I’ve been writing about smart homes for years and purchasing smart home devices even longer. And you know what conclusion I’ve come to all these years later? Smart homes are pretty boring now. Seriously incredibly boring. But that’s a good thing for everyone.
Unless you count super fancy custom-built-for-you expensive smart home setups, like those from Contro4 or Savant, I have a pretty advanced and intricate smart home. Nearly every room contains a smart speaker, smart lights, plugs, and more. I have smart blinds, smart locks, video doorbells, cameras, a smart garage door, and more.
The only thing I don’t have is smart water appliances—faucets, showers, and shut-off systems. I also don’t think they’re necessary or all that great (yet). So that leaves me in a pickle: I have nothing to look forward to because no one is doing anything new with smart homes right now.
If you look at the big tent smart home products announced over the past year, you can group most of them under one heading: smart lights. Wyze announced a new smart switch and smart bulbs, Philips Hue always has another new light on the way, Nanoleaf released new panels and lines, and Govee has been on an ambient light tear. But those are all smart lights.
And smart lights are great, but how many do you truly need? Eventually, you’ll replace all the bulbs and switches in your home, and that leaves you with the optional stuff. Ambient lighting is fantastic looking, but it’s usually expensive, and it tends to take up more room.
When I installed the new Nanoleaf Lines, I had to search for good empty wall space. Govee’s Immersion lights are fantastic, but at most, you’ll want them for one or two TVs. And as beautiful as Philips Hue lighting is, let’s be honest, too expensive to buy in bulk. Sooner or later, as you build out a smart home, you’ll get that light situation sorted, and you won’t need anymore. But that’s OK; you move on to the other fantastic smart home options.
When it comes to the rest of the viable smart home products, you can lump it all under plugs, locks, and cameras. Smart plugs are a great addition, both indoors and outdoors. They let you automate your Christmas lights, your lamps, and—wait, this is more lighting. Well, at least you can automate your power strips and some minor appliances too.
Smart locks are probably the second-best addition to any smart home. Everyone hates that dreaded feeling of wondering if they remembered to lock the door, right? You might be in bed or, worse yet, on the road when the feeling hits. Then you have to drag your half-asleep self to your door or backtrack on your road trip.
With a smart lock, you can check from the comfort of anywhere, lock the door if you forgot, or even let friends, family, or a plumber in your home remotely. Smart locks are great. But most people only need one or two at most. How many doors do you have anyway? Throw in a smart garage door opener, and you basically have the smart lock situation nailed down.
The same goes for video doorbells, which are the best smart home product you can buy. Video doorbells let you see who is visiting even when you’re not home. And most doorbells offer helpful notifications these days, too, like person recognition or package detection. But just like smart locks, you’ll need one or two at most. If necessary, you can deck your home in other security cameras, but just like smart lights, you’ll soon run out of room for more cameras.
After you outfit your smart home with all the lights, plugs, locks, and cameras it needs, what else is there to add? Smart displays and speakers are an obvious way to go. After all, voice controls are handy. But if you’re looking for an abundance of choices, don’t hold your breath.
At this point, you have two: the Alexa flavor or the Google flavor. Pick the one that fits your ecosystem, then outfit your home as needed. If all you care about is voice commands, go with Google. If you want the best automation routines, you need Alexa.
What about after that? Well, you have a few options. But they’re of limited value and high in price. Of those, smart blinds might be the most valuable and affordable, thanks to IKEA. But at $130 or more per window, that price still adds up. And that’s the “affordable” end. And considering the point of a blind is to let in more light (or block it away), you could almost group this in “another smart light.”
If you own your home, a smart thermostat is a useful upgrade and relatively affordable. The jury is out on how long it takes to pay for themselves (or if they really do at all), but the convenience of adjusting your heat or cooling from your bed or as you’re coming home also helps justify the cost. But for the most part, you’ll just need one or two depending on your home. And if you don’t own your home, smart thermostats are out of the question.
It’s much harder to recommend smart smoke detectors, however. Very few options exist, and those that do are often extremely expensive. The Nest Protect, for instance, is $119 which is more than ten times the cost of a standard smoke detector. It does provide functions like connecting to other Nest Protects and night lights. But at that price, upgrading all your smoke detectors would add up quickly.
Smart faucets, showers, and toilets are another area you can get into, but I wouldn’t. For just the smart faucet alone, you’re looking at spending $300 or more (often $700!), and right now, they don’t work very well. None of them have easy-to-use voice commands and instead call for awkward phrases like, “assistant, tell (faucet brand) to pour one cup of water.”
At a range between $2,000 and $4,000, smart showers are even more expensive, and chances are you’ll need an electrician too. And smart toilets? Well, surprisingly, they make a lot of sense. No really! But they’re also expensive. When’s the last time you dropped $1,000 or more on a toilet? And again, you may need an electrician if your bathroom isn’t wired up well enough to handle the new load.
Robot vacuums are among the latest range, but until recently you’ve generally had two options. Affordable ones that bump into everything and don’t work well, and expensive options that can cost $700 or more. Those high-end options do justify their price with features like LIDAR to map your home and the ability to empty themselves. Thankfully, you can get away with spending less these days and still get some advanced features like mapping. But this is another case of “one and done.” Maybe two if you don’t want to carry a robot from one floor of your home to another.
And if you look on the horizon for smart homes, nothing new or interesting is coming in terms of new types of hardware.
Look to the future, and few companies are proposing new types of smart home hardware that don’t fit into the current niche of products. The closest might be the Flic Twist, a smart home controller that will sell for around $130. But it’s realistically a smart home controller that serves as an alternative to voice assistants.
Instead, the big thing on the horizon is the Matter smart home protocol. It’s the biggest thing to happen to smart homes since possibly the first Echo speaker introduced smart home controls. But on the front end, that won’t “matter” to you. Matter promises to tie all your smart home stuff together, so you will always know that anything you buy will work with the stuff you have.
That’s a big deal for smart homes. For years you had to carefully pick what you purchased, lest it be incompatible with your smart home. Matter should launch next year, and manufacturers from all quadrants of the smart home sphere are lining up to announce compatibility.
And Matter is exactly why the boring smart home future is good.
As a tech loving smart home enthusiast, I should be sad at the lack of exciting gadgets coming our way. But I’m not. Boring is good; it shows maturity in the smart home world. Think about smartphones for a moment. Until foldables came along, it became a common refrain that all smartphones were basically the same and “boring now.” Much like I’m saying about smart home today.
But if you’ve invested in smart homes for very long, you know they used to be exciting in all the wrong way. Maybe the company that made your hub would become a dumpster fire or be discontinued. Maybe your new lights wouldn’t work with your old lights. Maybe your thermostat would suddenly stop talking to your other smart home gadgets.
For a decade, the smart home has existed as a sort of wild wild west where anything goes, and nothing is guaranteed to work long. Companies tried news things, like smart egg counters, then abandoned them. Maybe they offered compatibility with your favorite voice assistant, and maybe they didn’t.
Slow yet surely, manufacturers have figured out which devices we actually need and want. And that’s the focus now. And best of all, with the Matter protocol, you won’t have to worry about what works with what anymore. It will just work—at least that’s the goal.
Hopefully, like smartphones, eventually, manufacturers will try to innovate new concepts again. We’ll surely get some terrible ideas, like a home assistant robot that can’t be all that helpful. But as long as the new latest and greatest smart widget works with your existing smart home, you’ll be better off than it used to be. And that’s a good thing.