Are there universal smart home apps?
Smart home beginners often buy different components on special offer and only realize later that they do not harmonize with each other. This can be due to the different wireless standards of the devices (e.g. WLAN, ZigBee or Z-Wave) and the fact that some smart home devices only work with the app of their manufacturer.
It is therefore difficult to find a universal app for all devices in the home. The good news, however, is that there are apps that are compatible with and can control hundreds or even thousands of products from other manufacturers. One of these is the Alexa app, which can be used to control and relate Philips Hue lamps, tado° heating thermostats, Fitbit fitness trackers, GARDENA robotic mowers and many other components via voice commands, for example.
Stationary household appliances (e.g. coffee machines with toggle switches) can also be retrofitted for the smart home via WLAN sockets. Such smart plug adapters for app or voice control are available for as little as 10 euros.
In summary, there are many ways to simplify appliance control via multi-compatible apps or to retrofit normal household appliances. However, simply accessing classic devices without the corresponding software via a universal smart home app does not work.
A forgotten lamp can still be switched off on the move using a smart home app
A forgotten lamp can still be switched off on the go using a smart home app (Maridav/Adobe Stock)
Which smart home app for what?
As a rule, every manufacturer of smart technology offers its own app for controlling devices. Conveniently, however, many of them work with common wireless standards such as WLAN, Bluetooth or ZigBee and can thus be networked with each other. Manufacturers often even cooperate with each other because they have recognized that only devices with many connection options have a future.
Basically, however, certain market leaders can be identified for each area of application in the smart home that have adapted particularly well to the needs of their users. In the lighting segment, Philips Hue is one example. In the case of robotic vacuum cleaners, it is currently Xiaomi, and in the case of WLAN washing machines, Samsung is one of the leading providers. On the other hand, if you want to control many different classes of devices, it is better to use one of the multicompatible apps presented here.
How do I find the right app for my smart home needs?
Technology fans who have not yet networked any devices are advised to ask themselves the following questions before buying smart devices:
Which areas / rooms should become smart? In the meantime, there are hardly any living areas that cannot be networked – whether bathroom, garden or car. We present all the important areas of application in our big smart home guide.
How many devices do I want to control? Just a few floor lamps or a complex heating system together with air conditioning, the robotic mower and lawn sprinklers?
Do I want the smart home devices to be voice-controllable? If so, it’s worth purchasing a voice-controlled smart speaker first (e.g. Amazon Echo with Alexa voice control) and only then looking for compatible devices. We have summarized everything important about voice control here:
The 5 most popular voice assistants at a glance.
How much effort is networking worth to me?
Not all smart home devices are easy to set up and put into operation. Some systems also require drilling or laying new cables. That’s why renters in particular need to ask themselves whether informing the homeowner is necessary. For real estate owners, on the other hand, it is important to find out about possible monument protection requirements before starting the conversion work. Our two guides Retrofitting Old Buildings and Smart Home in New Buildings provide many tips and tricks in this regard.
Once these questions have been clarified and it has been decided which wishes the new smart home should fulfill, the next step is to find the right app. For inspiration, we present an overview of the most popular ones.
Alexa app: Most popular smart home app for voice control
With Amazon’s voice assistant and the accompanying app, even people on a budget can afford household help. Alexa not only answers questions about the weather, news or the traffic situation and enables voice-controlled phone calls, but is also able to control almost every electrical household appliance. Provided it is Alexa-compatible from the factory or has been retrofitted with a WLAN adapter. In everyday life, this means that Alexa starts a music alarm clock and the coffee maker in the morning, raises the shutters and turns on the lights. In the morning, she activates the robotic mower and the garden watering system. In the evening, it plays music via Spotify, Deezer, etc., operates the TV, and locks the house at night with electronic door locks and suitable alarm systems.
To our knowledge, the Alexa app is currently the most comprehensive smart home app with thousands of compatible devices and around 20,000 Alexa skills (additional functions) that can almost all be activated for free. Almost every major brand from Bosch, IKEA, OSRAM, Siemens and Miele to Tesla now offers suitable devices or services for it. Even discounters like ALDI and Lidl are increasingly selling Alexa products. This is the ideal solution for all those who do not want to commit to a manufacturer-bound system.
