Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Internet of Things
You've undoubtedly heard about the smart home trend sweeping the technologically literate, but maybe you haven't really looked into what it means, or how it could change - improve, we daresay! - your home.
WTF is IoT?
The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, sounds like a goofy buzzword made by someone who couldn't be bothered to get more specific, but it's vague for a reason.
The term is basically a catch-all for devices that connect to the internet. These devices can be cars, speakers, watches, TVs, or even refrigerators. Anything that can connect to the internet and share data back and forth is an IoT device, and the potential of these devices is what has excited and worried a lot of people in the past few years.
The Good Stuff
First we'll start with why this is exciting.
Picture a fridge that tells you what's inside at any given time, keeps track of expiration dates, and can directly order food from grocers when you run out.
You could create your own home security system that arms when you leave and disarms when you return home, all without opening an app. The doors keylessly unlock as you approach, and the thermostat automatically adjusts to just how you like it. Lights pop on at sunset and shut off at sunrise, and there's even a special light by your bed that gradually brightens each morning to wake you up without the use of an annoying harsh alarm.
Or maybe your smart watch, which constantly gathers data about your health, can speak directly to the exercise equipment you use, and can then upload all of that data to your doctor, who can make use of it to evaluate your health in a way not previously possible based on the occasional and brief visit.
All of these scenarios are currently possible, and that's pretty neat.
The Internet of Things envisions a future in which connected devices learn who we are and use that knowledge to automatically adjust when we want them to. Light switches become obsolete, bills become cheaper, and your home becomes much more customizable. The music you love is but one spoken phrase away from lilting through the perfectly-cooled air of your perfectly-lit home.
The Bad Stuff
Which brings us to the dark side of things.
Naturally, you may be wondering how safe this stuff is. After all, that's a lot of data - your data - floating through the air and invisibly traipsing back and forth to the cloud. What happens if hackers get a hold of it?
You don't have to wonder, because this has happened more than once. Certain WiFi routers have been proven to have security flaws you could drive a truck through, and once you have a ton of IoT devices hooked up to a faulty router, bad things happen.
Many companies specializing in IoT devices are startups, meaning they're often launched via crowdfunding and have no other major financial backing. Inevitably, many of them shut down, and all of the services that make their super cool IoT devices work (like the app, server storage, etc.) also shut down. Long is the list of deceased IoT companies, but you can sidestep a lot of the worry by going with established brands like Nest (owned by Google) or Samsung. These are also far more likely to stay on top of potential insecurities and patch their flaws.
There are lots of IoT devices that make use of a camera, such as security cameras and pet cams. Similar to how everyone freaks out about the camera on their laptop potentially spying on them, cameras make people nervous - especially when they're in your house and constantly connected to the internet. If someone could look in on your house and see that you're not home, breaking in would become a lot easier.
Like all good things, there are of course a lot of ways this beautiful new technology could go wrong. Instead of focusing on the downsides, though, imagine the possibilities!
How The Smart Home Works
Implementing IoT devices in your home becomes easier every year, but it's still not as simple as just turning them on. For the most part, the individual devices are only smart enough to do what they're designed for. They need a way to talk to each other, and that means you'll need a smart home hub.
There are a lot of different options for your hub, but the most popular are Samsung SmartThings, Wink, and Google Home. Apple's forthcoming HomePod will also do the trick, and Amazon's newest Echo speaker even has a small hub built in.
In short, there are a ton of options. You'll have to read around for more specifics, but in general you want a hub with a robust app (since that's how you'll be controlling it), and you'll want to make sure it can actually talk to all of the IoT devices you plan to use. It's also a good idea to find one with on-board batteries so that your whole network doesn't immediately die if you lose power.
Some devices communicate using WiFi, others use Bluetooth, and some use other wireless connection protocols called ZigBee or Z-Wave. While some hubs can handle all of these, others can only handle a few and won't work with the others.
If you're confused, that's okay. Start with the hub, find one with great reviews, and then build your network out from there.
You'll be a pro in no time, and your house will be so smart that your friends and family will look on with jealousy, wondering how you got so cool. Some data even suggests that homebuyers are willing to pay more for a smart home.
If you're interested in learning more about how technology is transforming the world of real estate, read our post on The Future of Cities.