When Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion earlier this year, the deal included the Nest Learning Thermostat, a darling in the smart home world. Before and since, companies leapt at the chance to produce the next big thing in the industry, and competition is heated.
But many are questioning the necessity and practically of smart home technology, including “Wall Street Journal” tech columnist Christopher Mims.
“[F]rankly, other than people who have very specific reasons to add automation to their homes, I have no idea why anyone would do it, even if the equipment were free,” Mims said. “Even when smart home technology works as advertised, the complexity it adds to everyday life outweighs any convenience it might provide.”
Weighing the pros and cons of smart home technology sheds light on the debate.
Pros of Smart Home Technology
For those who enjoy the convenience of home automation, smart home devices fit the bill. Smart home technology can control everyday tasks such as starting the coffeemaker just before the user’s alarm goes off so that the coffee will be hot and ready by the time the user walks into the kitchen. Other devices control various features of automated home security, such as the ability to remotely monitor motion sensing cameras or activate the security system automatically at the time you normally go to bed.
Some smart home technologies, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat, are not only convenient, but they save you money as well. For example, this smart thermostat learns the behaviors of its users, such as when they go to work and come home, so the thermostat adjust the temperature of the home to an energy-efficient temperature until just before the user arrives. This saves money on the monthly electricity bill as well as maintains the proper temperature for its users so they don’t have to.
The Technology’s Drawbacks
Smart home technology in its current form has drawbacks as well. Some argue that the programming is too complex and time-consuming and that it’s easier to perform the task in the traditional way, such as controlling lights with a light switch rather than a smartphone.
“It’s this task-driven approach to selling the idea of the smart home—offering a device or kit that solves a specific problem, rather than an all-in-one solution—that seems most likely to overcome the reluctance of most of us to add complexity to our personal sanctuaries,” Mims said.
Others maintain that the technology is still too expensive for being in its early stages of development, and the “wow” factor for the industry has not yet hit the market. For them, spending considerable money on a product that starts your coffee machine before you walk into the kitchen is not worth the investment.
Another argument states that many of these devices do not yet communicate with each other or even on the same network. Smart home tech companies use different proprietary systems of communication, and users must have an app for each individual device rather than one app that controls them all.
Smart home technology hubs, such as Revolv, and communication languages, such as Zigbee, create a universal smart home automation communication platform, but this still does not apply to all smart home gadgets.
Analysts argue that smart home technology is not worth pursuing until companies produce more and better smart devices.
Which Smart Home Technologies Are Worth It?
At this point, certain smart home devices work better than others. Nest’s smart thermostat determines schedules on its own, so this is a simple and useful smart home device that also saves the user money. Technologies that control lights can be useful if you don’t want to climb out of bed or off the couch to turn on or off the lights, as long as you don’t mind having to access the app every time you need it.
Other devices, while convenient, are not as practical. An automatic garage door opener you use to remotely open and close your garage door could be a home security hazard, as an intruder could be waiting outside of your garage door, but you may be too far away to know. Similarly, an intruder could have easy access to your front door, so having an automatic lock device that opens while you aren’t in front of it may not be as safe either.
Debates surfaced in the past few years as to whether smart home technology is necessary, useful, or practical, but companies continue researching and producing smart home technologies. As these devices evolve and learn to communicate with each other, opinions may change in the future.
Written by Carolyn Heneghan
Carolyn is a nutrition and environmental crusader who loves using and exploring technology almost as much as she enjoys writing about it. Learn more