Note: The Alexa app is automatically downloaded to Alexa-enabled Fire tablets.
Even when using Alexa with Windows 10, the functions are clearly displayed.
Even when using Alexa with Windows 10, the functions are clearly displayed (Microsoft).
What is compatible with the Alexa app?
All Echo speakers, Amazon Fire tablets, Fire TVs and Fire TV sticks.
Lamps: e.g. from Philips Hue, IKEA TRADFRI
Heating thermostats: e.g. from devolo, tado°, Netatmo or Nest
Vacuum robots: e.g. Neato Botvac Connected, Vorwerk Kobold VR300 or Roborock S50
Shutter control: e.g. via the IKEA TRÅDFRI roller blinds FYRTUR and KADRILJ
Gadgets: e.g. from Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones or Fitbit Ionic smartwatch
Washing machines: e.g. Siemens WM6YH840 iQ800 Home Connect
WLAN sockets (smart plugs): e.g. from TP-Link or D-Link
Electric door locks: e.g. from Nuki, August Smart Lock or Kwikset
Surveillance cameras: e.g. from Netgear, Logitech, Nest or Ring
Cars: e.g. BMW connected or Tesla (via iHaus app)
Everyone should know these special features of the Amazon Alexa app
Unless an Echo Plus speaker with an integrated hub (control center) is used for Alexa voice control, most smart home devices must first be set up via a control center from their manufacturer before connecting with Alexa is possible.
Due to the cloud connection, Alexa is constantly learning. However, this can also result in a higher security risk than with locally stored data. We have summarized tips and tricks for the correct handling of personal data in the networked home in the Smart Home data protection guide.
Alternatively, the activation word can be changed from ‘Alexa’ to ‘Amazon’, ‘Echo’ or ‘Computer’. Instructions on how to do this are available here: Rename Alexa – here’s how.
Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation), anthracite fabric.
Order now: Better sound and new design – The most popular voice assistant from Amazon in the next generation.
Google Home app: Alternative with more encyclopedic knowledge.
As Amazon’s competitor product, Google’s Home app, which is connected to the Google Assistant voice assistant, is the only one of the smart home apps presented here that cannot be voice-controlled with Alexa. It also offers significantly fewer compatible devices to choose from. In return, the Home app has some other outstanding strengths to offer: Due to the connection to the Google search engine, its answers to knowledge questions are significantly more sound (Alexa searches with bing by default). In our practical tests, Google Assistant also had a much better understanding of speech and could more easily place queries in contexts. Furthermore, the Home app can be used in combination with the Android Auto app for navigation in traffic.
Editor’s verdict: The Google Home app is suitable for inquisitive users who want to get information quickly and easily and are content with the available brands when it comes to smart home devices instead of insisting on certain favorite brands.
Only the app makes Google Home speakers really smart
Only the app makes Google Home speakers really smart (M. Wendel/home&smart).
What is compatible with the Google Home app?
Chromecast, Chromecast Ultra, Chromecast Audio and TVs or speakers with Chromecast technology built in.
Google Pixel smartphone
Android Auto app
Light sources: e.g. from Philips Hue, IKEA TRÅDFRI, LIFX or OSRAM Smart+.
Shutter control: IKEA TRADFRI roller blinds FYRTUR and KADRILJ.
Gadgets: Anova cooking thermometer
Suction robot: e.g. iRobot Roomba suction robot
Speakers: Google Home / Google Home Mini speaker/ Google Nest Hub display/ Sonos One and Sonos One 2
Thermostat: e.g. from Nest, Honeywell or tado° thermostats
Electric door lock: e.g. August Smart Lock
Video doorbell: e.g. from Ring
Other: Magenta Smart Home devices
Smartwatches: e.g. Fossil Sport Smartwatch or Movoi TicWatch E2
Magenta SmartHome app with customer support available at all times
With the Magenta Smart Home app, Telekom customers get everything related to the Internet from a single source. Anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time looking for suitable Smart Home products for their home can get a convenient all-round service here. The Magenta SmartHome service connects the app, the control center (base) and the smart (household) devices.
