Apple HomeKit v Amazon Alexa v Google Assistant: Smart home battle royale

Which smart home ecosystem is for you?

HomeKit v Alexa v Assistant

One of the major decisions you've got to make when building a smart home is which ecosystem will be the one you build toward – and right at the start you'll need to choose between Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Maybe you're big on Amazon Prime and you nab some Echo devices, or you're an Android fan so Google Assistant is a natural extension. Perhaps you're having a grand time in Apple's walled garden. These factors will naturally drive your decision – but what if you're a blank slate? Well, my smart home-interested friends, that's why we're here. We're going to go through and pick out the best smart home ecosystem in this battle royale.

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HomeKit v Alexa v Assistant: Features

HomeKit v Amazon Alexa v Google Assistant: The smart home system battle royal

There's more to a smart home system than simply commanding all your devices. It's all about how you can use those devices in interesting ways to make your life better. For instance, all three systems have ways to create routines.

Routines

Routines let you link your devices together in interesting ways. So if you're going to bed and command your "Good Night" routine, all your lights turn off. Or maybe it's movie time, so your Apple TV kicks on and your lights change colour to turn up the mood.

For the most part, these all work pretty similarly. However, there are other aspects of these smart home ecosystems that give each a distinctive flair. For instance, HomeKit is very much built around the iPhone. So HomeKit's routines have the added perk of using your phone's GPS location to start scenes. So if you leave home, or arrive home, you can set up your smart home to do things like turn on the lights automatically.

It goes further. You can command your home via Siri and HomePod, yes, but the advantage HomePod has is that you can use the Home app. Neither Alexa or Google Assistant have something that works as simply as the Home app.

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Google has lagged behind its rivals a bit when it comes to smart home features, only recently getting features like routines. However, Google's biggest advantage is that Assistant lives in more and better devices than Siri or Alexa. A good example of this is the divide between the Echo Show and Lenovo Smart Display. In our testing, we've found the Smart Display to be a superior showcase for an AI assistant with a display.

Smart home features

Alexa is perhaps has the most robust smart home features, however. You can not only do a lot, like drop in on any Echo device in your home, but you can also use tools to customise your smart home experience. While Google Assistant and Alexa both have games and skills for kids, Amazon has Blueprints, which lets you easily create your own custom skills and modes for your Echo devices.

This lets you customise your smart home a little more than you can with either HomeKit or Google Assistant. If you want your home to best conform to your needs, there's nothing better than simply creating your own skills for your guests and family members.

Alexa has the benefit of Amazon Prime. This means you've got things like Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Music Unlimited (the third largest streaming service behind Apple Music and Spotify). Amazon doesn't have YouTube, thanks to a spat with Google, but the Mountain View company does have access to YouTube, YouTube TV and YouTube Music across its devices. Plus, there's the ability to Chromecast various services from your phone or computer to the Smart Display and TVs.

Apple, on the other hand, has AirPlay. This will let you cast music around your home, and also things on your iPhone or iPad or Mac. Amazon only recently got the ability to cast music from your phone to your Echo devices.

So while HomeKit and Google Assistant have unique features and – for the most part – feature parity with Alexa on the big stuff, Alexa offers a more robust smart home platform than Siri or Google Assistant.

HomeKit v Alexa v Assistant: Voice

Of course, one of the key components to choosing a new smart home ecosystem is voice control. Having your smart home at your beck and call has been a game changer for the technology, so getting a voice assistant that works for you is essential.

In most independent tests, and our own reviews, it's Alexa that still rules the roost as an assistant. Its recognition of your voice, and range of smart home commands, is ahead of Google Assistant – which is slightly better at answering web-based questions as you might expect.

Lagging behind is Siri, although it does have its own strengths. It's less powerful and accurate in terms of information and smart home controls, but like Google Assistant, its prevalence on Apple iPhone, iPad and Watch means it's always at hand. One day it will be a formidable assistant – but that could take some time.

All-in-all, Alexa is the best assistant today, but Google has caught up fast and could easily break into a lead, and has more ingredients around search and phone integration on its side.

