What Owning a Real Smart Home Is Actually Like

This new series, "The Smart Home Reality," details the author's troubles creating a smart home. It seeks to benefit unknowing customers. And it encourages smart home product makers to improve user experiences and product interoperability. TL;DR—don’t invest in a smart home unless you know what you’re doing.

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Image of smart home products like Nest and UniFi next to the illustration of a home
Illustration: © IoT For All

The Big Rant: Issues That Prevent Widespread Adoption

I decided to go through and detail all the issues I’ve come across from living in a smart home over the last 3 years. I’ve seen very little publicity about the failures of owning a smart home, the bugs you’ll encounter, and the scaling issues you’ll have. As you’ll see as I write this series, there are a lot of strange design choices and issues that smart home manufacturers make.

I see so many smart home product reviews, but every single one seems to be using the product in a perfect situation with very few other devices. With the small number of folks doing real smart home product reviews, it’s no wonder these things are being overlooked.

At this point, I’m convinced smart home device manufacturers don’t use their own products. A bold claim, right? But that’s my impression. As I describe the issues I’ve encountered, imagine being the CEO of a company that manufacturers these products. You’d assume this person would have a whole house of these products, right? Do you think they’d put up with the same kind of crap I’ve been dealing with all these years? Probably not.

In reality, these products take years to develop and to get to production. There’s a lot of time and money required in developing configuration applications, assembling and training a team of support people, and actually getting real user feedback. Either way, I’m mostly happy with my setup, but owning a smart home is troublesome to the degree that I really do believe the people who manufacture these products don’t own or use their own products.

History

I actually started building my smart home while living in a one-bedroom apartment with my wife. We first started with a Nest thermostat, then got their Nest Protect smoke detectors, and a couple Nest Cams. From there, I explored other options and bought 14 LIFX lights and 8 Logitech POP buttons to control them. Once I moved into a house over a year and a half ago, my smart home hardware grew tenfold.

I consider my smart home to be a modest one since it only consists of a limited set of devices, but I think, in terms of consumer hardware, I might be the only one who’s got a setup like this. If I wasn’t, I guarantee you most of these issues wouldn’t exist because more people would complain.

The fact that I complain should be a big deal. Think about it: I bought hundreds of these devices; most people don’t even buy one and a few buy 1–2. To these companies, I should count as 150 customers. You shouldn’t be making your bulk buyers upset since we’re the people who are out there both buying and selling your products.

My Smart Home

My smart home is pretty moderate in terms of different devices, but because of the size of my house, I have quite a few of them:

  • 9 UniFi access points (got to have good WiFi)
  • 113 LIFX lights
  • 40 Flic buttons
  • 19 Nest devices
  • 13 WeMo smart plugs
  • 10 Google Home Minis
  • 5 Chromecast Audios
  • 9 Echo Dots
  • 4 Raspberry Pis
  • 1 Logitech Harmony Elite remote + hub
  • 1 Roku Stick

I’ve used, but no longer own, the following:

  • Google Chromecast Ultra (still own, but don’t use)
  • Logitech POP buttons
  • Lutron Caséta remotes
  • Samsung SmartThings Hub
  • Wink Hub

There are so many more things I can buy, such as RF modules for my 7 ceiling fans and (stupidly expensive) smart blinds for my 28 windows. Some things are just going to have to wait until I feel comfortable diving into a purchase, and these things take a lot of research since I’m going to have to live with them for a long time.

Feeling Cheated

After buying all these devices, it’s like I got hoodwinked into thinking a real smart home was possible with consumer hardware. I expect the CEO of a big smart home company would outfit his or her home with tons of consumer products like me, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Have you ever worked for a company where the CEO or any high-tier exec had a bad user experience? Usually, that only lasts for a very short amount of time because I’ve seen it over and over again that if it sucks for the CEO, it’s number one priority. I don’t know if this is because the CEO has to market the user experience to the press or if it’s that the CEO is the most important user. It could even be that the CEO is friends with investors and media personnel so if it sucks for the CEO, it probably sucks for the investors too.

At this point, I’m wondering if these manufacturers are using a Crestron or similar product line at home because they’re not confident in their own products. If these folks had the same issues I have had and still have, it’d be tough to imagine those issues would go unnoticed for months or even years.

It’s problematic enough when one of my buddies complains about how stupid some things are, considering the money I’ve spent. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a top-tier exec bringing people over to a crappy smart home experience. “Yes, I spent 20 hours configuring my 500 smart home devices one-by-one.” Uh, no.

More Reads

This article is just a description of the issues. As you’ll read in later articles, there’s a lot more that goes into owning a smart home, and it’s going to drive you crazy.

The Smart Home Reality

  1. Owning a Real Smart Home (start here!)

If you like what you read and want to know more about my smart home ventures, check out my other articles: