Is Smart Tech Worth the Hassle?

Smart home technology is on the rise. You can control your lights, thermostat, garage door, alarm system, door locks, vacuums, and even your microwave all from your mobile device or even the power of your voice. But is it worth it?

To explain the state of smart devices I’m going to use LED smart lights as an example. They’re perfect since they are cheap, coming in around $14-$100 which makes them an attainable entry point for people wanting to get into smart tech.

Our first problem appears during the setup process. EVERY smart tech brand has their own app to control their smart accessories. This means once you invest in one system you’re stuck with it unless you want a different app for each device.

Now that you have the appropriate app for your smart device you have to set it up, a process that is different for every smart device. Some devices pair using a bar code while others rely on Bluetooth or WIFI.

With the device set up and connected to your home WIFI, more issues are introduced. For instance, how is your WIFI coverage? Do you have a strong connection across your home or is your device on the edge of connection and will constantly be falling off? Then lastly can your home WIFI network support a fleet of bulbs spread across the house, and if so how will it penalize the rest of your network-connected devices like your iPhone or TV. Now some companies have found a way around using WIFI by introducing hubs, an example being the Philips Hue Hub. With a hub, you connect all of your bulbs to the hub then, connect the hub to your internet lessening the number of individual devices connected to your home internet. However, this workaround will increase the initial investment needed to get started since you, of course, have to pay for the hub.

Up next you have to give that bulb a name. Think of that lamp, you know the one, it’s right by the couch, it has a white cover, and fancy design, you know the one I’m talking about. What is the name of that lamp? “Lamp by the couch”? No that’s not going to work because there is another lamp on the other side of the couch. This is an issue that you may never have thought of before. If you had to individually identify each lightbulb in your house what would name them? Now you could of course pair the two lamps together and say “Turn on the lamps by the couch”. But, you still need to give each light a distinct and unique name, and you can’t reuse names while at the same time you need to remember which one is which for when you want to control them.

Now your bulb is connected and ready to do your bidding. How do you plan on controlling the bulb? You can of course use the app on your phone and maybe even your smartwatch if you have one. But you don’t want to pull out your phone, find the app, then find the device you want to control. Instead, the simplest way to control all of your smart devices is by using a voice assistant like Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri. When picking out your smart device you need to choose one that works with your preferred voice assistance. If you have any Google products look for smart devices with Google Assistant support, if you’re invested in Amazon’s Echo devices look for Amazon Alexa support, then lastly if you’re in the Apple ecosystem look for Homekit support. Ultimately, it’s up to the device manufacture on which voice assistance to support, if any at all. You may be thinking: “Cool as soon as I added the bulb to the proprietary app it’s also added to my voice assistant!” WRONG! In most cases, you have to manually link the account you created in your smart device’s app to your voice assistant’s app which is another step and in some cases is not as seamless as advertised.

Now let’s reverse a bit, have you ever heard of Apple HomeKit? Probably not. That’s because Apple has such strict privacy restrictions (and licensing fees) that most smart devices don’t comply with. This introduces a new issue: security and privacy.

It’s a well-known fact that Google Assistant, Alexa, and even Siri are listening to everything you say waiting for their wake word. Now there will be another device in your house that will also be collecting your personal information. By investing in smart tech you are signing your soul over to the companies that provide you the ability to turn your room lights off while laying in bed. But hey you’re already being tracked across the internet so what does it matter if you have a device listening to everything you say and following you around your home. If you want to know more about how your data is being used you could always read their Privacy Policy, but who has time to read through pages of confusing legal terminology.

Now after all of that, your product is ready to use! “Alexa, turn on my light.” Alexa, turn off my light.” “Alexa, turn my light blue.” “Alexa, was all of this worth it” And I guess that’s the ultimate question. If you’re already lost then smart tech is definitely not for you. Just go back to your basic light switch and if you want to get fancy with the way you control your lights get a clapper or motion sensor. I guess that’s the issue here, the setup can be tedious and difficult. Look at all the hoops you have to jump through just to get it working. With all these steps there are so many places where things can go wrong. Today, there are projects in the works like a coalition between Apple, Amazon, and Google to create one standard that is compatible with the big three voice assistance, but that’s not expected to come until 2021. And, if you purchase a device today it is unknown whether it will be updated to support the upcoming standard.

There is only two way I can see smart devices becoming mainstream and worthwhile. First, enhanced privacy and security. I want promises and commitments from the device manufacturers that they will not harvest user data. Second, I want a one-step setup. Apple’s HomeKit is a great example of this. You plug in your smart device and from the Home app, that manages all of your HomeKit devices, you either scan a barcode or tap your iPhone on that device. It’s that simple. Just like that everything is set up including connecting it to WIFI. Now all you have to do is give the device a name. There is no downloading the manufacture’s app, creating an account with them, going through a hundred steps to add the device, and then go through a hundred more to add it to a voice assistant.

Maybe I’ve been too harsh. There are some cool features that may make smart tech an ideal solution for you. For one thing, automation is great! Being able to schedule your lights to turn on and off at certain times may be useful. If you’re someone who travels a lot you may want to schedule your lights to come on at night while you’re gone. Then you have the option to control your lights while you’re on the go.

So this may have started out as more of a how-to but quickly turn into a rant. But, these are real problems with this industry. If they want to make their products widespread they need to make the setup process easier and show they care about protecting their customers personal data. Until then, I cannot recommend smart devices.

**This has been an overgeneralization of the smart device market. You may or may not see the same results with different smart products you try.