Since the beginning of the smart house, the smart hub has been the brain in the middle of the operation. But, thanks to Google and Amazon, hubs are less necessary and can soon become a thing of the past.
Hubs were Smarthom's brains
If you wanted control of all your smarthome devices for a long time a place from an app, a smarthome hub was the way to go. The Smarthome hubs did the best job of connecting everything from Wi-Fi jacks to Z-wave smart locks. They introduced routines, automation and a practical dashboard to control everything in a dedicated location. Devices manufactured by different manufacturers can work in tandem when connected to a hub. You were not limited to a single brand, or if you succeeded in your favorite brand not making a particular type of device.
Smarthome hubs also made Z-wave and Zigbee devices really smart. Without one, you couldn't control a smart lock remotely, and code management was much harder. You can monitor a Z-wave or Zigbee device and manage it locally from a dedicated app from the manufacturer, but you needed a hub to further increase capacity.
Hubs Have Downsides
Unfortunately, the smarthome hub has not been particularly stable. Lowe has abandoned her Iris platform completely and there are many other hubs you probably shouldn't use. The two biggest players in the smarthome hub industry, Wink and SmartThings, have gone through buyouts that have not been a resounding success.
Currently, SmartThings requires two different apps to access all the features and know which app to use when often confusing, defeating one app to control them all their way of thinking altogether.
Wink's story can even be more full-bodied, Quirky previously owned the business but went bankrupt and sold Wink to Flex. Flex, in turn, sells Wink to i.am +, which was founded by Will.iam.
Wink has not announced any new product integrations from third parties since September 2017 and the latest new product Wink announced (Lookout) came in October 2017. To make matters worse, low stock of hubs is a common problem, as seen in several Reddit threads.
Google and Amazon have ignored the need for hub
Thankfully, Google and Amazon have launched a new hub for hub. Not only does Google Assistant and Alexa provide voice control for your devices, but they replicate almost every feature that smart hubs offer. You can set up routines in Google and the Amazon app. You can connect devices from different manufacturers, create groupings, feeds and other automated tasks.
These voice assistants can also connect to a variety of devices, via Wi-Fi or third-party app integration. If you have Echo Show or Echo Plus, you can also connect to ZigBee devices. Essentially other than Z-Wave and Zigbee (for Voice Assistant devices not mentioned above), it is highly likely that your Google Home or Amazon Alexa device will work with any of your smart home devices.
You get the same benefits of easy access control and automation, and get the bonus of voice control. Given the size and strength of Google and Amazon, the fear of shutdown is minimal. That strength appeared at CES 2019. Almost all smarthome devices announced that they were compatible with these platforms. What was missing? Z-wave, ZigBee (outside Philips Hue), Wink, Smartthings.
However, the main problem of concern in a future without Hubs is Wi-Fi and the problems it presents.
Wi-Fi is difficult but getting Easier
If all the smart devices you connect to your network are Wi-Fi, you will quickly solve some problems. Wi-Fi does not have the sheer range that a ZigBee or Z-Wave set of devices can achieve. It is also not battery-friendly, and the more devices you connect, the greater the traffic congestion you can get the network.
The upcoming Wi-Fi 6 standard helps solve most of the problems. Wi-Fi 6 is easier on battery life, improves the speed of the 2.4 GHz spectrum, and should reduce overall traffic problems.
But it is a standard that comes and does not completely solve all problems. Google and Amazon know it, and they have prepared for the future by jumping onto Mesh networks. Google already had a network router system, and Amazon just announced it would buy Eero, the company all but kickstarted Mesh.
With Mesh routers, your devices will have all the range they need and congestion will be an earlier problem. Also, you don't have to worry about running a 2.4 GHz network and a 5 GHz network, and what to use when. Mesh networks are both for you and they make it as smooth and convenient for you, which can be useful, as many smart devices work only on 2.4 GHz networks.
Hubs seem to slowly come to a painful death and voice assistants are ready to take their place triumphantly. Overall, this is a good thing, because Google and Amazon are big enough to muscles through tough times and can push ahead adoption and work toward lower prices. They have already incorporated all of the best features into the hubs, while providing their unique capabilities, whether it's a display that shows your best pictures or an intercom system without all the wires.
The Smarthomes implementation is constantly in a flux mode, and the future of the hubs is just an example of how quickly things change. And how much early to adopt the pain you have to be willing to accept to have a smart home now, rather than waiting until the standards are real standards, and not just strong promises.