New House: The Smartening

Now that the move in to our new home has settled down a bit, I’ve been looking for opportunities to start using some smart devices. Unfortunately, the state of home devices is fractured, with three competing platform companies with little interest in making their systems speak to each other. I have no interest in upgrading smart home devices at the same rate that I purchase new phones or even new computers, so I have set some ground rules for myself.

Platform Agnostic

I need to be able to control the device with HomeKit and Google Assistant. We use iOS in my house and we have a Google Home that I would like to put to better use. I would prefer to be to able to use Amazon Echo as well. I don’t own one now, but it seems to be the platform that is taking off so I might in the future. If the device supports HomeKit and a middleware services like IFTTT it might work, because Google Assistant and Echo support third party automation.

This will probably be the most difficult hurdle to overcome, as HomeKit is rather jealous about sharing anything. Apple’s focus on security is legitimate, but it would be a lot easier to go all-in with HomeKit if they offered a stand-alone Siri box like their competitors. This is the inherent issue with the platform war extending to the home. Home devices are semi-permanent in nature so getting locked to a single platform is a much bigger commitment than a typical phone or PC purchase. Replacing just the lighting in my house with a smart system could cost quite a bit of money. Interopability is a deal-breaker issue for me, so if I can’t find anything suitable I will just have to wait to see how the market shakes out for a while longer.

Respect the House

One thing that really bothers me about a lot of these devices is that they don’t really play well with the infrastructure that already exists in the home.

For example, there are three rooms in my house with recessed lighting on a dimmer. I have not been able to find any smart lights that will work with a standard dimmer. They all require their own dimmer switches that communicate wirelessly. This is not a big deal if I can replace a dimmer switch with a smart one in exactly the same spot. Every dimmer in my house shares a wall plate with other switches. I do not want to have a new smart dimmer control attached to the wall right next to a wall plate containing a, now useless, switch that was built into the house.

The bottom line is that if I have to not touch switches, outlets, or features that are built into the house for the smart device to work it’s going to be a hard sell.

Family Friendly

Any smart device I purchase and set up needs to work well for my wife, children, and guests. I can’t be the bottleneck for making smart replacements for previously dumb/functional devices work. HomeKit seems to make sharing control via Apple ID very simple. On the other hand, our Google Home is tied to my personal Google account, which is a little nerve wracking considering how much my kids use it. This is a general issue among large tech companies and Silicon Valley. I don’t know if too few engineers have families, but too often it seems like they have no idea what to do when it comes to the way most people with children, spouses, or parents living with them live. For example it would be great to be able to associate multiple Google accounts to each other so that I can say to Google Home, “What’s on my wife’s schedule for the day?” or my wife could say, “Set a reminder for my husband.”

Conclusion

It’s an exciting time and there are lots of cool things to do with home automation. However, platforms throwing elbows, needless extraneous widgets, and a lack of family friendliness make it a risky time to adopt. I’m excited to give it a try, but my research so far shows me how the high the bar really is to make me feel confident to move forward. It’s going to be slow going.