There’s a problem with the smarthome industry—multiple problems, actually. And after experiencing a huge boom over the last few years, smarthome as a whole has reached a plateau of sorts.
Don’t get us wrong; smarthome technology is a really exciting market, and it’s become so popular that big players like Amazon and Google have dived head first into offering comprehensive smarthome product lines. The thing is, smarthome in general still has a long way to go.
Smarthome Standards Are a Mess
The smarthome industry is fragmented. Every smarthome brand wants to create their own proprietary ecosystem, which results in a ton of products that you can choose from, but that don’t necessarily work well with each other if you have devices from different companies.
This is to be expected, of course. Every manufacturer loves the idea of a walled garden, locking users into using their devices. But from the consumer perspective, it might not be feasible to go all-in on a single brand of smarthome devices. For example, maybe you scored a great deal on a Nest Thermostat, but can’t really afford any of Nest’s other products—especially when similar devices from other brands are much cheaper in a competitive market like this.
All of your products will still work on their own, obviously, but nothing will be centralized. And not being able to control everything from one place takes away a lot of the convenience.
Perhaps even more of a mess is all the different wireless protocols used in the smarthome industry. The two big ones are Z-Wave and Zigbee. They’re known as the “open” protocols that any smarthome brand can use in their devices. In theory, any Z-Wave device should be able to communicate with any other Z-Wave device. Except that’s sometimes not the case.
You’ll frequently come across smarthome hubs or other devices that use Z-Wave or Zigbee, but they won’t connect to each other. Or if they do, they have limited functionality. So for example, if you have a SmartThings or Wink hub, they both have Z-Wave and Zigbee radios, but they don’t support just any Z-Wave or Zigbee device.
Instead, when you go shopping for Z-Wave sensors or Zigbee smart bulbs, you have to double check to make sure they work with your particular smarthome hub, which can be a real pain because it usually won’t just say it right there on the packaging. Instead, you have to dig through reviews to see if other users have had success connecting it to their hub or not.
It can be super frustrating, and it’s one of the big reasons why smarthome is still a more confusing market than it needs to be.
Smarthome Gadgets Are Still Too Expensive
One thing’s for sure: smarthome devices are not cheap. Sure, there are budget options out there if you look hard enough, but even with the cheapest smarthome tech, you’ll still pay a few hundred dollars to get set up with a small handful of devices. And if you want to get real serious about smarthome, you’re looking at spending a lot more than that.
Consumer electronics in general usually aren’t cheap, but whereas a smartphone or a tablet can be extremely useful and well worth their cost (to the point where they become necessities in everyday life), smarthome devices can be a bit different in that respect.
A lot of people that are curious about the smarthome industry are wary of spending money on something that they may not get a ton of use out of. Somewhat useful? Sure. Convenient? Possibly. But spending $250 on a smart thermostat that simply gives you a little bit of added convenience might make some prospective buyers think twice.
With that said, smarthome products either need to come down in price (which they probably will as the technology grows) or companies need to better convince users that what they’re buying is just as useful as the price is high.
Voice Control Is All the Rage, but It Needs Work
The Amazon Echo and Google Home have become staples in the smarthome world, allowing users to control their smarthome gear by just using their voice.
It’s certainly a lot better than controlling things from your smartphone, where you have to open up the app and navigate buttons to find what you’re looking for, but voice control has its own set of problems that doesn’t yet quite make it the de facto method for controlling smarthome devices.
Both Amazon and Google are doing a decent job at improving their respective voice assistant platforms in order to make controlling smarthome devices feel more natural, but you still have to be super cautious when naming your devices so that Alexa or Google Assistant doesn’t get confused.
And there’s a lot of configuration that has to be done in order to perfect your voice commands and make voice control seamless. A lot of new smarthome users entering the market don’t quite understand that yet, so they get frustrated when Alexa doesn’t follow through with certain commands. Even as a die-hard smarthome user myself, I’m still learning that.
In other words, voice assistants are smart, but you have to teach them not to be dumb first.
Overall, Smarthome Is Still a Very Young Technology
While the popularity of smarthome devices has skyrocketed, it’s important to note that the technology is still in its adolescence, and it still needs to mature. It’s more feel like we’re still in the experimental stages before another big boom.
With that said, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of problems with the smarthome industry right now. Some of those problems will get fixed eventually, but others probably won’t—the market will continue to be fragmented, unfortunately, as companies want to try and get you to buy only their products.
Sure, there are definitely a lot of those proprietary ecosystems to choose from, as more and more companies begin to offer their own smarthome products, but once you choose a specific brand, you’re kind of stuck there unless you’re willing to trade in some convenience.
Image from xkcd