I'm an engineer who loves to tinker – but if you told me I'd have to swap out all my smart home products every couple of years the way I do my smartphone, I’d say that's not very smart at all.
Some recent articles fret that's what the future holds for smart homes as the so-called Internet of Things leads to more homes with smart devices such as locks, thermostats and switches. They raise the specter of homeowners getting stuck with pricey doorstops because either their gear becomes outdated or their service provider pulls the plug.
It doesn't have to be like that.
The best smart homes require a small amount of counter-intuitive thinking on the part of the folks (like me) who make the products. Many players in home technology focus too heavily on the technology and forgetting the home.
Smart home technology needs to be less like mobile technology – although the interaction between the two makes home automation compelling – and more like appliances. People have gotten used to getting a new phone every few years but expect their refrigerator or furnace to last a decade or more.
Smart home providers can learn from the appliance mindset. At Nexia, for example, we learned a great deal from our sister companies within Ingersoll Rand – including Trane and American Standard – and our partners at venerable manufacturers such as Schlage and General Electric. While smart home products require sophisticated engineering and industrial design, they should be simple enough to operate without instruction and reliable enough to last for years.
Door locks, thermostats and switches should work regardless of whether they are connected to the Internet. (Although internet connectivity unlocks powerful features that homeowners find appealing.) But if someone doesn't want to fumble for the phone to turn off the bedside lamp, they should be able to turn it off manually. Even if (heaven forbid) Nexia ever suffers an outage or goes out of business, locks connected to our system can still unlock with a key or the battery-powered keypad, and thermostats can be set manually.
Another key aspect to making smart home products outlast ever-shorter technology cycles is to keep most of the computing power in the cloud. At Nexia, the majority of our devices talk to each other via Z-Wave – a secure, low-power standard used by thousands of products from the best manufacturers. Most of what makes them smart happens over the internet on our servers, where we can update the software regularly and make sure everything moves forward with new technology.
When Amazon unveiled its Echo voice-controlled assistant, our engineers were able to integrate Nexiaseamlessly with it. That allowed Nexia users with an Echo to add voice control without changing a single device in their home. The same is true with new geo-fencing features that allow Nexia users to have their home respond in different ways depending upon the person's physical location– such as lowering the thermostat when they leave work or automatically locking the door when they are 100 yards from the house.
In other words, an essential feature in building a long-lasting smart home is to not make it too clever for its own good – with proprietary standards or an inability to work offline. That just sets the stage for disappointment if homeowners choose a system that's obsolete in a few months or won't let them set the thermostat in the dead of winter.
Good smart home technology leverages the best aspects of the home and technology. It provides reliable, long lasting devices and cloud-based software that continuously delivers upgrades to expand devices capabilities over time. That's smart.