HomeKit v Alexa v Assistant: Setup

HomeKit v Amazon Alexa v Google Assistant: The smart home system battle royal

When you're building your smart home, one of the things you're going to be doing over and over and over again is setting up new devices. That's because unless you're a very rich person, you're not going to be able to afford to buy all your smart devices in one go.

Instead, you're going to have to slowly and steadily buy devices until your whole home is covered. The first thing you'll have to do on all three, naturally, is set up your device and make sure it's working. Once you've done that, you can add more devices.

With Alexa, all you have to do is enable the associated skill and you're good to go. The skill may ask you to sign in with your account, and once you do that you'll be good to go. If you've got an Echo Plus, you have a much easier to way to add devices like lights, plugs or switches.


All you have to do is ask Alexa to discover devices. It'll search your Wi-Fi network for new devices and add them automatically. This also works with Echo devices that are not the Echo Plus, but you'll have had to already enabled the associated skill first.

Google Assistant takes up second place. You just have to head to the Google Home app, navigate over to home control, then add a device and choose from a list of brands. You sign into your account and it'll automatically add your device to Google Assistant.

HomeKit, unfortunately, is the most trouble. You're going to have to open up the Home app, then scan a QR code or number code into the Home app to add the device to your HomeKit setup. It works, but you also have to search your box for your HomeKit code and then point your camera at it. It's a couple of extra steps that get more annoying the more you do it.

Alexa and Google Assistant make it as easy as possible to add devices to your smart home, and it's even easier if you've got an Echo Plus acting as a smart home hub. Unfortunately, HomeKit is the loser here.

HomeKit v Alexa v Assistant: The devices

HomeKit v Amazon Alexa v Google Assistant: The smart home system battle royal

What good is putting together a smart home ecosystem if you don't have enough devices to complete your smart home? Automatically, HomeKit is behind on this count. Apple's former hardware authentication requirement ensured better security than Alexa and Google Assistant, but it also made it harder for manufacturers to make smart devices for HomeKit.

Apple has since nixed the hardware authentication and switched it to software authentication, but the gap is still there. Worse, there are no HomeKit-capable smart doorbells. Your options for smart locks is limited as well. Good luck if you've invested in Nest products too.

Alexa and Google Assistant have a wider variety of devices to choose from, which gives you more choice. You can choose devices based on features you value at a wider selection of price points. Now, each ecosystem has its plusses and minuses when it comes to devices.

Google and Nest are close. Like, really close. That means that if you want to invest in Nest, Google Assistant is where you'll get the most value, with features like being able to hear who rings your doorbell from your Google Home.

TV and entertainment

Alexa and HomeKit are the winners in the TV realm, with Apple TV 4K being one of the few devices that gives you 4K Dolby Atmos and Vision support and access to all kinds of streaming services (pretty much all of them). Amazon's Fire TV is a close second, but the fact that you need a workaround for YouTube is a big miss if you're a fan of one of the most popular video sites on earth.

And what about the signature devices from Apple, Google and Amazon? Google and Amazon have the widest variety, allowing you to easily get into the system with $50 devices. Plus, there are now devices with displays. Each of them also has a high-end device with great audio in the Google Home Max and Sonos One. Neither have the audio quality of the HomePod, but Apple has the HomePod and Apple TV 4K, which also is a better option than Fire TVs or Android TVs at this point.

HomeKit v Alexa v Assistant: Verdict

HomeKit v Amazon Alexa v Google Assistant: The smart home system battle royal

When it comes to putting together a smart home, it's hard to bet against Amazon's ecosystem. It's got the widest range of devices available for inclusion, and Amazon's robust tools allow you to both customise and flex your smart home's true potential.

Google Assistant is a very close second. Like Alexa, it's an easy system to get into. However, it doesn't have the variety of devices that Alexa offers. More importantly, it doesn't have the wide set of features that Alexa offers smart home builders at the moment, though it seems to only be a matter of time until that changes.

HomeKit is a tempting solution for anyone enjoying life in Apple's walled garden, but it's also got the smallest selection of compatible devices, has the hardest setup and lags as a voice assistant.

If you're looking to build a smart home, Alexa is your best bet right now.

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