TechSpot

The state of the smart home

By Jos
Jul 20, 2016
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  1. The promise was big, the hype was bigger, but the reality, well, let’s just say, not exactly earth-shattering. Several years after the concept of the smart home started making waves—the first Nest thermostat was introduced in October of 2011—the smart home market is still more promise than practical reality. Certainly, progress has been made, and with the forthcoming version of the HomeKit-enabled Home app in iOS 10 slated for this fall, more is on the near-term horizon.

    But, it’s also fair to say that most people haven’t exactly been caught up in a wave of smart home euphoria. Other than the modest success of web-enabled home security cameras, most consumers haven’t felt compelled to equip their homes with connected light bulbs, appliances and other smart devices.

    It’s not hard to see why. First, as has already been discussed ad infinitum, there’s a standards problem—as in, there are way too many of them, and battles exist at nearly every potential layer of the communications stack. As a result, the process of finding products that will work together is a much harder (and more limiting) research project than it should be.

    On top of the obvious technical challenges, there are other more practical usability challenges. First, most devices have their own apps, which often means you have to switch from app-to-app to get common things done. In theory, some of the upcoming developments in smart home platforms—like the enhancements coming to Apple’s HomeKit mentioned earlier—should help in this regard.

    ...it’s fair to say that most people haven’t exactly been caught up in a wave of smart home euphoria... it’s not hard to see why: there’s a standards problem

    An even bigger question in my mind, however, is why do we have smart home apps at all? While developers like to believe that people carry their smartphones everywhere, the truth is, for many people, home is the one place where they don’t always carry their phone. Between plugging it in to charge, setting it down with keys or other objects, or just finally taking a break from it, it’s not at all uncommon to be “phoneless” when you’re at home.

    Needless to say, pretty tough to do trivial yet essential things, like turning on a light, if you don’t have immediate access to the software that function might depend upon. When you’re outside your home and want to check in on something, of course, smart home apps are essential. Inside, however, the value proposition for apps isn’t always very clear.

    In fact, it’s this desire to be “phone-free” at home that, in part, has triggered the growing interest in voice-based devices like Amazon’s Alexa. By leveraging a fixed location appliance that doesn’t require anything but your ability to speak to it, you can accomplish a number of things more easily, more quickly, or just plain more possibly than having to dig into your pocket or purse to get your phone, find an app, launch it and then do whatever it is you want to do.

    Of course, because it’s a fixed location device, unless your living space is tiny, you could easily need several in order to get the kind of control you’d want throughout your entire home or apartment. That, in turn, leads to yet another challenge for smart home solutions: cost.

    In many cases, the cost of a single smart home device really isn’t that bad. But unlike most other tech gadgets, smart home devices need to be bought in bulk—think about how many light bulbs you have around your house—in order to provide their full benefit. Needless to say, that can add up very quickly.

    Unlike most other tech gadgets, smart home devices need to be bought in bulk… in order to provide their full benefit.

    Given all these costs and challenges, it’s easy to understand why smart home services, such as AT&T’s Digital Life and Vivint’s SmartHome, have enjoyed some degree of success. The barriers to success for a DIY smart home remain fairly high for most consumers, so having someone do the work of installing and integrating everything is bound to be appealing to a certain group of consumers.

    Even with those pre-packaged solutions—which tend to focus primarily on security—there still really aren’t the kind of comprehensive, fully intelligent systems that many of the first visions of smart homes promised. Instead, we see more up-to-date versions of things like home automation, multi-room entertainment, and security services that, frankly, have been around for decades.

    For consumers to find a compelling enough value in smart home products and services, there needs to be a lot more thought given to how people want to interact with their homes, both inside and outside, in a seamless manner. Additionally, more intelligent learning has to go on so that the elements in a smart home can self-discover and self-configure themselves with whatever other existing devices are in a home in a manner that makes them quickly and genuinely useful.

    The promise of an automated home is still a compelling one, but we have to move past simply getting them connected and start making them smart.

    If you’re interested in learning more about the smart home industry opportunity, I’m pleased to be the Chairman for day one of the Smart Home Summit in Palo Alto, CA on November 1, 2016. You can learn more about the event here.

    Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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  2. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 1,660   +767

    The so called "smart home" still has a long way to go. Non-standardization, insecure, and costing more than you will ever save just detracts so much that it won't catch on for the "masses". If they ever pull those three faults together at a reasonable price, it could be a real game changer, but I don't see that coming anytime soon.
     
