I’ve been reading a lot in the tech news lately about the state of the smart home, specifically the seemingly never-ending controversy surrounding the ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT). It’s generally a widespread belief that technology can be used to make our homes more efficient, our cities safer, and our industries more productive. Yet I’ve read dozens of articles about the pitfalls of inviting IoT into your home. Some people are concerned about the lack of interoperability, others are scared that not enough is being done to secure IoT devices. Still, others are saying that hubs are dying a slow death and that voice assistants are the way forward. Some people are advocating a “wait-and-see” strategy, others say just go for it. With all the chatter out there, how do you know what to believe?
First of all, each of these are valid concerns that should be thoroughly investigated by the consumer prior to purchasing a smart home device or system. Each have a certain element of truth to them, but they are not nearly as bad as some articles lead you to believe. Sometimes the headlines are overblown, especially regarding security flaws, to bait people into reading the article.
What’s important to know is what’s out there, how it works, and what works with it. Currently, there is no dominant player in the smart home space. Samsung’s SmartThings platform comes close, and can meet most needs, but it probably won’t do everything you want. There is no dominant communications protocol. WiFi, ZigBee, and Z-wave are popular, but competing protocols. A WiFi device cannot talk directly to a ZigBee device. Hubs are a nice solution for solving the incompatible protocol problem, but then you’re relying on one manufacturer to support another manufacturer’s hub or device. Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn’t.
Some people have different ideas about what a smart home should be. Some think of a smart home as a residence where everything is connected, perhaps “my alarm clock is going off, start making me a pot of coffee.” Others believe that a smart home includes automation that augments our daily lives to perform specific tasks under certain conditions, i.e., “it’s dark outside, so turn on my lights.”
While the ideal smart home system would use a standardized communications protocol with hardware that’s impossible to compromise, this isn’t a very practical expectation at the moment. The smart home is still in its infancy, and manufacturers as well as consumers are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re interested in adding some smarts to your home and you’re not sure what to make of what you’ve read online, keep reading to hopefully shed some light on these arguments.