2016 has been a pretty significant year for the smart home, as our houses got more intelligent and various bits of tech got better at talking to one another.
That said, it's mostly felt like gradual progress with few big bangs. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the smart home will be a slow and steady process, and 2017 certainly has a lot more in store.
From Amazon to Apple to Google, all the big players are now somewhat involved in the smart home, but as rumours abound we still expect some more big things from them in the coming months. Here's a rundown of what happened to the smart home in 2016.
Google comes Home
At Google I/O in May, Google announced Home, its Echo competitor. The small speaker differed in that it would run on Google's own platform and make use of Google Assistant, the company's answer to Alexa. When it finally launched, we said that Google Home had a lot of promise, but needed more time to deliver. We love the contextual conversations, but it's lack of third-party integration remains a bugbear.
Apple starts its big assault
While it still doesn't have a device akin to Echo or Google Home, Apple made more of a push into the home this year with iOS 10. The new software meant HomeKit devices were easier to monitor and control from your phone, using Siri if you so wish. It was the moment Apple made it clear that it was taking the smart home very seriously indeed.
A month after the launch of iOS 10, a report surfaced claiming Apple was in fact working on an Echo/Home rival that would function in a similar way, harnessing the power of Siri. The device was said to be in the prototype testing phase and was being trialed by engineers in their homes, suggesting it might be seeing it before two long. If anything, 2016 was Apple's year for moving all the pieces into place before dropping the big device.
Echo, Echo, Echo
In September, Amazon finally announced the Echo was coming to the UK, as Alexa continued its quest for global domination. Not only was Amazon blazing a trail in the US, its smart home assistant was also unrivalled across the pond when it arrived; Google Home would still be MIA until November 4. On top of that, Amazon unveiled its second-generation Echo Dot, which tweaked the original model and quickly became one of our favourite smart home devices of the year.
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By the time it arrived in the UK, Echo was already equipped with thousands of skills, making it useful from the off. By pushing its Dot too, Amazon made clear that it wanted you to have more than one Echo around the house, and later launched an update that made it easier for Echos to coexist without .
The smart home gets more chatty
In 2016 we saw Hive opening up its smart thermostat beyond the walled garden to enable IFTTT integration, meaning it could start talking to other devices and platforms through IFTTT's chains of command. We were pleased to see Hive being more of an open system, and happy to see Netatmo do the same when it announced a new platform allowing developers to tap into its connected kit.
There's no denying that the smart home is a little bit of a mess right now, but opening it up to get more platforms and devices talking to one another will only be a good thing as we move into 2017.
And let's not forget Microsoft
Rounding off the year was news that, with Microsoft opening its Cortana smart assistant to third parties, the first incoming home device will be a speaker from Harmon Kardon. Like Echo, the Cortana speaker will be able to chat to other third-party devices, but it's simply the idea of Cortana joining the smart home that we're most excited about. Expect to see the Kardon speaker and more Cortana devices in 2017...
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