    9Nails likes this.
  3. H3llion

    H3llion TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,254   +222

    All I can think of is 'Mr Robot' Alarm scene where the whole "smart home" had been hacked and all the alarms, lights, appliances had a stroke :D (season 2).
     
  4. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,035   +268

    I agree, but I might not even then adopt.

    However, I don't think the author gets the idea that so called smart home devices are themselves insecure. To me, this is obvious from the fact that the author uses the word "security" in a context that implies that smart home devices would increase the security of the home. Yet since they are in and of themselves, insecure devices, their effect is to decrease security. In fact, it seems like most of the articles on smart home devices here on TechSpot NEVER mention the security of the devices themselves as if we are supposed to read the articles like sheep and start using smart home devices. Unfortunately, it seems, the smart home device articles seem to forget that many who read TechSpot are highly technical and are acutely aware of the security problems inherent in smart home devices.

    My lights are on in rooms that I or my wife are in. In other rooms, most of the time, they are off. There's a light switch on the wall near the entry to most of our rooms. Why would I want to have to whip out a smart phone or tablet to turn on the light when I can just flip the switch? Sounds like re-invention of the wheel if you ask me.

    I do, though, have an android tablet that I use to control my home theater. However, its secure and on a secure network and controls devices that are meant to be remote controlled. Would I add a smart home device to this network, hell no!
     
    BSim500 likes this.
  5. BSim500

    BSim500 TS Guru Posts: 198   +272

    I think it was Einstein that once said "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler". I want to turn the light on. Click. It's on. Really there is no "make your life easier" pull for $50 connected smart homes, etc, vs flicking a 100% reliable, +50 year lifespan $2 light-switch (or $5 "dumb" remote control that elderly / disabled have been using for 30 years). Everything seems to be the opposite - unnecessarily convoluted alternative methods of doing the simplest tasks.

    Being able to adjust a thermostat from 5,000 miles away is a pointless marketing gimmick since you're not there to tell whether or not the result of the adjustment is comfortable or not (and the entire point of a thermostat is it adjusts itself without needing constant micro-management). "Remotely turn off your water heater". Why would I manually do that twice a day from outside the house instead of just setting up a timer like normal people?

    Being able to remotely view a feed from a security camera is useful, however, any half serious security related device, eg, CCTV / external security lighting actively doesn't want to be capable of being disabled from outside of the house for obvious reasons. "Being alerted when it detects movement" is the first feature that gets disabled after your neighbours cat triggers it off 7x per hour. And the postman. And every other cold caller, leaflet mailer, etc.

    If people want mobile music around the house, will they really buy 16x speakers then try and network them together over 8 rooms along with some convoluted tracking method. Or just use their phone / MP3 player which is easier, cheaper, and continues to work in the garden and outside the house.

    Every dumb coffee machine, cooker and microwave since the early 90's comes with a timer which is about the only useful "smart" feature on smart cooking appliances. "Camera inside your oven". Gee, that's useful when cooking something wrapped in foil. "Pause the washing machine when out". Why on earth would you want to do that given every single machine in existence just turns itself off when finished. "Save time by choosing to start your wash when you’re not at home". LOL. So you spend 2mins filling the machine up with clothes from the laundry basket, putting in the washing powder, closing the door, etc, yet "save" 0.5 seconds of time not pushing a button there & then but instead take 6-12s opening the app, navigating to the right tab and starting it 5 mins later? This "time saving" stuff is turning out to be just a time wasting common-sense-less joke.

    The reason "smart" devices are flopping is quite simple - there's nothing smart about replacing hassle free automation devices with more manual micro-managing that exists for the sake of existing. And that's what "smart" mobile control of every trivial appliance ends up like - more unnecessary micro-managing of simple tasks (eg, washing clothes, water boiler) that should require zero additional human input / control / monitoring at all once started / set up. When some "Killer" feature arises, it'll probably make sense, but a lot of this stuff falls under "solution looking for a problem" marketing gimmicks seemingly aimed at control freaks with "Smartphone OCD" whilst the "Internet of Things" continues to be just another buzzword for "insecure home network".
     
    wiyosaya and cliffordcooley like this.
  6. fastvince

    fastvince TS Enthusiast Posts: 68   +19

    I use a Wink Hub to turn my porch and security lights on/off at sunrise/sunset. That's the only thing I use it for. It also has an IFTTT channel, so there are some neat things that it can do, but I don't use it for that at the moment.

    Sometimes I forget to turn off the light in my workshop. I can set up a IFTTT recipe like ...IF light in workshop has been on for over 4 hours THEN turn light off. This way it wont stay on all night if I forget to shut it off.
     

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