Alex's Agenda

The smart home freak show stops here

By Alex Wood 2 March 2016

We're being taken for fools.

Alex’s Agenda is the weekly column from the front-lines of the future by The Memo’s Editor in Chief, Alex Wood.

Imagine a world where your whole home is connected. Your TV reminds you when the fridge is low on milk and the front door texts you when your kids are home safe. Every year we get closer and closer to this science fiction dream, but not without some collateral damage on the way.

This weekend we learned that dozens of homes have become mini saunas after Hive, one of Britain’s most popular internet-connected thermostats, has gone wrong and turned the dial up to 32°c.

The glitch, which Hive confirmed has been a problem since last December, has been a wake up call for customers up and down the country, even though the problem is now apparently fixed.

British Gas (Hive’s parent company) said customers should simply “turn the thermostat back down”. Imagine you’re on holiday for a fortnight and your cat roasts. Will British Gas pay the heating bill (or the funeral costs)? They bloody well should.

No wifi, no heating

The problem with many of these so-called “smart devices” is they lack a fall back facility. My Nest thermostat, which after some early teething problems I’ve come to like, falls flat on its face when my broadband connection goes down. No wifi, no heating in the house.

I had the same problem with my “smart” home security system, which keeps getting triggered by the postman delivering my mail.

Read more: Why Cats Hate the Internet of Things

I love that I can check on my house with the connected video camera, but when the company’s servers failed last month, we had no choice but to endure the alarm’s siren blaring out for 30 minutes until they fixed the problem, making me the least popular person on my street.

Indignity of Smart TV

Or smart TVs – the gimmick nobody ever asked for. Do a search on Twitter and count the number of complaints from unlucky victims. Yes, you can send a bitchy tweet from the comfort of your £1000+ telly, but good luck changing the channel.

My TV doesn’t need an operating system. And I can do without waiting while my TV’s software updates itself.

Early adopters suffer

We’re being taken for mugs. Yes, this is new technology, but this isn’t some office document in the cloud that can be easily retrieved. We’re dealing with people’s most valuable asset, their homes. Big businesses should be ashamed of themselves for putting unfinished products out onto the market and putting our homes at risk.

Despite all of the pain, I do believe  the “internet of things” has huge potential, even after all the horrors that early adopters have been put through.

Companies like NCube exist to make the world of connected devices better. And Sherlock, the smart home lock, is one great example of a well-thought through device with the proper fallbacks in place if something goes wrong. Unlike some of its American rivals, it still allows your existing lock and key to work if your wifi fails.

Buyer beware.

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