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Times Journalist Reveals Connected Home Growing Pains

The future might be here, but don’t drop tech support just yet.

By Dennis Jones

Connected Kitchen

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is turning even the most mundane of experiences, home shopping, into a futuristic adventure. But, as one journalist from The New York Times learned, the future might still have some operational kinks.

Nick Bilton recently chronicled his comical misadventures with the do-it-yourself connected home. The connected home, as he notes, is quickly becoming a major consumer electronics reality, with an ever increasing number of wireless devices, from temperature monitors to lighting and security systems, coming “online” at huge retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Amazon. The connected home trend is so pervasive that it’s even inspiring unexpected bids from surprising places. For instance, this summer discount giant Target debuted a concept store, Open House, to showcase its connected home wares for sale

With this in mind, Bilton decided to take the plunge; he loaded up on myriad smart products, intending to install them himself. The gizmos and gadgets come advertised as “plug and play,” theoretically user-friendly. But as Bilton discovered, much to his chagrin, when it comes to the future, you still might need old-school tech support.

The self-install was the first thing to go wrong; it took Bilton nearly a week to get all of his devices up and running. While some products couldn’t find his wireless network, others wouldn’t connect to his smartphone. And then there were the intractable hold-outs that emitted flashing red and yellow lights, essentially expressing their displeasure through non-linguistic means.

Bilton shows how the ubiquity of connected home products means you can find some absolute steals when shopping for household products, like security video cameras, which now number in the hundreds on sites like Amazon. Just go to any major consumer electronics tradeshow and feast your eyes on the bevy of smart wireless devices for the home; their number and diversity more than suggest that smart home devices will be as popular as the flat-screen TV.

That’s, of course, because the smart home is feeding into the voracious appetite for blanket connectivity, from the bed, to the office, to the air. Consumers, especially in America, want to be able to control their surroundings without leaving the comfort of the bed. And that demand isn’t any less significant across the pond, where a Deutsche Telekom report forecasts that the European smart homes market will be worth in excess of 19 billion euros by 2019, by which time around 50 million European homes will have installed some type of smart technology.

Predictably, technology titans have been among the first to heed the consumer call for the connected home, especially with Google’s purchase of Nest in January 2014. And the smart-home market has only gotten hotter in 2015. In early summer, for example, Apple announced HomeKit, its iOS platform for controlling connected accessories. In addition, Samsung SmartThings recently unveiled its own home monitoring kit.

But, of course, the desire for control is precisely where Bilton’s troubles began. While some of the usability issues he encountered were comical, like the over-eager security system, sensitive even to the nocturnal flight patterns of the common housefly, and others aesthetic, like the occasional ugly interface, others were disastrous, the products that didn’t work at all. Moreover, these products were all tethered to Bilton’s home wireless router, which broke, more or less, catastrophically.

Bilton’s connectivity comedy of errors shows that the connected home might not have reached the Promised Land quite yet. But we’re getting pretty close. How close? Maybe just one killer app away from the Jetsons.