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A Quick Review of Smart Home Technology

Today, the Smart Home has become (almost) plug-and-play. That’s a revolutionary development that real estate agents and brokers need to understand. Before Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, a Smart Home was almost always hard-wired. Features were built into the home during new construction. A single standard never emerged. It was arguably a fad that had all but faded into a very small market niche.

All of that has changed. Both the Amazon and Google devices, which are powered by the Internet and controlled by voice commands, have given birth to some bona fide affordable smart home systems. It is now possible, for essentially all of America’s homes to become “Smart”. Let’s take a quick look of the two dominant devices at the center of this home tech revolution.

Amazon Echo & “Alexa”

The Amazon Echo and its family of products (Echo Dot, Echo Spot, Echo Plus, Echo Show) are devices marketed as digital personal assistants because they use machine learning to get smarter. Amazon describes the Echo as  “a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service.”

When you pair the Echo with “Alexa-ready” smart home devices and modules –that are widely available from a huge list of major (and minor) manufacturers –you can make a home ‘smart’.  By simply speaking a command to the Echo, it can lock doors, adjust lights and thermostats, open and close garage doors, turn on sprinklers and appliances. Echo can also play music from your host services like Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Tuneln and others. You can also listen to audiobooks, radio stations, news and get the weather. Echo can serve as a personal assistant maintaining shopping and “To Do” list, set times and alarms.

Echo with Alexa can do all these incredible things based on what Amazon calls “Skills.” Every developer that has software or hardware that interfaces with Alexa must develop a Skill. That Skill can only be used when it is “enabled” within the Alexa smartphone app. That’s the app you will use to setup and control Alexa. Once the Skill is activated and assuming the software/hardware works, you have to use a specific phrase for Alexa to use that Skill.

For example, if you want to disarm your ADT house alarm, you have to say, exactly, “Alexa, ask ADT to disarm the system with PIN 1234.” Get it right, or the cops will soon be at your doorstep.

Google Home, Mini and Max

Google Home is very similar to the Amazon Echo, but was a little late to the smart house party. Although Amazon has nearly 70% market share,  Google has a formidable competing device in Google Home.

Google doesn’t have a cute name for its Voice Service like Amazon does with Alexa; it is activated by saying “Hey Google.” The biggest differentiation that Google has is that it understands, to a very large degree, plain language commands and that it can identify individual voices, which allows for personalized responses.

What gives Google Home its biggest advantage is its ability to tap into Google’s search seamlessly. Because Google also uses plain language Voice Control, it is much faster than Amazon Echo. This is because Alexa requires an interface or “Skill” to access the internet.

Google Home is still learning, and listening, like Amazon, all the time. And that’s one thing that does scare people: the privacy issue. Amazon has addressed this, even in court, to prove that the listening data is aggregated, not separated. But Google went one step further and put on a switch to turn the microphone off manually, and it lights up to remind you it is off.


The bottom line

Smart Home tech is going to get better. The cost is going to come down even more, and it’s going to be everywhere. Amazon, Google and others like Apple expected to push hard into this space. Agents and brokers need to stay on top of home tech as their customers expect them to be home experts.

Do you know something that Amazon Echo can do that Google Home can’t do for the home or vice-versa? Email us your ideas for a potential future story.