When you add devices to your smarthome, you usually have to download and use additional apps, which is frustrating and confusing. You can avoid all that—and you don’t need a hub to do it. You just need one app.
Other than voice, the best to way to control your smarthome is through a single app. This is especially true if multiple family members interact with your smarthome. If everyone is always second-guessing which app controls the living room lights and which controls the smart plugs, you might be tempted to give up in frustration.
It’s even worse when you have to change infrequently used options, like routines, timers, or scenes. If you can’t remember which app locks the door every day, you have to dig through all of them one by one.
If, however, you control every function of all your smarthome devices through a single app, you can eliminate all (or most) of the confusion. After it’s correctly set up, you’ll only need the other apps for firmware updates and, occasionally, some additional features.
The average smarthome might not need incredibly complex routines, in which case either Google Home or Alexa will work well as your single app. The bonus here is all your smartphone, tablet, and voice controls are all in one place.
You do have to make sure all your devices support your voice assistant of choice. That list is growing all the time, though. If you already own Google Home or Alexa speakers, definitely consider whether any smarthome gadget you buy is compatible with them.
If you’re an Apple fan, you can use HomeKit and the Home app. But just like Google Home and Alexa, you need to make sure all your devices have HomeKit support. HomeKit has some distinct advantages (like Apple Watch support) and, depending on your hardware, more local control. This means some of your commands will process more quickly than they would with Alexa or Google Home.
If you own a smarthub, like SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Hubitat, or HomeSeer, they also have apps with dashboards to control your devices. You might not be able to control all features (like routines) in the app, though. Also, many Wi-Fi devices created for Alexa and Google Home aren’t compatible with hubs.
Hubs don’t offer native voice control either, so you still have to pair everything to your Google Home or Alexa app if you want that. However, smarthubs generally provide more powerful automation than voice assistants do.
Unfortunately, “single app control” doesn’t mean “single app install.” To get started, you still have to install the app associated with your new smarthome device. You use that to set up the device and get it working. Then, you connect it to your single-app solution, whether that’s Google Home, Alexa, or HomeKit.
For Google Home, open the Home app, tap the add button, tap “Set Up Device,” and then tap the “Works with Google” option. The Google Home app presents you with a list of manufacturers. Find the right one and follow the linking process.
The process for Alexa is similar. Open the Alexa app, tap the hamburger menu in the top left, and then tap “Add Device.” Pick the category of the smart device—for example, “Light” or “Plug.” Select its manufacturer and follow the prompts to link your accounts.
HomeKit features the most intuitive process to add a device. Tap “Add Accessory,” and then use your iPhone or iPad’s camera to scan the QR code on the device’s box. Follow the prompts to name the device and add it to a room.
Every smarthub has a different method to add devices. The process can also vary depending on the type of device it is (Z-wave, Zigbee, light bulb, light switch, etc.). You can check the website for your smarthub to see the current method to add a device.
You can also set up sharing for your family members, so everyone has single-app access. In the Google Home app, tap “Add,” and then choose “Invite a Home Member.” For Alexa, you log in on Amazon’s Household site and add members to your Alexa Household. In Apple’s Home app, tap the Home icon in the upper left-hand corner. Tap “Home Settings,” and then tap the Home (you most likely only have the one) to which you want to invite someone. Under the people section, tap “Invite” and follow the prompts.
Despite the single-app goal, you shouldn’t uninstall the original app for your smart devices. You’ll still need to use them sometimes. For example, Alexa and Google can’t upgrade firmware for your smart plugs, so you have to do that through the original app.
Sometimes, you also miss out on a few features when you go through a different app. For instance, the Philips Hue app offers more color choices for your light bulbs than the Google Home app. In that particular case, it might be helpful to create a scene in the Philips Hue app (there might be similar options for other devices in their specific apps).
Google Home, Alexa, and HomeKit all offer some amount of scene support, depending on the device, which lets you stay in your single app more often. For more fine-tuned control, though, you still need the original app.
Still, if you can control at least 90 percent of your devices, routines, timers, etc. in a single app, you’ll spend a lot less time trying to figure out which app to use. And you and the rest of your family will be thankful you put in the effort.