What Is a Smart Device?

We use smart devices every day, but what exactly makes a device smart?

Written by Manuel Silverio
What Is a Smart Device?
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Matthew Urwin | Dec 19, 2023

Smart devices play a fundamental role in today’s Industry 4.0. They are at the center of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities. And yet, when I looked for a definition of ‘smart device’ a few years ago, I couldn’t find much. So I resorted to creating a new methodological approach for developing a scalable concept of smart devices.

What Is a Smart Device?

A smart device is a wired or wireless context-aware electronic device capable of performing autonomous computing and connecting to other devices for data exchange.

A smart device has three main features: (1) context awareness, (2) autonomous computing and (3) connectivity.

This definition aligns with the main idea of the Internet of Things. In other words, any one thing can become part of the IoT. A chair can become a smart chair if we add a sensor, a tiny bit of computing capabilities and network connectivity.

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What Is a Smart Device?

Smart Devices Have Context Awareness

Context awareness is a system or system component’s ability to gather information about its environment at any given time and adapt behaviors accordingly. Cameras, microphones and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers, radar and LiDAR sensors are all potential sources of data for context-aware computing. A context-aware system may gather data through these and other sources and respond according to pre-established rules or through computational intelligence.


Smart Devices Have Autonomous Computing

The key aspect of autonomous computing is a device or multiple devices performing tasks autonomously without the direct command of the user. For example, our smartphones make suggestions based on our geolocation or the weather. To accomplish this seemingly simple task, a smartphone needs to be autonomous and use context data to make decisions.


Smart Devices Have Connectivity

Connectivity refers to the ability of a smart device to connect to a data network. Without connectivity, there is no point in a smart device being autonomous and having context awareness. Network connectivity, whether wired or wireless, is a crucial feature that enables a device to be a part of the IoT.


How Do Smart Devices Work?

Smart devices rely on the IoT to connect to sensors. These sensors are attached to objects or other network-connected devices and gather data from their surroundings. Smart devices can then store this data, share it with other smart devices and conduct data analyses to provide insights to users.

If multiple smart devices are connected to the same network, a single platform or device can be used to operate different smart devices. As long as there’s an internet connection, smart devices have the ability to exchange information and communicate with one another, making it easier to send data and monitor devices.


Do Smart Devices Need Humans?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming all smart devices are designed for interacting with humans. If you think that way then you’re only thinking of the most common smart devices, such as smartphones, smart TVs or smartwatches. There are so many more possibilities. A smart device can have direct or indirect interaction with humans. A weather probe, for example, might collect weather data and transmit it to the IoT. Humans will end up using that data of course, but the weather probe did not require any direct interaction with humans.


Do Smart Devices Need to Be Portable?

Does a smart surveillance camera need to be mobile? Remember the three rules: context awareness (it’s a camera, which means it passes the test), autonomous computing (it uses computer vision to recognize particular objects), and network connectivity (it sends a report of the objects it recognizes to a server). In this example, portability is not required.

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Are Autonomous Vehicles Smart Devices?

Yes! Autonomous vehicles comply with the three key criteria needed to make a device smart. It has network connectivity, context awareness (sensors such as GPS, LIDAR and Radar), and autonomous computing.

In the end, a smartphone might be a lot simpler than an autonomous vehicle, but they’re both smart devices.

A few years ago, when I developed the definition of a smart device, I reviewed all the literature and found a major lack of agreement in terminology. I saw everything from ‘smart mobile device’ to ‘mobile smart device’ to ‘smart green IT device’ — the list goes on. It doesn’t really matter what we call these devices because, in the end, what’s important is we understand what makes a smart device smart.​


Benefits of Smart Devices

From smart homes to autonomous vehicles, smart devices have become a mainstay in various aspects of daily life due to several advantages they offer.


Energy Savings

Smart devices can be designed to turn off automatically when not in use. They can also be programmed to follow scheduled tasks, such as dimming the lights at the end of the day. These actions cut down on excessive energy use and reduce costs in the long run.    


Worker Productivity

Because smart devices can be controlled with a quick click or voice command, they give individuals and businesses more time back in their days. Smart devices can automate repetitive tasks in the workplace as well, freeing up employees to focus on more complex projects.  


Health Monitoring 

Many smart devices come in the form of smartwatches, sensors and other wearables that send health data to medical teams. This way, doctors and healthcare personnel can monitor patients and respond more quickly to health anomalies. 


Security Measures

Companies and homeowners can set up cameras and sensors, allowing them to monitor an office space, home or other area around the clock. And since smart devices can communicate with each other, they can easily share data and send alerts when unusual activity is detected.  


Drawbacks of Smart Devices

Although smart devices can enhance everyday routines and processes, individuals and businesses alike need to consider a few downsides of the technology.


Additional Costs

Installing smart devices, sensors and other accompanying technologies comes with immediate expenses. In addition, not everyone has the resources required to maintain, repair or replace smart devices if they fail to function properly.  


Cyber Threats

The same connections smart devices use to gather and share data can also serve as openings for hackers. If users don’t have the proper security measures in place, their devices could be susceptible to a range of cyber attacks.  


Compatibility Issues 

Different competitors in the smart devices sector often design devices that only work with devices of the same brand. Users who have devices of varying brands may not be able to sync up their devices, limiting their networks and potentially isolating certain devices. 


Reliant on the Internet 

The digital divide makes smart devices pointless for many consumers since 2.6 billion people still don’t have internet access. As for those who can and do use smart devices, automating too many processes can leave them vulnerable if devices break down or get breached.


Frequently Asked Questions

A smart device is any internet-connected device — wired or wireless — that can compile data from its surroundings, share this data with other devices and perform tasks autonomously.

Autonomous vehicles, smartphones and smart thermostats are a few examples of smart devices.

The main difference between smart devices and connected devices is their purposes. Connected devices gather and exchange data to provide insights on how to improve systems or make business operations more efficient. Smart devices compile data to find ways to automate processes and perform other tasks that enhance the lives of users.

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