As new technologies develop, an important question I ask is “is it simple yet?” Asking that question is at least at times partially out of my own self interest. Do I want to take on one more new thing where I need to be the house IT helpdesk and IT manager? I dread the universal “the such-and-so isn’t working again.” I’m very fortunate to have a tech savvy spouse, but not withstanding, if I install some new gadget, network or device, I expect to be the one to maintain and get it working again when problems occur. Do smart home products pass the “simple” test?
I’ve tested and experimented with smart home technologies for several years, first diving in with Phillips Hue lights and a smart doorbell in my Colorado home. Next was venturing into the world of smart plugs to control lights, security video cameras, smart door locks, and digital assistant devices. More recently, I installed a mesh Wi-Fi network, wireless smart sound system and a wireless smart security system, the latter of which I recently finished installing.
“Is is simple yet…” essentially boils down to three key attributes: reliability, usability and maturity. My answer for smart home technologies in general is a “no”, not yet, but it is getting better. There are steps you can take to help take some of the complexity out of smart home technologies.
1 – Choose Your Network Wisely
Smart devices run on any number of wireless (and wired) networks; Wi-Fi (2.4ghz, 5.0ghz), Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Z-Wave and more. Focus on one or two of the technologies – you don’t want to have to manage and troubleshoot multiple networks if at all possible.
Wi-Fi of course is prevalent and doesn’t require hubs but can become unreliable as network traffic increases and the number of connected devices reach beyond 40, 50 or more. Wi-Fi coverage can also be a challenge so consider extenders, mesh options, or other types of networks. This may also help where Wi-Fi interference is a problem. Zigbee, BLE and Z-Wave are all well enough established technologies, though Zigbee and BLE seem to be more on the rise.
My network of choice is primarily Wi-Fi because I have so much more experience with it, with some Zigbee thrown in since it’s what the Ring Alarm system uses. I actually prefer having the alarm system on a separate network from the rest of my Wi-Fi traffic anyway.
2 – Stick With A Few Manufacturers
Every, I mean *every*, device manufacture has its own app. Usually shared across their line of products but not always all products. When we purchased our last home the builder said; “get ready to use a lot of apps.” And there weren’t even that many smart devices in the home yet.
It sounds obvious but do you really want to have multiple manufacturers for your smart light switches (two or more apps), multiple brands of power switches for plugs and all outlets (two or more apps), multiple wireless sound system manufacturers (two or more apps), add in your sprinkler, garage door, thermostat / HVAC system, door locks, etc., etc. You can see how you can end up with a smartphone screen full of apps and mixed bag of devices to troubleshoot and manage. That’s not a path anyone wants to find themselves on.
And not all apps are created equal. App usability is generally getting much better but not all are great. Even though you may integrate them with an Alexa, Google or Apple voice device, you’ll still need those apps to configure, upgrade and troubleshoot all your smart devices.
Picking a manufacturer for each of you smart lighting, power plug/outlet and smart door lock choices is a great start and will make your life much easier.
3 – Try – Return – Try – It’s A Keeper
Whenever possible, buy one or two smart devices of your selected brand before you outfit the whole house. If you’re choosing WEMO (just to pick an example) for your electric outlets or switches, try just a couple of devices first. They may work wonderfully or may not be reliable. Network connectivity could be spotty on or spot on. And the app may be easy to use with all the features you want or the app could be subpar.
Choose a buying source (store, online) where you can easily return or exchange a product doesn’t work or with which you’re not happy. You don’t want to be stuck with sunk costs for devices that aren’t what you want.
Botton line is you are going to be living with (literally) these devices so make sure your choices are ones you and the whole family will use.