How to Build a Smart Home App
We live in a world where things like house chores, security assurance, coffee making, etc., can be done by smart home devices. Companies like yours that deliver such products to the world make it a more convenient place. They help people focus on more important things by saving much time and increasing safety for them.
Yet, from the tech perspective, smart home app development may be a challenging task:
- Should you stick to BLE, Wi-Fi or another data protocol?
- How to connect several devices within one application?
Is it possible to integrate your app with 3rd-party services like Google Home or Alexa?
So, if you’re here to build a great smart home app or simply learn more about it — read on. We’ll talk about how to make the development faster, what Tech Stack you can use, how to enable high-level security, what functionality your smart home app can have, and give you more insights on the development so you’re all set to start this challenging process.
❓ FAQ on Smart Home App Development
In this section, we’ve covered a couple of questions that you might have regarding smart home app development.
How to Make the Development of a Smart App Faster? ⚡
First, let’s talk about the firmware — a part of the software that enables the communication between smart home appliance’s physical parts (hardware). If it’s already developed and well-functioning, there will be no challenges left to handle while building an app.
Even though there probably will be bugs, fixing them won’t be a big deal for an experienced development company.
But if you only start building the firmware, we’d recommend finishing it first and then proceeding with app development. Working on these two things simultaneously will make it harder to spot and fix bugs, test various versions of the app, and generally deboost the process.
One of the most convenient ways of handling such a situation is buying the device with an already built and tested firmware. In this way, you save a lot of time and significantly speed up the process without losing efficiency.
Additionally, you’ll need to update the firmware to fix bugs, enable new functionality — just change something about your smart home app or appliance. To make it quick and easy, we’d recommend implementing Over-the-Air (OTA) updating.
This method allows installing updates remotely and automatically. — It's useful in many cases: if you don’t let your clients use an appliance until it’s updated and don’t make it automatic, it can cause trouble.
Let’s say you offer an app for smart multicooker. One of your clients decided to cook something, turned the device on, and left the house. Normally, people set timers, yet, it still can happen that one prefers turning it off manually through an app. If you release an update, that person won’t be able to use the app and is likely to at least overcook the dish.
Such situations can significantly discredit you as a reliable provider. There are several ways how you can prevent it:
- Make updating optional and allow using older versions of the firmware.
- Offer users to schedule updating themselves whenever they want.
- Warn reminders about an upcoming update multiple times & others.
How to Enable Data Exchange Between a Smart Hope App and a Device? 🔁
The communication between all parts of a smart home device’s ecosystem is enabled with the help of protocols — a language that machines speak.
So, to choose the right protocol for your use case, there are multiple factors that you should take into account: — price, power consumption, connectivity range, bandwidth, what industry it’s most suitable for, etc.
In this table, we’ve gathered information about the most widely used protocols for smart home devices:
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi is an affordable option, 10- to 100-meter connectivity range, complies with most of the existing smart home devices. But it consumes a lot of energy and its efficiency depends on the distance between device and signal source|
|Z-Wave||When using the Z-Wave protocol, communication is enabled through a radio channel. It can connect 1500 smart objects at one time, however, radio frequencies may be better or worse depending on the location, which makes Z-Wave unstable|
|Zigbee||Affordable, compatible with many of the existing solutions, yet, the frequency is quite similar to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi — the more devices there are on similar frequencies, the worse the connection is|
|Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)||Low energy consumption, various connectivity range options, high-level security, fast data exchange. One of the best options for smart home devices|
|X10||Affordable yet slow compared to other protocols. Since it enables connection through power wiring there can be interferences|
|Insteon||Compatible with most modern technologies, fast, quite expensive. Plus, you don’t need a hub when using Insteon|
|Thread||Low power consumption, standardized with a decent security level, able to self-fix breaches. But it doesn’t support a massive amount of information and supports not many devices (250) at a time, yet, surely enough for a smart home|
|Universal Powerline Bus (UPB)||Fast, low interference chance since it’s really receptive and not likely to catch signals from other protocols. Due to the same reason it can coexist with other protocols. Yet, it’s quite costly to install since units are expensive ($90/unit), and it also doesn’t support some of the modern devices|
How to Connect Several Smart Home Devices in 1 App? 🔆
If you’d like to offer several smart home devices and want users to be able to control it through a single app, there are several options on how you can enable it.
