The So-Far Failed Promise of the Smart Home

Jared Newman, Fast Company:

Those kinds of misfires are common in the smart home world. I’ve had Google Assistant refuse to set alarms or read upcoming calendar events for several days in a row, only to fix itself without explanation. My Ecobee thermostat occasionally gets stuck on a single temperature, requiring a reboot. I’ve had light bulbs inexplicably fail to connect to their hub device. And I’m pretty confident that every Echo speaker owner has experienced Alexa playing the wrong music at least once.

The problem, says Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi, is that smart home devices haven’t gotten much better at avoiding these problems even as the market edges toward mainstream users. Instead, a proliferation of new devices and use cases has multiplied the ways in which things to go wrong.

I still have no smart home devices. After reading articles like these and Troy Hunt’s adventure in trying to make a HomeKit-connected garage door opener work, I cannot see myself buying one any time soon.

One of the things I think about far too often for my own health is whether software is actually buggier these days, or if I just use more of it in more situations more of the time. I think that there are fewer catastrophic bugs, but there seem to be way more of these smaller problems that often fail silently. They add up, too: I have long felt that the stress of bugs accumulates exponentially, not linearly.

I cannot tell you how little I want to run software updates on my blinds or find that one burner on my stovetop will not turn on because of some Daylight Saving Time bug. This stuff all seems like a burden right now — a failed promise of increased ease and a more automated world, brought to you by Agile-developed software and technologies like Bluetooth. Is it surprising that it sucks so much?

The promises of this world are certainly compelling. Automated blinds, heat, and lighting can help optimize their use for better efficiency. It can make lives better for people with disabilities. These products can solve real problems. But they need to be treated with the respect and care they deserve, not as funny gadgets for people with enough time and technical capability to debug their kettle’s Wi-Fi connection.