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Smart Homes Are Still Way Too Stupid

It’s nice to know sharp people — in this case, Rich Jaroslovsky, a former colleague at the Wall Street Journal who is now a vice president at SmartNews. He just wrote a takedown of the smart home that saved me the trouble.

I had visited the topic in a general way a year ago in an article taking issue  with something Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, had said about how the Internet will disappear. My basic complaint about how even really smart people think about automation is that automation is often more trouble than it’s worth and that people blithely assume I’d like to automate decisions that, in fact, I don’t want automated — no, I don’t want my refrigerator ordering milk for me, my lights to always flip on a certain way when I walk through the door or my TV to always turn to ESPN when I wake up.

Recent stories about the glories of the smart home made me think I needed to return to the subject, more specifically this time — I’m cranky on the subject of the smart home because I’ve been hearing variations on this theme for 25 years without seeing a result; no, Nest doesn’t count. I was prompted into action when I received the following in an email this morning:

“Many large U.S. insurers are bracing for the impact of autonomous driving on their business, but they have yet to grasp that the same trend is at play in the homeowners and renters insurance markets. Insurers that don’t develop a value proposition around the connected home will be forced to give steeper discounts to reflect the lower risks without generating any strategic benefits. Savvy insurers that adapt to the new dynamic have a historic opportunity to become far more relevant than they are today.

“Based on over 100… discussions conducted between November 2015 and February 2016 with smart-home technology vendors; P&C, health, and life insurers; venture capital firms; and technology vendors, this report examines the connected-home use case for the insurance industry, profiles two turnkey smart-home… and mentions 147 other firms.” [I deleted three corporate names in there, including the author of the report, because I don’t see any need to make this personal, even though you’re expected to pay real money for that report.]

Just when I was gearing up to write something on the smart home, though, I saw that Rich had posted his column, which begins:

“With every new smart device I add to my home, it gets a little dumber.

“The thermostats don’t talk to the lights. The security cameras don’t talk to the alarm system, which doesn’t talk to the garage door. The networked speakers talk to each other—but not to the TV sitting a few feet away. Just about every device has its own app for my smartphone, but since none of them work with each other, I’ve got 15 apps controlling 15 functions.”

I encourage you to read the whole piece, especially if you harbor hopes that the smart home is a looming opportunity. As Rich notes, you can’t have a connected home if the devices don’t talk to each other. And while I may have a “standard” for communication, if Rich has a separate standard and so do 87 others of you, then we don’t, in fact, have a standard way of communicating.

We’ll get to the smart home.

But not soon.