The first thing you should take into account is that it’s only possible to use one app for several devices when they use the same protocol. So, you can build/buy devices with the same protocol, but it’s not always convenient and reasonable to do so since different protocols suit different use cases better.
Instead, many companies opt for a smart home automation hub — it’s a kind of translator between protocols. Even if all your devices use different protocols, a hub can make them “sound” the same. And that’s option # 2.
Another way of doing it is by partnering with 3rd-party providers. There are apps on the market that are designed to unite different smart home apps. Users download apps for all their smart home devices, then install a uniting app and control them from one place. For example, Yonomi, ONE, etc.
How to Ensure High-Level Security for a Smart Home App? 🔒
When talking about security in the smart home industry, the main problem is the lack of standards that help to control security levels, which means that it’s often dependent on each company. To help you ensure a great and reliable security system, we’d like to give you some advice on this issue.
Before talking about securite features, we’d like to cover a couple of general aspects regarding smart home apps. You can add various levels of access so that there will be less exposure to data leaking. For example, it can be an administrator with the rights to manage security and access settings, extract data, etc. An administrator should then be able to add users and give each one of them a specific level of access.
Plus, it’s a great idea to educate yourself on cybersecurity and take a look at others’ experiences. Since there are no generally accepted standards as such, preventing mistakes that other companies did and learning from companies with trusted security systems are worth it.
The first thing you can think of enabling is Security by Design. In other words, it’s automating such processes like bugs and breaches testing and monitoring, authentication safeguards, etc. Such a system is focused on preventing security breaches.
We’d also recommend making regular security updates. As soon as you have something to improve in the system, don’t wait until there are more things to update — regular and swift updating is the key to success here.
To make it time-efficient, you can enable Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). CI allows you to automatically test the code to find & fix bugs, and then apply changes in the git-repository (you can think of it as a draft for you to test updates). The CD then transfers these changes to the actual code immediately.
Additionally, you can implement multi-factor authentication in the smart home app. It can include biometric authentication like Face ID, device fingerprinting (scanning all connected devices and notifying users about suspicious activities that aren’t habitual), complex passcodes that get updated, personal security questions, email/phone number confirmation.
💭 Data-Related Aspects of Building a Smart Home App
When building a smart home app, data flow needs to be taken care of with extra attention. Optimizing it can significantly reduce development costs and time, enable a better user experience, and improve security.
In this section, we’ll talk about all parts of the data management process that you’ll face when developing a smart home app.
# 1: Data Collection 📥
The backend of your app performs data collection. There are several ways of how you can set up this process, and the type of it would directly affect time and costs of the development.
The first thing to pay attention to is frequency and accuracy of measurements. These two factors are interrelated — the more frequent you measure the data, the more accurate the results would be.
If you know that a certain level of accuracy would be enough, there’s no reason for you to perform measurements more often than needed to reach it. So, determining the sufficient measurement frequency can help you optimize costs on data collection.
Additionally, energy consumption depends on accuracy as well. To minimize the costs, you should test how much energy you’ll need to reach the needed accuracy level and set up the process in a way where data collection won’t go beyond it.
You can also think about the duration of data’s relevancy. If you know that the collected data will be irrelevant after 4 hours, you can set the maximum time gap between measurements.
# 2: Data Processing 🔄
Data processing is the next step, which also requires extra attention. If you’re going to use 3rd-party providers for data processing, make sure to take a good look at their statistics (for example, how often they’re exposed to breaches) and terms of co-working (e. g., how you can change the vendor).
For smart home devices, it’s essential to enable real-time data processing. Smart locks, coffee machines, air-conditioning, etc. — well-functioning of similar devices is based on accurate real-time data processing.
# 3: Data Storing 📚
Since internal storages of smart home devices are not that capacious, you’ll most likely need an external storage or use additional internal ones. There are two ways for how you can enable such — cloud and offline storages.
