Last year, in his 19-week quest to build the perfect smart home, Wareable editor in chief Paul called it "a clusterfuck of confusing tangents". At the time I couldn't have agreed more, but things have been changing for the better, and so I'm downgrading it to a "navigable cyberjumble".
That's because we finally have an answer to "Who will own the smart home?". It's everyone. And everyone appears to get that isolated platforms aren't the answer; interoperability is the way forward.
For everything I've written about the smart home, I was for a long time hesitant to get involved (partly because I'm a renter, partly because I'm convinced my last robot vacuum tried to kill me in my sleep), but in the past few months the smart devices have been creeping in, much to my housemates' concern. As Wareable's reporter Husain pointed out, smart assistants have become an easy gateway to the smart home, and Alexa has surreptitiously nudged me to try more connected devices. Alexa and Google Assistant have, in a way, become the smart home platforms themselves, with everything else circling around them. That makes sense, as controlling the smart home with your voice is much better than doing it with a smartphone.
My light switch might look stupid, but it's perfectly evolved; I hit it, it turns on the lights. That's the bar you're up against
But the smart home has become more appealing by design too. It feels like there are more interoperable devices and fewer languages being spoken. It's as if these companies are waking up to realize not only that the smart home isn't a platform they can own in its entirely, but that their biggest competition is years of refined "dumb" technology, not each other. My bedroom wall switch might look stupid to some, but it's perfectly evolved; I hit it, it instantly turns on the lights. That's the bar you're up against, and if you're going to give me more hassle in turning that light on or off, why the hell am I going to bother? There will also probably always be times where physical switches make sense, and smart home tech will need to be able to accommodate that.
A lowering entry point is encouraging too. Nest just made a cheaper smart thermostat that essentially behaves just like its more expensive sibling, while Philips has streamlined its Hue range of smart light bulbs. The smart home is becoming more affordable, which is especially good news for those of us who rent.
I've also been testing out Samsung's SmartThings, which has an impressively wide range of support for third-party devices and wireless protocols. It's not perfect, but it's less of a muddle than it once was. At the same time Apple's HomeKit still feels too limited in device support, and the fact it requires an iOS device means it's unreachable to many.
Even more interesting is what Ikea is up to with its smart lighting - a largely interoperable, affordable range of bulbs that are reaching a massive consumer base. And guess what? If the Wi-Fi goes down you can still control them with your humble light switch.
Look, as someone who spent an hour last night trying to get my phone to acknowledge a new smart plug (yes I'm extremely bitter about it), I know there's still a long way to go. For example, smart home device standards ZigBee and Z-Wave present two competing technologies in a world where, ideally, we'd have just one. Hopefully one day before long there will be a shakeout and we'll have just a single standard - smart home neutrality. That's the dream.
And there are still plenty of gimmicks. Philips' latest idea, Hue Entertainment, will sync your lights to your movies so they match whatever's playing - and sounds just terrible to me (win me round, Phillips). Meanwhile smart juicing company Juicero is... well, you know how the headlines went.
But I'm much more optimistic about the state of the smart home and the direction it's heading in, much more so than I was even a year ago. The clusterfuck is gradually un-clustering.
Make that home smarter
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