However, a Magenta SmartHome control center is required to use this app: either the Home Base or the Speedport Smart Router from Telekom. Those who purchase the Magenta Starter package (incl. base) recommended by Telekom for 139.99 euros can also use the app’s alarm service and be informed via SMmS in case of emergency.
Editor’s rating: Sustainable system with perfectly coordinated components and comprehensive support. Unfortunately, there is a charge.
What is compatible with the Magenta SmartHome app?
Philips Hue and Osram Smart+ lights
Gardena smart system (includes robotic mower and soil sensors, among others).
Bose: SoundTouch 10, 20 & 30 / Sonos: Play:1, Play:3, Play:5, One, Connect.
D-Link: Plug adapter, multiple socket, cameras
Homematic IP from e-Q3: motion, smoke and water detectors, radiator and wall thermostats, shutter actuators
Magenta SmartHome: wall switch, door/window contact, camera, etc.
Miele@home: oven, refrigerator and freezer, washing machine, dryer, dishwasher and, via Siemens Home Connect, also Siemens washing machines/ dryers
Netatmo: weather station, rain gauge, wind gauge, Healthy Home Coach, etc.
All components that can be used with this app can be viewed in the Magenta SmartHome compatibility list
As an alternative to the app, voice control via Alexa, Google Assistant or SONOS Speaker is also possible (Telekom).
Everyone should know these special features of the Magenta SmartHome app
Requires the purchase of a Home Base or a Speedport Smart Router from Telekom and the booking of the Magenta SmartHome service for 4.95 euros/ month
Presence simulation also possible using the app’s housekeeper function. This controls networked lamps randomly and plays typical household sounds via Sonos.
Data storage in free MagentaCLOUD.
Homematic IP Smart Home app – for professionals with technical experience
Those with previous technical experience can professionally equip their living space with Homematic IP shutter or floor heating actuators, special switches and other flush-mounted components. However, we do not recommend the use of such devices for non-professionals, as there is a risk of electric shocks and short circuits, among other things, if they are used improperly.
For users with sound electrical knowledge, Homematic IP offers (in addition to classic starter sets) a comprehensive selection of professional components that can also be voice-controlled via Alexa or Google Assistant if desired. All others should contact their trusted tradesman or electrician regarding installation.
What is compatible with the Homematic IP app?
Homematic IP thermostats, floor heating actuators, radiator thermostats, temperature, humidity and window handle sensors, roller shutter actuators (flush-mounted) and much more. All important Homematic IP smart components can be found in our Homematic IP test report
Conrad Connect smart living platform
These are the special features of the Homematic IP app that every user should know.
In order to operate a Homematic IP smart home, a Homematic IP access point is required in addition to the app
Alexa-enabled Homematic IP devices are also occasionally marketed by discount retailers
Homematic IP Starter Set Room Climate is available for 105.99 EUR at MediaMarkt (as of 06/23/2020)
Smart Life app – the right choice for frugal smart home fans
The more comprehensive the networking, the higher the costs. However, if you don’t feel like or don’t have the budget to replace already existing devices with smart versions, you can retrofit many of them with smart WLAN sockets. The Smart Life app presented here is compatible with many inexpensive models from Chinese manufacturers and also controls cameras, lamps and thermostats.
What is compatible with the Smart Life app?
Voice control with Amazon Alexa
WLAN power sockets: e.g. from ablue, ANOOPSYCHE, AISIRER, Gosund or TECKIN
WLAN light switches: e.g. from GREMAG
Light sources: e.g. from ANT LED, Luminea, or TECKIN
Sensors: e.g. from AIIAT, ECOOLBUY,
switches: e.g. from Jinvoo, KOAANW, Konesky, Koogeek
Cameras: e.g. from Panamalar, Maxcio or Luminea
Thermostats: e.g. from aixi-SHS
Every user of the Smart Life app should know these special features
According to user testimonials, the app’s settings are not automatically backed up and can therefore be quickly lost if the app or the device networked with it crashes.