So, cloud storages are really easy to set up — you simply subscribe. Usually, it’ll be either a monthly subscription for a certain capacity. Another option is the “pay-as-you-use” model which implies that you pay for as much storage as you used in a certain period of time.
Cloud storage is useful in multiple ways:
- You can access the data from anywhere with an internet connection.
- It’s easy to save data even if the physical parts of the device are damaged.
- Maintenance is already included in the price & others.
However, cloud storages have a higher exposure to data leaks and breaches because of its accessibility over the Internet. Surely, there are ways to enable high-level security (we already talked about it in the FAQ section), so, with great security features, you should be fine.
If you’d like to have physical data storage, you can use SD cards, FTP servers (special servers for data storing and transferring), etc. It’s safer, yet, it’s less convenient, more expensive, and has higher energy consumption.
# 4: Data Engineering (Analysis) 📈
Data engineering implies analyzing the data at different stages of the process, extracting information that you’ll pass to the clients, and transforming it from raw data to something that a regular person would understand.
Data engineering should also work in real time along with data processing. You can perform analysis several times a day to provide users dynamics and trends (for example, humidity at their house).
Additionally, you can make conclusions and what steps to take next based on the data (for example, turning on the humidifier 3 times a day for 30 minutes to reach a sufficient humidity level).
# 5: Data Visualization 📊
To provide better user experience, you can offer visualization features to your users. If often includes:
- Visualization tools (static and real-time charts, graphs, and tables).
- History to access previous visuals.
- Notifications so that users get to know when something new is up right away.
- Alerts if there’s a matter that requires a customer’s immediate attention. Make sure that they’re distinct from regular notifications. You can allow users to set a loud sound for them.
It might be reasonable to implement visual data categorization. For example, instead of making multiple graphs for various data periods in several chart types, you can simply allow users to choose how and over what period of time the data is represented on one screen.
💻 Platforms for Smart Home Automation App Development
To help you with building a smart home app, there are platforms for the development — a set of features and tools.
Such platforms can provide a wide range of services:
- Connect parts of the hardware.
- Implement protocols.
- Add security and authentication features.
- Collect and analyze data with further visualization & others.
The most reliable smart home and IoT platforms on the market are AWS IoT, IBM Watson, Google Cloud IoT, Salesforce IoT, Kaa. There are no specific use cases when it’s reasonable or not to use a smart home platform.
You and your development team can manage all these aspects on your own, which would take more time but be more beneficial in the long run. If you use a platform, you’ll have to pay a fee for a subscription or a use-based one, which can increase in the future.
⚙️ Features for a Smart Home App
Even though the functionality of your smart home app directly depends on the device, there are some common features that most smart home apps would need.
# 1: Sign Up & Profiles 🔐
The sign up in smart home apps should be easy yet secure. During this process, you can offer users to set up all available authentication features (password, Face/Touch ID, personal security questions, etc.).
Surely, all the settings should be changeable later, but you should make access to it well-protected using any of the security features that we talked about.
Normally, to change the security settings, users need to pass all the previous security layers.
Think about the ways you could help users restore the password in case they forget it. It can be one step like a phone call or a multi-layered system with multiple confirmation steps.
Signing up often means connecting users’ phones to devices. You can make it automatic — so when users turn on the device for the first time, a notification with a “Connect” suggestion pops up. Or users can do it manually by following the guide on your specific device — it really depends on each use case.
# 2: Home Screen 📲
Home Screen is a place where users have quick access to all the features. We can’t really tell you what to place on this screen since functionality is highly variable depending on the type of your device.
All apps for smart home devices would most likely need a turn on/off and connect/disconnect buttons. Other features on the home screen would be mostly specific to your use case.
In case your smart home device doesn’t have any features but is used for measurements (for instance, temperature and humidity in the room), you should place the information your device provides here.
By the way, if you connect several devices in one app, Home Screen should be a place where you display all the devices and allow users to access each one’s functionality.
