"Internet of things" is, at face value, a pretty meaningless buzzword. It refers to the multitude of tiny, energy-efficient gadgets with Wi-Fi connectivity that are filling up our lives — 'net-connected kettles and powerboards and sprinkler systems.
But it also refers to the broader technology standards and infrastructure that allow these devices to exist, and to talk to the Web and to each other — and it's this infrastructure that lets you build yourself a home from the future.
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What Is The Internet Of Things, Really?
It's easy to dismiss the internet of things as a lazy excuse for anyone and everyone to shoe-horn a Wi-Fi radio into their otherwise non-smart gadgets — we're talking toasters and vacuum cleaners and sous vide cookers. But when you're talking about the internet of things at a larger, more homogenous 'smart home' level, it definitely has its advantages and can save you time and effort in areas like home maintenance and your power bill.
The internet of things, like the name suggests, relies upon the internet for communication — and, in the case of a quality internet of things gadget, that means a direct connection to a server on the 'net, rather than directly to your phone or PC via a short-range connection like Bluetooth. Many internet of things gadgets use that online connectivity to let you control your device through a Web browser, or often via an Android or iOS app.
These gadgets are designed to communicate with each other, too. Although there are a multitude of internet of things standards, broader ecosystems like SmartThings and wireless protocols like Z-Wave or ZigBee exist that mean one smart home device can talk to another and make it possible for your entire home to work smartly. With a bit of care in choosing the devices that you purchase, especially if they're more expensive ones that you get installed in your home, you can make sure everything operates in harmony.
The eventual Nirvana of a smart home that we're all trying to achieve is one where you, by the time you've pulled your car up in the driveway, your gate has opened, the blinds are up and letting in the afternoon sun, your front door is unlocked, the air conditioning is on, there's a roast cooking in the oven and Game of Thrones is playing on your TV — and this is all possible through the internet of things.
How Can The Internet Of Things Make My Home Smart?
Internet of things devices are becoming increasingly common, and there's a divide between those that use their own standards for inter-device and internet communications, and ones that rely on open hardware standards and Wi-Fi communication protocols. One isn't necessarily better than the other, though — when you're talking about specialised devices, especially those that are more completely integrated and installed into your home, specialised communication methods are often necessary.
Take the automated, internet-connected sprinkler system in a smart home, for example. Irrigation systems are almost always installed for the long term, and while Wi-Fi wouldn't be an easy method of controlling your individual gardening sprinklers from within your house — you likely wouldn't have Wi-Fi coverage — their central control box might be connected to your home network either through Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection.
But there are a huge range of internet of things products starting to appear on the shelves of our favourite electronics stores, as well as at specialty installers that produce more complete device ecosystems. There's a gadget for everything — smart lights, smart blinds, smart home entertainment and audio, smart cooking devices like stoves and fridges and coffee makers, and smart home systems like air conditioning and security systems.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be taking a look at some of the world's most advanced smart homes, how some internet of things gadgets can make your life easier both at home and while you're out, and give you some tips for setting up your smart home in a way that works for you. Stay tuned.