The Future of the Smart Hub

The other day I was reading this CNET article ( about the future of smart home hubs and, given many of you are passionate about this kind of tech, would love to get the community’s thoughts! The author’s premise is that the smart home hub of old (like SmartThings, Wink etc.) will cease to exist and will continue to be replaced by more integrated devices and “smart speakers” like Alexa and Google Home.

So what do you all think about this? What’s the future of the smart hub? Do those of you who have both a smart hub and an Alexa/Google Home think they can peacefully co-exist?

The problem, simply put, with SmartThings and other “generic” solutions is that it’s hard to provide a compelling user interface for devices connected to a smart hub. I have a SmartThings and it works great for simple devices like my water/flood sensors, remote controlled light switches…

But before I bought the Sense I considered purchasing a simpler power meter that would export data via zigbee and integrate via SmartThings. I ended up with the Sense because you can do so much more with your own interface to the data - there’s no way to innovate with the Bubble view for example through the SmartThings interface.

I see the same thing happening with the Spruce Irrigation controller - previous versions would integrate via SmartThings but I see the new gen2 is its own wifi device with a dedicated app. Incredibly more powerful and, again, provides a lot more opportunity for them to customize the interface.

The downside of course then is the lack of integration across devices. While I haven’t done much with SmartThings scheduling and IFTTT type functionality, that is where it really shines (IMO). Since everything is “plugged into” one system, you can more easily control the system as a whole.

My 2c.

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I second that Jason - I have lots of smart things in my house, but the whole “integrated control” element is overrated, without the ability to intelligently integrate the data for specific applications. Almost all the “smart home” products, including SmartThings and HomeKit only take aim at integrated control and scheduling. And Alexa/Siri/Goggle are really just UI for this control. What I would really like to see are integrated apps that can take data from all SmartThings or HomeKit compatible devices and make sense out of the data. Examples:

  • Home power management: I have lots of power data sources in my house - Sense, Eagle (power meter reading), networked outlet measurement/control units (Elgato Eves and TP-Link). The real trick is validating, calibrating and integrating the data into UI close to what Sense offers, then using accurate detection to trigger events that help manage power, as needed. The networked outlet measurement data could be used to validate and improve Sense’s detection, and to disaggregate the “Always On” components.
  • Home protection - I could have a terrific security system if one could bring together all the separate smart things in my home, the wired alarm/security system, Nest Protects, motion and temperate sensors in my Ecobees, various wireless cameras and electronic door locks. But today, each of these is it’s own little island. Sure I might be able to do some complex logic-based control integration, but the UI and utility of a security-focused app would be much greater.
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I will say I am not impressed with the Google Home as well as the Alexa. What I do not like is the specific things you have to program then remember to say. They are very touchy on this. As of right now I have the Smartthings version 2, also had version one from almost the beginning, I have the Alexa, Google Home, Phillips Hue lights and hub, Netgear Arlo Pro, GE outlets and switches, Wink outlets and a couple of Eve home products, Bloomsky weather device and Netatmo Healthy Home device. Sorry for trying to list all of these and of course I have the Sense!!!
Overall I use the Smartthings hub the most and it has been flawless for me with the Hub 2. I use it for setting morning lights, evening lights, away from home notifications etc… It is the most stable whole home control unit I have seen and easiest to use. I have done a ton of research for many other devices and have tried a little with the HomeKit and it doesn’t even compare with Smartthings as of yet.

As for the Google Home and the Alexa, I feel they are more of an item that is a novelty for now and would go away much more quicker than the home hubs. I forget most of the time what skill I have added or if I want the fireplace lights to shut off, what exactly did I set them up as to get Alexa to shut them off. With
the entire home hub I can say when Bloomsky detects rain, turn fireplace lights on and I have nothing that I have to remember or do. I feel that the home hubs along with IFTTT is something that the future will hold. IFTTT has set it up to where we can all be some sort of programmers with minimum skill and pretty much control every aspect of our home. A perfect example of IFTTT is when my Arlo Pro detects motion, turn the porch lights on for 2 minutes only from sunset to sunrise. That is something that you just can’t get yet with Alexa. And another example is the new Ecobee 4 with Alexa control. I would much rather get the Ecobee 3 which is the same exact thermostat without Alexa voice control and is way cheaper. You can control everything with this thermostat through everything that is already out there yet they keep trying to push this Alexa ease of use voice control at us.

I could give examples all night long but hopefully all of these make sense and thank you for letting us comment on this article!


I find it hard to take someone seriously who says two of his five most favorite things in life are hip hop and soul food. I couldn’t figure out what he was even trying to say in the article.

