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Who controls the smart home? Part 1: The Problem

by Ryan Carney , 18.09.2015

The phrase “smart home” often conjures up mental images of the Jetsons or EPCOT Center where every device easily, seamlessly, and flawlessly talks to every other device in the home. The home owner is then able to sit back and admire how all of their little gadgets complete tasks, share data, and in general make life easier.

In reality, this is not always the case, especially in the current smart home landscape. Fragmentation of smart home devices and services has become a challenge for the industry. Many believe that this fragmentation is slowing adoption of in-home connected devices.

For example, in a single connected kitchen, you could have a connected refrigerator from one manufacturer, specialized connected outlets from another manufacturer, and a third manufacturer for your connected light bulbs. To take full advantage of these devices, you would of course need to have apps so that you can control them. In just this one example, you’d have three apps on your phone for just the devices in your kitchen.

Add to that, your connected thermostat in the living room, connected fire detector in the hallway, connected locks on your front door, and the connected moisture sensor in your basement, and you can easily see how your smartphone now has pages of apps to control your home. This is an issue looming on the horizon for the smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) in general, and could be a major issue in the not-too-distant future for manufacturers if they are not proactively involving users in the design and development phases of new IoT products.

For those that are savvy enough with their bleeding-edge tech, a DIY approach can fix this. A colleague of mine has a combination of WeMo outlet adaptors, Amazon Echo, and IFTTT rules to automatically control the fans in her home if the outside temperature rises above a specified threshold.

The DIY approach is not for everyone, however, as it requires the latest knowledge of what is possible with the myriad of services that are out there. Additionally, as one dives deeper into the rabbit hole of smart homes, it can quickly require an understanding of wiring, basic carpentry, and IT.

So is there a solution out there? In part 2 of this blog, I’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of some of the proposed solutions.

Ryan Carney is a Senior Lead UX Specialist at GfK. You can reach him at ryan.carney@gfk.com.