# 3: Device Screen 🔋
Device Screen is a part of the app where users access all information about the appliance. As with the Home Screen feature, the data that will be represented on this screen depends on each specific use case, yet, there is some generalized information that you can place on your screen.
This screen is normally accessible from the Home Screen.
It can be:
- State of charge (if there’s a chargeable battery).
- Connectivity status and signal power.
- Functioning status.
- If there are any failures, you should tell users what’s the matter and give clear instructions on what to do next & others.
# 4: Onboarding Guide 📃
Basically, the onboarding guide is a step-by-step instruction on how to set up the device, connect it to an app, how it works in general, what features there are, and so on. The information there should be well-structured and clear.
Even though the guide should be simple, it’s a great place to stand out. First things first, you should make it compliant with the general style of your brand.
It might also be a great idea to create a “spirit animal” of your brand that will guide customers through the setting up process — it can be an actual animal like a cat, a customly designed robot, impersonation of your device, etc. Surely, it’s not essential but will definitely make this process funnier and more pleasant.
You can implement a chatbot feature here as well. When the instructions are given, the chatbot can ask if everything is clear. If not, the bot can give a more detailed explanation, offer to take a step back to review the guide once again, or contact a real support specialist.
Generally, try to gamify the process a little so this part of being your customer would be pleasant as well.
# 5: Groups & Scenarios ✅
If your app is targeted at centralized control of several devices simultaneously, you can consider implementing this feature. Groups feature allows users to group devices under a single command.
So, let’s say a user puts a smart lamp, air conditioning, and a speaker in a group. Then, they create a “BedTime” button for this group. Once they press this button, the smart home app will send different commands to the grouped devices.
For example, a lamp would be turned off, air conditioning would switch to a pre-set regime, and a speaker would play a sleep meditation.
You can offer group templates for different rooms if you have enough devices for that. If not, just make it highly customizable so customers can fully tailor it to their needs.
# 6: Push Notifications 🔔
Push notifications are an important part of most smart home apps. You can use them for both alerts like failures of systems, fires, trespassing, and regular situations (for example, that the dish is ready).
You should also make sounds customizable so users can mark different actions with different notifications. It’ll let them know if it’s something that requires their immediate attention.
🤖 How to Integrate Smart Home Devices or an App with Third-Party Services like Google Home & Amazon Alexa?
If you integrate your smart home device and app with similar 3rd-party providers, your customers would be able to control the device through such integrations.
To integrate with them, you simply need to get access to their APIs or SDKs that are always available on the websites:
However, it might be more difficult to tailor such integrations to your use case.
For voice commands to function, Google Home uses _actions _and Alexa uses skills. These commands need to be placed on a server — any server for Google Home and AWS Lambda server for Alexa.
If you want to use custom skills or actions, you need to send them to your provider for approval. But there are a lot of pre-written commands that you could use. So, make sure to thoroughly look through the list — maybe you’ll find all commands you need there and save time on approving them.
💰 What Affects Smart Home App Development Costs
We can’t tell you exactly how high your smart home app development costs will be since it depends on your specific use case. But there are certainly a lot of aspects that you can think out in advance since they’ll directly affect your development costs:
- Number & complexity of features.
- The device itself (hardware).
- Chosen protocol and development technology.
- Third-party integrations or services (if you’ll need some of them).
- An hourly rate of your development team .
Smart home app development is quite a complex process and requires a lot of patience so that everything functions seamlessly. Even though it’s challenging, there shouldn’t be any difficulties with an experienced Tech Partner.
Let’s briefly sum up what we’ve covered in the article:
- To make the development cost- & time-efficient, think about having a ready-to-use software by the time you start building an app.
- When working with data, there are several aspects you need to take care of: collection, processing, storing, engineering, and visualization. Each one of them can be optimized — we talked about it in the data-related section.
- To speed up the development, you can use IoT & Smart Home development platforms.
- It’s also possible to integrate the app with assistants like Google Home or Alexa.
If you need some help with the development, have any questions left, or simply want to share your thoughts with us, feel free to reach out. We’d be happy to help you!