For years, there have been two kinds of hubs that run smart homes. One is the kind you buy from a retailer, such as the Amazon Echo Plus, Hubitat, Samsung SmartThings, or Wink hubs. And one is the DIY kind where you download and install software to a Raspberry Pi or some other low-cost computing device. It turns out the second kind is becoming more like the first.
You can now purchase a hub that used to be DIY, such as open-source projects from Home Assistant or Homebridge, as complete plug-and-play products, just like a traditionally branded hub.
That might sound like a high price for a smart home hub, but time is money as they say. And I’ve spent several hours configuring my own Home Assistant instance on a Raspberry Pi. Most consumers likely wouldn’t have the patience, or the skill set, to take that plunge. So in that regard, I don’t think the costs are too high.
For the hardware nerds out there, the newly announced Home Assistant Blue is definitely more powerful. Instead of a Raspberry Pi, like the HOOBS product uses, Blue is powered by an ODROID-N2+ with a 6-core CPU and 128 GB of flash storage. HOOBS uses a slower quad-core CPU and just 16 GB of flash storage; it’s essentially a Raspberry Pi with the hub software pre-installed. However, HOOBS does have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios while Home Assistant Blue relies on an ethernet port and optional USB dongles for device connectivity.
But I’m not here to tell you which of these you might want to purchase. That’s a personal choice, although I do hope to take both for a spin in upcoming reviews. No, the big deal here is the movement towards making the previously DIY-only hubs less DIY. And there are good reasons to consider these open-source options over the “big brand” hubs on the market.
First, the open-source community is generally pretty good about creating smart home device integrations. Instead of waiting for Amazon, Apple, Google, or Samsung to support a device you want, the DIY developer community often builds the needed support. That’s why you’ll typically find broader device support for these projects.
Second, you may have more choice in terms of your ecosystem options. We often tell people before implementing a smart home, pick your platform. The DIY platforms almost negate that rule. You’ll often find solutions that work with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri thanks to available plugins.
Third, is less reliance on the cloud for smart home actions and automations. Because you’re running a hardware hub in your smart home, Home Assistant and Homebridge-based systems often work even when there’s an internet or cloud outage. Folks that couldn’t use their Nest locks earlier this week due to a Google outage can appreciate that.
And finally, possibly the most important reason is that less of your data is sent to the cloud. This is one of the key selling points of the Home Assistant Blue, in fact, according to the product page:
“Home Assistant communicates with your devices locally, and will fallback to pulling in data from the cloud if there is no other option. No data is stored in the cloud, and everything is processed locally.”
I’m not suggesting that one of these products, whether you purchase the hardware or simply download the software to a Raspberry Pi, is the answer for everyone. There are still going to be consumers that are happy living in the world of Alexa, Google, HomeKit, or Samsung. And that’s OK.
But one of the largest friction points to more homeowners using these DIY platforms is the DIY part.
Not everyone has the time or wants to spend the effort creating and managing every aspect of their smart home hub. But I suspect there are a growing number of people who would try these options if it was a pre-installed piece of consumer hardware. And that’s what Home Assistant Blue and HOOBS are offering. I can’t wait to try them.