Despite the obvious convenience and efficiency benefits of smart home technologies, home automation gifting for non-savvy technology buyers has sometimes been challenging. The smart home products of yesterday were often too complicated to install for gift recipients or required professional installation. Do-It-Yourselfers (DIY) with technical backgrounds might appreciate receiving a smart home gift, but the average consumer may be overwhelmed by the prospect of installing a smart home product, not to mention figuring out how to connect it with other existing devices within the home.
Fortunately, times are changing – fast. Smart home ecosystem companies have significantly stepped up collaboration in recent years with two primary goals in mind: 1) simplify the products; and 2) make it easier for devices to all work with each other. Anyone familiar with the smart home market knows technology ecosystem players have been diligently working for years to improve product interoperability. But finally, after more than a decade of figuring out the plumbing, smart home companies are now spending more resources on improving the product user and installation experience.
Shop In-Store, Not Online
The best way to see this for yourself is to walk into a retail store such as a Best Buy, IKEA or Walmart. This year brick and mortar retailers have realized the consumer appeal of seeing the home automation products up close and in-person; therefore, in-store demos have increased dramatically. In fact, brick and mortar retailers are starting to see an uptick in smart home sales purchases in-store versus online because of the value of hands-on product displays, such as the Nest thermostat.
Another emerging shopping venue this year is smart home house parties. Similar in theme to Tupperware parties of the past, the idea behind these events is to get more people exposed to seeing how the products work inside a person’s real home. Granted, we may be running out of time to receive smart home house party invitations before the holidays, but this is a new way to buy products and something to consider for the future.
2.4 GHz vs. sub-GHz Considerations
Although it’s not visible to homeowners, many homes have a good amount of data traffic running across Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radio frequency bands, through music speakers, office computers, video games or Netflix movies. All of this data traffic uses the 2.4 GHz band, meaning traffic congestion or interference occurs regularly, sometimes resulting in sluggish performance, product or Internet latency or inoperable devices. However, vendors are working hard to ensure all of these 2.4 GHz devices, whether they use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee or Thread, can coexist with the other. So, while there is lots going on behind the scenes with 2.4 GHz technologies, for users, it just works.
That being said, when you set out to purchase smart home products, if your household typically has a good deal of Internet traffic on a regular basis, it may be worthwhile to look for products that run on sub-GHz. Years ago, the sub-GHz frequency band was more crowded in the home, due to cordless phones and other wireless devices that used this band. However, with migration to 2.4 GHz and even higher frequencies, sub-GHz has become a quieter radio spectrum in the home and offers easier transmission and fewer retries for data and devices running across it. Fewer transmissions made over a radio frequency results in less power used, ultimately saving battery power for smart home devices. Another potential benefit of sub-GHz is it offers longer wireless range across the house. As radio waves pass through walls, fences, closets, etc., the signal weakens (as we have all experienced with Wi-Fi). Higher frequency bands weaken more quickly when transmissions run into obstacles, meaning the 2.4GHz signal, a higher frequency band than sub-GHz, loses its strength faster due to physical barriers, though it often overcomes this issue by transmitting at a higher output power.
Wizard of Oz Integration
As complicated as that all may sound, the takeaway for a smart home shopper is sub-GHz smart home products are more reliable, robust and energy efficient, if you have a good amount of traffic occurring in your household. The Ring Protect System, built on Silicon Labs’ Z-Wave technology, is a good example of a smart home product that has leveraged the performance benefits of sub-GHz. It has also become so easy to use that no technical skills are required. All you need to do is take it out of the box and plug it in.
The collaboration within the industry among smart home vendors, manufacturers, cloud companies and hardware and software companies is now starting to pay off. Some may consider the new user-friendly products magic when they experience their ease of use, but the real genius lies in the relentless and complex work of technological integration across the entire smart home ecosystem of companies. In fact, most users don’t care whether it is sub-GHz technologies, like Z-Wave, or 2.4 GHz technologies, such as Bluetooth Low Energy or Zigbee. What they are really looking for is that it “works with Alexa” or “works with the Google Assistant.” That phrase is one of the keys to ensuring products work with each other and are easier to use than ever before, meaning even the most technically challenged family member this year is a candidate for a smart home gift.
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