how do they work, and how can we make use of them?
With so many advanced smart home security products and setup options, you may think it’s time to say goodbye to your security company. As much as I’d love to agree with that, the truth is the best way to ensure the security of your family and home is by arranging a complimentary set up between smart home security devices and your regular security company.
We’re going to start this guide off with an overview of your smart device voice control platform options and then move on to discussing how smart devices work. We will then look at a variety of smart devices starting from the simplest smart light bulbs to complex smart indoor alarm systems.
What is a smart home?
There is no set definition of a smart home. It’s a concept that is entirely unique to individual households but will include the use of one or more smart devices. A smart device is simply an electric device that you can communicate with through your mobile phone or a hub interface.
A simple example of a smart device and how it connects to your phone
Smart bulbs are one of the best introductory smart devices and I recommend you start with this product to get your smart home going. A smart bulb is just like a regular bulb and connects to a light fitting in the same way. The difference is that it is either Bluetooth or WiFi-enabled.
This means that the light bulb can communicate with your phone via WiFi or Bluetooth. You can then use your phone to communicate with the light bulb to switch it on and off, change its colours or increase and decrease brightness, to name but a few.
- If you are an iPhone user, you have a Home application to which you can add your smart light bulb. You can then say “Hey Siri” and ask her to switch the light on and off.
- If you have an Amazon Alexa station you can say “Alexa, switch light on”.
- If you’re a Google user you can connect your smart bulb to Google Home and ask your Google assistant to switch your light on and off.
- Microsoft’s Cortana is not a popular smart device assistant and you’ll find very few devices compatible with it.
Now, this is where things get a little messy.
Not all smart devices can connect to all the platforms so if you use an iPhone, some smart devices may not be compatible with the Apple Home App and you will therefore not be able to use Siri to control devices. Likewise, some devices can only work with Google Home and Alexa.
In addition, devices that are not WiFi-enabled will only work when you are within Bluetooth range. To control these devices from anywhere you will need to purchase a hub that will connect all of your devices to your WiFi router.
What is a smart home ecosystem?
A smart home ecosystem is simply a collection of smart devices which are controlled and managed through a central smart device hub or through a smart home application. Google Home, Apple’s Home, or Amazon’s Alexa are voice assistants which can help you voice control your smart devices.
You do not need to use a voice assistant to enjoy smart devices or create a smart home ecosystem but, it’s cool and part of the appeal of setting a smart home up in the first place.
Smart devices for security you can buy and install yourself
Smart light bulbs
This is the first smart product that we’re going to delve into are smart light bulbs because they are the simplest to understand and set up and are generally affordable. You can buy a smart light bulb anywhere from R260 to R700.
When buying one you need to look at what assistant platform it is compatible with (Android or iOS), whether it’s Bluetooth or WiFi-enabled (which will determine if you need a hub), the number of lumens (the more the better), and, the features it offers such as changing colours and adjusting brightness.
Smart bulbs are simply multi-coloured lights that can be remotely controlled via an application on your Smartphone or via Google Assistant, Siri’s My Home, or Alexa.
Almost all new plug-and-play security cameras can be monitored via an app from any mobile phone, tablet, or PC browser. The latest DIY security cameras offer up to 1080P HD resolution, PIR or motion detection, night vision capabilities, emergency notifications, and two-way audio capabilities. With all these features, you can set up a decent home security system, which you can control and monitor remotely from anywhere in the world.
It is, however, important to keep in mind that wireless cameras need to be charged and are best for indoor applications. To set up an outdoor CCTV camera system, hardwired cameras that are weatherproof are the best investment. They do not need to be charged, can withstand rain and sun and you’ll never have to worry about lag or poor WiFi connection.
Smart locks are generally Bluetooth enabled and will require that you install the linked app to set up and control it. The main benefits of a smart lock are that you can open and lock your door without a key, making it ideal for those who have an Airbnb or guest house on their property and that you can monitor the status of your door from your smartphone.
That being said, it may be a good device to install in countries with low crimes rates or in highly secure apartment buildings but, in South Africa, we have a few too many gates and doors to get through to make it worth setting up smart locks (from a security perspective). For keyless entry and exit, you will benefit more from installing digital locks which can also connect to your security company.
Smart wall plugs
Smart home plugs allow you to add everyday appliances and electronics to your smart home ecosystem. They are also either WiFi or Bluetooth enabled and allow you to switch things on and off from your phone or smart hub.
You can also set a daily and weekly schedule for the plug to automatically go on and off. Some of the higher-end plugs allow you to track electrical usage as well. Smart plugs retail at anything between R280.00 and R600.00. They also come in two and three-point types as well as extension-type smart plugs.
Similar to wall plugs, smart switches will allow you to turn on and turn off one of two devices at a time. You can also set schedules, manage electrical usage, and keep track of power and voltage via the Smartphone app.
Smart switches are not as popular in South Africa as in other countries that are leading the Smart Home trend so, you can only find a handful of options, from online stores like Takealot and Builders among others.
Smart home motion sensors
Motion sensors are by no means new to South Africans who have been using them as an integral part of their home security systems for a very long time. Outdoor motion sensors and beams as well as indoor passives are part and parcel of a home security system that is effective.
These PIR motion detectors and regular detectors differ from the “non-Smart” versions only in that they are WiFi-enabled and can be controlled and monitored remotely from any device. These sensors can be connected to your home alarm as well as to your security company, so they provide added layers of safety and security.
Smart doorbells and chimes
There aren’t any retailers that currently have Smart doorbells for sale in South Africa. The reason for this is because, in South Africa, unlike in other countries where these smart doorbells are popular, we rarely have people come up to our doors since we usually have perimeter fences and walls, security gates, and dogs, at the very least.
Video intercom systems are therefore much more popular as they incorporate an intercom for you to hear and speak to a visitor as well as a camera. For people that live in flats and, are looking for a doorbell, the Yale wireless door chime bell is a great, hassle-free option for you.
What do you think about smart devices? Which of the devices listed have you purchased and used in your home? If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to share it with others and leave a comment below – we’ll love to hear about which product, makes and modules you’re using and what you think of them.