Smart Homes: 4 Potential Problems You May Run Into

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Smart home technologies are all around us, with more and more options available to us from a variety of manufacturers. But is the connected home really all it’s cracked up to be? And should you wait before making your own home smart?

We’ll present four reasons here why it might be a good idea to think twice about smart home technology. It might not be a bad idea overall, but here are our biggest concerns.

1. It can be hacked

There is the opportunity for hackers to gain access to your smart home just like any other technology. This has already happened: In 2014, security researchers showed proof of concept that hackers can take complete control of Belkin WeMo smart home devices.

That might be an older example, but there are more recent incidents too. Security firm Synack analyzed 16 smart home devices early last year. In every case, the researchers were able to hack into the devices, some in as little as 20 minutes. While this doesn’t speak for every smart device out there, it does speak to serious security issues in the smart home space.

Our advice? Buyer beware. If you really must join the connected home revolution, make sure the device you’re looking at isn’t already on some security firm’s list for being easily hacked.

2. The technology is moody

SmartThings smart home hub

Like any new technologies, connected home technologies can sometimes have a mind of their own. One quirk that drives a lot of smart home users nuts is the lack of what is called “local control.”

Instead of your smart devices connecting directly with your “smart hub,” the cloud actually plays a role in their operation. When you use a smart switch or press a smart button to operate a connected device, the signal first heads to your smart hub, then the hub sends it to the cloud, where it is sent back to your hub, and finally to your device.

What happens when this fails? Those devices don’t work, as Wink hub users found out in April 2015. Since then, Wink enabled “local control,” but not every smart home system has done the same.

3. Many competing “standards”

Another issue with connected homes in general are the sheer number of smart home platforms and technologies. There’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, WeMo, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and a host of others. Not every platform talks to one another, and many aren’t even compatible with others, making the problem worse.

Yahoo Tech wrote about this issue in length, saying that really at the moment consumers have one of two choices: either “commit to one smart home ecosystem for everything or rely on vendors to provide point-to-point connections between individual devices.”

That just doesn’t seem too promising. Anti-choice sounds pretty anti-consumer to me. Wouldn’t you want to have the choice of the brands and technologies you want, rather than have somebody make the choice for you?

4. The price is too high

Now, we’d not be telling the complete story if we claimed as a whole that adopting smart home technology is expensive. One of the nice things is you can spend as little or as much as you want, and the central hub itself typically is fairly cheap.

The problem is that it can quickly become very expensive. In order to get the most out of your setup, you’ll be buying much more expensive versions of everyday home objects. A thermostat? That can cost you $200 or more. Light bulbs? “Smart” ones cost typically two to three times as much (or more!). Locks? Average smart lock prices run around $200!

Before you know it, you could be in deep — to the tune of hundreds if not thousands of dollars. And what if you want to switch smart home technologies? There’s no guarantee what you just bought will even work.

The bottom line? We suggest you wait it out. Early on in any new technology, there’s always a fight for supremacy. And early adopters always end up paying more. And with so many different kinds of platforms out there, it’s still too early to say which one will win out.

Our advice? Wait a bit. I think your pocketbook will thank you.

Follow Ed on Twitter @edoswald

More from Gadgets Cheat Sheet: