The Joy’s and Perils of the “Smart” Home

Wireless-Voice-Controllable-Smart-Home-ProjectFor a few years now, I’ve been toying around with “Smart” home accessories. I have Philips Hue light bulbs, and accessories, I’ve owned various Belkin WeMo switches, and have recently jumped into the Wink ecosystem with their Aros Smart Air Conditioner. In many ways “Smart” isn’t the correct way to refer to these devices or a home powered by them. We’re still in its infancy and many of these devices don’t offer much more convenience than normal “unsmart” devices. A better way to refer to them are connected devices, which is a more apt description. They are connected to the internet, bluetooth, or both giving you unprecedented access to your appliances and in some cases more convenience. However, they do fall into a few pitfalls, and this is just my experience with the connected home, and integrating them into my life and my wearables.

8138422826_39a2d273e5_zThe biggest problem with these devices these days, as everyone who’s dabbled in the connected home space knows, is the lack of a common standard. Everything is siloed into each specific manufacturer’s apps. There’s a few catch all systems SmartThings and Wink for example, but you can’t interconnect. Once I buy wink, I can’t mix and match devices from SmartThings and vice versa. There’s a little bit of overlap, for example, due to the open API, Philips Hue devices will work with both SmartThings and Wink. From experience I know the implementation of Hue on Wink is very limited. You can’t include Philips Hue in “Robots” (Wink’s name for Macros and Automation), and you can’t put them into groups.

Wink RelayWhich is a real shame because if these restrictions were lifted from Wink, I would jump all in on their platform. Their Apple Watch app is coming in the next update and they have the devices that interest me the most. For example I loved my Belkin WeMo light switches, but those fell into the same pitfall as regular light switches, they cut off power to the lights. Which means they’re no longer connected, which takes away all the “smarts” and removes pretty much all the compelling features of the lights. Same problem with the SmartThings switches. Same principle. By contrast Wink’s Tapt light switch can be set to switch the lights scenes, and send them signals to turn off, rather than cutting off the power, and removing the connected features of the lights. Same with Wink’s Relay light switch. Which includes a really interesting touch screen interface in addition to various sensors. I would love to have this thing on my wall, but really if I can’t include my Hue lights in groups, or robots, what’s the point?

dim_motin_multi_presKitThis only offers a negligible upgrade over Belkin’s or SmartThings’ system. Niether is compelling enough for me to go all in. Which leaves me back in the Siloed experience. Right now, I have 3D printed light switch covers so guests don’t accidentally switch off the power to my connected lights. Over that I have a Philips Hue Tap, which is Philips light switch. The Hue Tap is a pretty remarkable device. It doesn’t require wiring into the wall, it doesn’t require batteries. It gets its power from you pressing the buttons. It has four buttons that you can configure to do anything you want. But it only works with the Philips Hue line of lighting devices. And it’s not a very pretty solution to block off my regular light switches and add a hue tap above them. The Hue Tap should ideally be an add on for something like a Wink Tapt, or Relay. It augments the system I already have, except there’s no system that really meets my needs completely yet.

wink-screen-arosDon’t get me wrong. I love being able to turn my air conditioner on with my watch before I even get home on a hot day. I love having the light turn on and my lock automatically open for me when I get home. I love that if I’m feeling particularly tired on a certain day, I can just dim the lights from my watch, or just ask Alexa (Amazon’s Virtual Assistant in the Amazon Echo Connected Speaker) to do it for me. But having to open a different app to control each different device, because no one has yet figured out a good way to integrate all of this is a bit much. Especially since the Apple Watch isn’t perfect either. It takes way too long to open certain apps, which should get better this fall with watchOS 2, but I shouldn’t have to open all those different apps. I’m hesitant to say that HomeKit will fix this, because it requires new hardware. Hardware that I can’t afford to keep replacing. However being able to say “Hey Siri” or “Ok Google, turn on my living room lights” or “Set the air conditioner to 72 degrees” into my watch would be way easier than the current system of disparate apps, and hardware that only kind of works. I need one place for all of this not 60 different systems.

LockOnDoor_HandComp.R4.1-FOn another note, I love my August Smart Lock, I can set it to automatically lock itself after a predetermined amount of time if I forget to. I can set it to automatically unlock as I approach my door. I can even give guests virtual keys. Where this experience lacks is that this is the most Silo-ed device of all, with almost no interconnectivity with any other system. Worst of all, this is probably the device I’d benefit the most from having on my wrist as an Apple Watch or Android Wear app, but none exists. A wearable app for this seems like a no brainer for me. When I reached out to August for comment, they just directed me to their blog which hadn’t even been updated for about a month. At least when I reached out to Simple about an Apple Watch app they sent me a Gif of Jack Nicholson nodding (which was an awesome response by the way). August needs to learn to communicate better with their customers, after all, we are the reason they are still in business. No customers = no business, simple as that.

8138423138_63c705004f_zThe bottom line is that the connected home has some serious potential, however systems like SmartThings, Wink, Homekit, Works With Nest, need to figure out to to fix the pain points before they will be able to convince anyone to fully invest in their system. At this point its just not worth it to pick a side. Not until one side has everything you really need. Including apps for my wearable devices. If there’s one thing that needs to just be there when I look down at my wrist ready to take a command, it’s these connected devices. Until controlling my connected home devices is as easy if not easier on my smart phone and wearable than just hitting a panel on my wall, it’s no more than a novelty. That will only really get used when I set my lights to change in rhythm to the music playing for parties, or to have a cool demo to show guests, or to scare the crap out of myself when I’m using my lights for ambient lighting effects while playing “The Last of Us.”

IMG_0846It’s not like there’s no opportunity either. The wearable space now provides a window for instant access to all of my devices. A simple context sensitive switch, that pops up on my watch at the times when I usually want to unlock my door, or turn off my lights, or turn on my air conditioner. People are creatures of habit, and it wouldn’t be too hard to be able to learn someone’s habits and give them just in time controls for the things they do often. If I’m coming home I could receive an actionable notification on my watch to unlock my door. If the weather is getting pretty hot, send me another asking how I’d like to set my air conditioner. Or when the sun begins to set, it would be nice to be able to have a switch pop up to set my lights a little brighter. It boggles my mind why things like this haven’t been tried yet. Mobile has had actionable notifications for a while now, with actionable notifications extending to your wearables, it seems like a no brainer that somebody would have tried this by now. Something like this might even work to soothe the fact that I have to work with so many different apps. Things like Amazon’s Alexa, Siri, and Google Now have the potential to be a killer home hub, mix that in with context sensitive, actionable notifications, and you have a killer reason for anybody to begin automating their home.

IMG_0848It’s time for one or all of these companies to start investing in a way to bring all of these disparate systems together. I know for sure that the one who does will definitely get my money, and I’m betting a lot of other people’s as well. If you’d like to read more about my adventures in the Connected Home and 3D Printing, check out ObsessivelyGeek.com. You can email me at [email protected]. Or can can let us know what you think in the comments.

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