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Smart Home: How Apple, Google, and Samsung will take over your home

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Internet of Things

There are certain buzz words that fly around the internet for so long without taking on a tangible form, that we tend to just tune them out. They become little more than background noise.

Several of these buzz words and phrases in recent times have related to one particular (if far-reaching) area of technology - home automation. Smart homes. The Internet of Things. The Internet of Everything.

We've been hearing these words for years now, but most of us still manually adjust our thermostats, and most of use don't send our washing machines text messages.

But believe us when we say that we're nearing the tipping point where all of these phrases become everyday reality. Here's what major companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google have planned for home automation.

Samsung

What Samsung does in home automation is important, not just because it's one of the biggest tech companies in the world, but because it's one of the broadest. It makes every kind of device that we talk about connecting in this way, from kettles to washing machines, and on - of course - to the smartphones that will control them.

Samsung kicked off its assault on home automation back in January with the announcement of its Smart Home initiative at CES 2014.

Eventually launching in April, Smart Home lets you control a wide variety of home devices - including white goods, living room entertainment systems, and even lightbulbs - through a simple smartphone application.

It allows you to do things like set up macro functions, so saying "goodnight" to the app could be made to turn everything off.

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Samsung Home

But Samsung really put a marker down on the home automation scene when it recently acquired SmartThings - one of the brightest names in smart home technology. SmartThings provides packs of interconnecting general-use smart home gear that's easy to set-up and also relatively easy on the pocket.

These include door and temperature sensors, movement sensors, remote power switches, location-sensing key fobs, and the like. All hook up through a single simple Hub device, and can be controlled through a smartphone app.

Make no mistake, with Samsung's deep pockets, wide-ranging tech concerns, dominant smartphone position, and newly purchased smart home expertise, it's in a unique position to tackle the whole home automation issue holistically.

Apple

Apple has made no major smart home acquisitions, and it doesn't have its fingers in every tech pie like Samsung. This means that it has had to tackle home automation differently.

What it has on its side, of course, is peerless design, uniquely tight and unified hardware and software ecosystems, legendary cash reserves, and an admirable ability to cut out the white noise and patiently get to the nub of a new form factor.

To that end, Apple appears unconcerned with building its own home automation kit. Rather, it wants to provide the software platform to which all the top home automation kit providers subscribe.

Through Apple, your Honeywell smart thermostat will operate on the same platform as your Osram Sylvania smart lights.

That platform, as announced at WWDC 2014 in June, is HomeKit.

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Homekit

Like Samsung's solution, you'll be able to group multiple tasks into what Apple calls "scenes," and use voice recognition (here it's Siri) to activate them. So, you could instruct HomeKit to "get ready for bed," causing your lights to turn off, your garage door to shut, your doors to lock, and your thermostat to lower.

HomeKit will launch with iOS 8 some time in September, and it already has the support of a bunch of the top names in home automation on its side, including Honeywell, Philips, August, iHome, Haier, and Osram Sylvania.

We've already seen that third party accessory companies are keen to support iPhone with speaker docks, headphones, and the like, where Apple provides MFi certification. In recent times, Apple has extended this certification to home automation manufacturers, which gives an indication as to the hands-off approach it wants to take.

Of course, in the case of third party audio gear, Apple then surprised everyone by buying Beats, so don't discount anything.

Google

As 2014 rolled around, Google was known to be experimenting with home automation. Its EnergySense home management service looked likely to be its main tilt at competing in the market.

Then, mid-way through January, the bombshell dropped - Google had agreed a $3.2 billion deal to buy Nest, one of the hottest names in home automation thanks to its stylish smart thermostats and smoke detectors.

It was especially surprising as many had thought it likely that Apple would be the company to buy Nest, given the company's close support for Nest products, its shared focus on slinky design, and the fact that Nest company had been founded by two former Apple engineers.

Google is wisely leaving Nest to run as its own company for the time being, capitalising on the strong brand its has built up in recent times.

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Nest

Its Nest Learning Thermostat, with its distinctive ring shape, smartly learns your usage patterns and optimises your energy usage. Unlike other solutions, it doesn't require remote control from your smartphone to operate, but it does support it.

Now that Google, ambitious and rich as always, is behind the company, you can bet that Nest will branch out from its currently limited roster of gizmos.

In recent months, Google has announced the Works with Nest program. This will enable third party gadgets, remote controls, and even cars to hook up to the Nest Learning Thermostat, effectively turning it into a smart home hub.

Utilising the Nest Learning Thermostat's smarts, a connected Whirlpool tumble drier might observe that a homeowner is not home yet and keep spinning to keep clothes fresh and wrinkle-free. Meanwhile, your Mercedes Benz car will tell the thermostat when you will be home, so it can heat up your house for you.

Like Samsung and Apple, Google is also implementing its voice recognition software. With Google Now on your smarpthone, you'll be able to say "OK Google" and instruct your Nest system to set a certain temperature, or something similar.

LG

LG, like Samsung, has its hand in a lot of the home appliances and home entertainment systems that combine to create a home automation system, though its own plans are a little different.

HomeChat, launched in May, is the name of its main home automation initiative, and it involves the use of instant messaging app Line to literally send messages to your home appliances. In this way, you can use natural language to ask your tumble drier is up to, or to instruct your washing machine to start a cycle.

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LG home

More recently, the company launched the LG Music Flow speaker ecosystem, which takes on Sonos in the music streaming game, and employs HomeChat to enable remote operation from your smartphone.

LG has also launched smart appliances like the LG Smart Refrigerator, which has an internal camera that snaps every time you open the door, allowing you to remotely check exactly which groceries you're short of while out and about.

Qualcomm

Perhaps surprisingly to some, chip manufacturer Qualcomm is making a pronounced push into home automation - and it has one of the most promising solutions of the lot. The American company has led development of AllJoyn, an open source software platform that lets disparate devices connect without the need for a physical hub device.

Devices using AllJoyn can connect together seamlessly. These include speakers, door locks, security cameras, lighting systems - anything we've discussed in this article, really.

Devices don't need to be running Qualcomm processors in order to work with AllJoyn either. It works across chipsets.


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AllJoyn

Indeed, it's AllJoyn's flexibility and inclusiveness that marks it out as one to watch. It's goal is simply to provide a means of communication between all kinds of connected smart devices in the home, using your smartphone or tablet as both hub and controller.  

Companies can even support the standard without giving up their own operating systems or standards, with the proof of this coming through LG's involvement. Sharp, Haier, Panasonic and Sears have also signed up to support it, among many others.

All of which makes AllJoyn arguably the purest and potentially most far reaching home automation solution of the lot.

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Excited about the idea of smarter homes? Let us know in the comments section below.

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