A Bunch of Smart Tips on Building a Smart Home App

Smart homes become more and more popular, but this doesn’t mean that everything is okay with the market. No, at the moment, quantity of smart home apps and gadgets prevails over the quality, so developing a malfunctioning product won’t bring you any profit. It may also be dangerous for users!

But no worries, we are here to tell you how to develop a smart home app in the right way. Keep in mind three main pillars: connectivity, security, and interoperability. Here are some details about each of them.

Connectivity: How Home Automation Systems Work

Smart home connectivity protocols

Just a fraction of available smart home protocols.Image source.

We have already told you about Alfred, an app with no special devices behind. You can try to follow its example, but in most cases, you will have to think about hardware and firmware. So, this is what home automation systems usually consist of:

  • Hub. It is the main controller which interacts with a mobile application and allows using IoT gadgets. Amazon Echo is a great example here. However, hub is not a must — you won’t need it, for instance, if you are going to develop only one smart gadget and one app to keep it under control.

  • Actuators. That’s just a more sophisticated title for smart home devices: climate controllers, switches, door locks, cameras, and so on.

  • Sensors. They detect leakages and movement, check the temperature and humidity, etc. In general, they collect the information about the condition of the house.

Obviously, all these elements have to interact, otherwise even a hundred of IoT devices won’t be able to turn such a house into a smart home. There are several ways to ensure reliable connectivity, and it is essential to make a choice before starting the app development process.

  • Bluetooth. Nowadays, it is the most popular choice, and while Wi-Fi is rather energy-consuming, Bluetooth can prolong the life of a battery thanks to a so-called BLE technology (Bluetooth Low Energy). Its range is comparable with the range of Wi-Fi, and, apart from this, there is Bluetooth Mesh. In short, it means that every Bluetooth device in the network also works as a signal booster.

  • Wi-Fi. In fact, when a smart device connects to the Wi-Fi, it goes online, so a user can control the gadget from anywhere — only the Internet connection is required. However, Wi-Fi may shorten the battery’s life, as it requires a lot of energy.

  • ZigBee. It is a wireless protocol which is compatible with many devices and named after movements of bees. Everything is nice about it except its frequency. It works at 2.4 GHz, and it is similar to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. If a user has a lot of devices working on the same frequency, they may face diverse interferences.

  • Z-Wave. It is another wireless protocol which unites all the elements of a smart home system with the help of the radio frequencies. Z-Wave is able to communicate with around 1500 gadgets at the same time.

Security: How to Keep Your Users Safe

Security - cloudpet

Just recently Amazon, Walmart and Target stopped selling connected toys because of the obvious vulnerabilities they contain.

Security is an important component of any application, but when it comes to smart home apps, it becomes extremely crucial. Just imagine what can happen in case someone will hack a user’s account, open the smart locks, and rob the house. Spoilt reputation, possible need to make amends… You don’t want to face such problems, and that’s why it is vital to ensure the highest level of security and make hackers’ lives as complicated as possible.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a good way to go if applicable. While in case of single-factor authentication (SFA) a user usually provides only password, 2FA requires something more — for instance, fingerprints. Besides, 2FA is easy to implement, which is important when you are working on MVP.

Nest, one of the leaders of the smart home apps market, uses 2FA. It doesn’t require users’ fingerprints, but sends them a unique verification code every time they log in.

Interoperability: How to Make Your Product “Socialize”

Interoperability chart

People want new devices to be compatible with the ones they've already bought. Source.

Users may have smart devices produced by different companies, but all these devices don’t always “communicate” with each other. For example, a user can buy an entire bunch of new gadgets and then discover that they are absolutely incompatible with their Google Home. Will this situation lead to a bad user experience? Obviously, it will.

Making your product compatible with Apple Home, Google Home, Amazon Echo, and other popular hubs is not an absolute must, such as security, but it may increase your project’s chances of success. Ensuring this compatibility will make your project a bit more complicated, but you won’t have to do everything on your own. For instance, there are enough development kits to create Amazon Alexa gadgets.

What Features Your MVP Should Have

Interoperability chart

A smart home app concept by Max Palyvoda. from Dribbble

Now, when you already know how important connectivity, security, and interoperability are, it is time to think about the MVP feature list. We are not going to talk about such obvious things as, for example, nice design or compatibility with all popular mobile platforms — no, we are here to share more interesting things.

  1. Full registration process. No one really likes when it is essential to enter plenty of details to create an account, but in case to smart home apps, that’s a matter of security. As an option, you can offer your users to log in via a social network — thanks to this feature, all the fields will be filled automatically. Just don’t forget to require a new password.

  2. Two types of profiles. If a family buys a smart gadget, it is logical that every family member downloads and installs an app which helps to control it. That’s great for you, but it would be better if only one of them would be able to change the main settings — this will help your home automation system to make fewer mistakes. To ensure this, your smart home app should provide two types of profiles: an admin with a full set of rights and a usual user with limited access.

  3. Push notifications. We don’t know what your project is about and what your app is going to control, but we are sure that it must inform users about any changes in their houses, especially the dangerous ones: security breach, smoke, fire, water leakage, etc. Push notifications are a fast and reliable way to provide users with any updates, and special sounds accompanying them must be noticeable.

  4. Onboarding screens. Your app shouldn’t be too complicated to use in any case, but providing your users with a few onboarding screens is still a good idea. Briefly explain how to use your application, how to change settings, how to integrate with, for instance, Amazon Echo, and so on.

And here is the last tip for you — avoid being too stingy. Developing a smart home app is a rather complicated challenge, as it has to be securely linked to hardware and firmware. We don’t say that hiring the lowest charging developers always leads to a disaster — we just say that you should be ready for such a result in case you try to cut down on everything.

A badly developed MVP may work, but it may not be reliable enough for the mass market. And sometimes fixing the code a little bit won’t be able to save the situation — in the worst case, you may have to rescue your project by starting the development process from the very beginning. To avoid such an unpleasant situation, it is better to hire professionals from the outset.

31 May 2018
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Anastasia Lushyna / Business Development Expert
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