It’s increasingly possible to connect every appliance in your home to the Internet, so you can start the toaster from the office or let the dog into the backyard while driving around town. Is this the prescription for the home of the future? It’s a place Dave is already living, but Rick would rather stay in a mud hut.
Once a month, eHow Tech editor Dave Johnson faces off against Rick Broida, who writes about technology for CNET, PC World, and Wired. Follow along as they tackle this question from opposing corners.
Dave: There are a lot technologies I’m unlikely to see in my lifetime — laser cats, flying cars, and interstellar space travel, just to name a few. But one of the tropes of my childhood is already here. I used to fantasize about living in a smart, computerized house. And now I do. Thanks to my smartphone, I can control and monitor a stunning number of devices. My house is essentially an interconnected network of computers and gadgets, and I love it. It’s the way of the future, and soon many, if not most, of us, will do the same.
Rick: Bah! Humbug! It shouldn’t surprise me you’re the one guy who wants the Internet-connected refrigerator and coffee pot and mop bucket. But it’s just silly. All these things require power, Wi-Fi, Internet, and user interfaces (each one different, of course), which just overcomplicates the bejeezus out of things that can and should remain simple. And let’s not forget the inevitable day when your home achieves sentience and decides you’re too messy and imperfect to reside there anymore. “Open the front door, Hal.” “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.”
Dave: I didn’t say anything about a sentient mop bucket. Let me give you an example of just one device in my connected home: I have iSmartAlarm, a wireless home alarm system. For $350, you get a slew of door and window sensors, a motion sensor, and a wireless camera. (There’s a $200 version without the camera.) You control and monitor the whole thing from your iPhone or Android — you don’t pay a monthly fee, since if someone breaks into your house, your phone lets you know and you call the police yourself. Your home phones you to let you know there’s a problem. How cool is that? How could you even object to that?
Rick: A smart alarm system makes a ton of sense, no question. But my objection is when companies try to “smarten” (and consequently overcomplicate) home appliances that simply don’t benefit from it: ovens, refrigerators, washing machines, blenders, and so on. The one exception is the thermostat: the Nest has proven beyond a doubt that a smart thermostat is pretty awesome, and I’ve gone so far as to install a Venstar T5800 in my own house. Of course, I’m not so interested in the “smart” as I am the remote-control features. It’s great being able to adjust the temperature from the bedroom or while I’m heading home from the airport.
Netatmo indoor/outdoor thermometer (which reports detailed hyper-local weather on my phone and tablet), a Sonos whole-house music system, and more. Soon I’ll be adding the Doorbot, a wireless front door camera/doorbell system, and either the August or Kevo Bluetooth front door lock — both of which you can use to give guests and babysitters “virtual housekeys” that you can revoke at any time. Every one of those gadgets dramatically enhances the quality of my home life, and not one of them is an Internet dishwasher.Dave: You’re like the national highway system, dude: You’re all over the map. So you don’t like connected home gadgets in principle, but you make exceptions for all the practical and logical ones. And you want them to go online, but you don’t want them to, you know, do anything smart. Let’s look around my house, shall we? My smart house has a Nest thermostat, iSmartAlarm, a wireless
Rick: Well, call me when the power goes out. Or the Internet. Or an iOS update temporarily renders your control apps unusable. Now you can’t get inside your house because your “smart” lock no longer works. Meanwhile, I’ll be letting myself in with my good ol’ key, which requires no batteries, no app, and no learning. I mean, hey, sure, I want to live in a Jetsons-style house with a robot maid and sliding doors and all that good stuff. I just think the extra expense, complexity, and potential hassles should make people stop and think, “Does this really enhance the quality of my home life, or am I just chasing unnecessary tech because I’m a dweeb?” Oh, but, um, it’s great for you.
Dave: You, sir, have handily defeated your Strawman foe, nestled in his Strawman Connected Home. Huzzah! Back to the world we live in, though, I’d like to point out that none of your worst case scenarios make any sense. In a power failure, none of your dumb appliances are going to work, either — just making them smart doesn’t somehow make them any more fragile. And if I lose Internet access, I’ll still be able to get in my front door; smart locks like the August connect to phones via Bluetooth, not the Interwebs. Lose your phone entirely? You can still use a physical key. And where’s the hassle or complexity? These devices make your life easier by consolidating all your controls in a single device — your phone — which you can operate from anywhere, anytime. Face it, grandpa: Life in the 21st Century is just too jiggy for you.
Rick: Jiggy? Stop making up words. Look, you just go ahead and put your entire life in your phone. But don’t come crying to me when it gets lost or stolen, or its battery dies, or your door-lock app crashes seconds before the zombies catch up to you. I’ve never understood the whole home-automation mentality, where you’ve got an X10 control pad or a tablet or a smartphone just so you can turn lights on and off. Stand up and flip a switch, you lazy bum! Also, get off my lawn! I’m trying to water it with my non-automated sprinkler system. (Actually, the timer-powered sprinkler is man’s greatest invention. That, I’ll keep.)
Who won? We’d love to hear from you. Weigh in with your opinion in the comments, or tweet @davejoh.
What other tech topics would you like to see Dave and Rick discuss? Send your ideas to Dave via Twitter @davejoh. And if you follow Dave, he promises to come to your home and explain something techy to your dad.
And hey, have a question about tech? You can talk directly to one of our nerds and get an answer right away.