SmartThings is my front end to just about everything in my home that can be network managed. I sure hope It only continues to grow and evolve.

What you can do through the SmartThings app is just a tiny fraction of what it’s capable of. The SmartThings developer IDE is where it really shines. If a device is network connected, odds are, someone has created a way to interface with it using the SmartThings IDE. If they haven’t, you can create an interface yourself. Everything is then available through the SmartThings App. The developer community for SmartThings is also very active.

I can access and control my cameras, temperature and humidity sensors in my ERV, my OmniPro II home automation system and ESP8266 based devices such as the low cost Wi-Fi power outlets I flashed with custom firmware so I could control them without having to use the vendor’s interface. I can open and close my garage doors using an esp8266 that triggers a relay. I can interface with my Ring Doorbell and my Logitech Harmony Hub. Someone wrote a very nice SmartThings interface that allows me to control my Z-Wave door locks. I can even update the lock code through SmartThings. Someone was kind enough to incorporate MQTT into SmartThings so you can communicate with devices using simple a very lightweight messaging protocol.

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Thanks for your perspectives! The nuances and difficulties of the smart home landscape are really interesting to me.

So what would be ideal solution for a future hub? It sounds like what a lot of you think is that smart hubs have user interface issues right now. The SmartThings IDE sounds like an interesting solution to the problem. I’ve got to check that out a little more.

Do you all think that future hubs may include a voice interface? What if the voice assistants get the point where you could just naturally ask a question or give a command, and achieve what you want. Would that change the equation for you @tlisby3 ?


My 2c - Smart hubs are nice, and ones that offer an IDE to develop custom data integration, view ing and control are moving in the right direction. But it’s not just a UI thing - what we really need are smart hub apps for specific purposes that intelligently combine data from multiple home automation products that are all producing very different different data streams. The two apps areas I identified were electrical power management and security, but there are likely many others.

As for the voice interface - I assume all of these hubs will have voice interfaces that offer natural language recognition that is far more flexible than today’s systems and that microphones with motion detection will be distributed throughout the house (motion detection is to figure out where the person making the voice request is., within the house). But the voice interface is NOT going to be the differentiating item - we’re going to see very low cost, user-context-specific, ubiquitous voice input and output from multiple suppliers very soon. The real value will be in the app specific solution and integration - the voice interface will only be a UI.

I do think that anything that could cut back on the “exact phrase” specification would be a great help. With Alexa and the skills, if you have 25 skills that you have downloaded it is very hard to remember what phrase actually starts what skill.
On a side note, I love the Google Home conversation in which you can ask a question by starting with OK Google, but after it answers, you can just continue the conversation. With Alexa, you have to continue to start with “Alexa” and then ask the next question.

And to follow up with the home hub with voice automation, I am not really that interested in this as much. I would sacrifice home automation for a web page version of the items you have programmed. That is the only downside to Smartthings where you have to do everything from an app. It is a great app for me and everything works well, but sometimes I like to just want to be able to get this on my laptop so I can look at everything. Another huge bonus for the Smartthings hub is the 4G battery backup when power goes out. You still have control of your devices (even though they may not work with power outage) but the battery items such as the open close detection on doors and windows or an alarm all work for you through your phone app and the cellular data.

I’ve been doing my own home automation since the early days of X-10 ('70’s). I’ve experienced the growing pains of several home automation schemes X-10, Insteon, 1st generation Iris, and now second generation Iris (Lowe’s). It’s sad that it’s 2017 and nobody has completely solved this problem yet as there is a real need out there. I have two homes that are now fully Iris controlled, and monitored. Lowe’s screwed this up initially when they dumped their relatively mature gen 1 system and converted everybody to an immature gen 2 system. This is only recently becoming pretty robust and well integrated and may succeed in spite of Lowe’s feeble attempts at managing it. They still need work on their user interface but have smartphone/tablet apps as well as a web interface (still needs work). This system allows integration of all sorts of sensors (smoke, CO, flood, motion, temp, power, door/window, garage door, etc.) with lights, light and appliance switches, outlets, locks, thermostats, cameras, key fobs, smart buttons, blinds/shade controllers, pet doors, whole house water shutoffs, sprinkler systems, etc. It also works with Alexa. It’s the most complete set of components I’ve seen integrated yet and still growing. It also has Verizon wireless and battery backup. The app interface needs a lot of human factors work and is very bland and sometimes slow to launch which makes the use of separate physical Iris wall switches and smart buttons good for (programmable) control of items without using the app. If Sense were able to read device interactions (there is a third party that has created an app to do so), then it would vastly improve Sense knowledge of what is going on in the house for detecting such thinks as lights as mentioned above.