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Hey Google: Are smart homes a gimmick?

Posted by Jay Cox on 31st May 2022

I’m on the fence when it comes to smart homes.

While I’ve always liked to stay up to date with technology, completely kitting out a home with smart tech is not exactly a small investment. Plus, there’s the problem of it becoming obsolete.

Even though I have a few smart devices in my home, I can’t shake the feeling that they’re a bit of a gimmick. “Alexa, turn on the TV” was cool for about a week. And I have no idea why my shower needs an app – I know how to wash.

The case for smart homes

To their credit, smart home devices have come a long way in the last few years and – when set up properly – can be a great way to make your home more energy-efficient. While this is already a plus for the more eco-minded, it’s become even more of a selling point as energy costs soar.

With smart tech, lights can turn on and off automatically when you enter or leave the room, plugs can be turned off at the wall without having to clamber behind appliances, and heating can be controlled remotely – with the likes of Hive giving you the ability to heat each room independently.

You can’t argue with the fact that features like these are convenient. Saving the planet and your wallet at the same time is a massive bonus. But while we’re certainly on the right track, smart tech still faces a lot of challenges.

The case against smart homes

A big problem is the lack of compatibility between brands. Unfortunately, many smart devices don’t want to work together and you can easily find yourself locked into select brands.

There are issues around connectivity and bandwidth, too. While smart devices won’t use a lot of bandwidth on their own, a whole home full of them can put a strain on an internet connection – especially if you’re not getting Kevin Bacon’s super-fast EE fibre.

Big brother is watching

There are also the rather important concerns around privacy and security. Having loads of smart devices connected to your network ultimately expands your potential attack surface. As all the data that devices collect is organised and stored in the cloud, cybercriminals can find out a scary amount about you if they successfully gain access to a database.

Recent viral videos of baby monitors and security cameras being hacked by criminals haven’t helped the smart home cause. Who wants to risk giving hackers a virtual view of your living room?

Compatibility is a waiting game

I’m slowly coming around to the idea of having more than a couple of smart home devices – as long as I can take steps to avoid a strange person spying on me.

There also needs to be some compatibility changes. A universal networking protocol would be nice so I can pick devices I actually like rather than being stuck with what’s compatible. Tech like Matter is emerging to tackle this issue but it’s not due to be released until autumn 2022.

It looks like we’ll just have to wait and see if smart homes can move beyond the land of novelty into one of necessity.

Jay Cox