Some thoughts on smart home technology

A couple of Months ago we visited IKEA and saw the IKEA Trådfri smart lighting system. Since it was relatively cheap we decided to buy their starter pack and enough bulbs to make the recessed lights in our living rooms smartlight. I got it up and running and had some fun switching the light hue and turning the lights on and off from my phone.
A bit later I got a Google Assistant speaker at Google I/O and the system suddenly became somewhat more useful as I could control the lights by calling out to the google assistant. I was also able to connect our AC system thermostats to the google assistant so we could change the room temperature using voice commands.
As a result of this I ended up reading up on smart home technologies and found that my IKEA hub and bulbs was conforming to the ZigBee standard and that I should be able to buy further Zigbee compatible devices from other vendors to extend it. So I ordered a Zigbee compatible in-wall light switch from GE and I also ordered a Zigbee compatible in-ceiling switch from a company called Nue through Amazon. Once I got these home and tried to get them up and running I found that my understanding was flawed as there are two Zigbee standards, the older Zigbee HA and the newer Zigbee LightLink. The IKEA stuff is Zigbee LightLink while at least the GE switch was Zigbee HA and thus the IKEA hub could not control it. So I ended up ordering a Samsung SmartThings hub which supports Zigbee HA, Zigbee LL and the competing system called Z-Wave. At which point I got both my IKEA lights and my two devices working with it.
In the meantime I had also gotten myself a Google Assistant compatible portable aircon from FrigidAire for my home office (no part of main house) and a Google Assistant compatible fire alarm from Nest for the same office space.

So having lived in my new smarter home for a while now what are my conclusions? Well first of all that we still have some way to go before this is truly seamless and obvious. I consider myself a fairly technical person, but it still took quite a bit of googling for me to be able to get everything working. Secondly a lot of the smart home stuff feel a bit gimmicky in the end. For instance the Frigidaire portable air conditioner integration with the Google Assistant is more annoying than useful. It basically requires me to start by asking to talk to Frigidaire and then listen to a ton of crap before I can even start trying to do anything. As for the lights we do actually turn them on and off quite a bit using the voice commands (at least I try to until I realize my wife has disconnected the google assistant in order to use its cable to charge her phone :). I also realized that while installing and buying the in-wall switches are a bit more costly and complicated than just getting some smart bulbs it does work a lot better as I can then control the lights using both voice and switch. Because the smart bulbs can not be turned on using voice if you have a normal switch turned off (obviously, but not something I thought about before buying). So getting something like the IKEA bulbs is a nice and cheap way to try this stuff out I don’t see it as our long term solution here. The thermostat we haven’t controlled or queried once since I did the initial testing of its connection to Google assistant.

All in all I have to say that the smart home tech is cute, but it is far from being essential. I might end up putting in more wall switches for the light going forward, but apart from that, having smart home support in a device is not going to drive my purchasing decisions. Maybe as the tech matures and becomes more mainstream it will also become more useful, but as it stands it mostly solves first world problems (although of course there are real gains here for various accessibility situations).

2 comments ↓

#1 Chris on 07.27.18 at 00:04

As somebody who cares about his privacy, this blog post read like a horror story for me. :(

#2 uraeus on 07.27.18 at 17:09

Or you could take a positive view from reading it, that smart home technology is far from required or essential and thus you are not likely to be forced to give up your privacy in return for an essential improvement anytime soon :)