Why hi-tech home comforts may not be so smart after all

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The boom of smart home appliances has to be striking us by now, but many people still don’t get it. Fridges with the Internet connection, smart lights, and automatic vacuums seem to fail to impress many ordinary people. Is it a tech geeks fault? Did they plan everything too early?

An analyst at CCS Insight, Martin Garner, said that he and many other specialists were sure the smarthome revolution was waiting for the world this year. However, the expectations may have been way too optimistic, according to the current situation.

The idea of a smart home lies in giving home appliances the Internet connection, so they could be controlled by a person or an automatic home assistant. Even though this concept may become a major money saver, most customers are afraid of such improvements. This leads many companies to a near-bankruptcy state, making sure the future they were dreaming about still isn’t around.

According to Mr. Garner, there are so many tiny companies selling such appliances that people are merely afraid they will become victims of a scam. He said: “Peculiar to the UK and a few other countries, our retailers are being quite risk averse. So at the moment you end up having to buy most smarthome tech by doing your research on the web.”

The antipathy towards smarthome technology has been strong enough to spawn a Twitter feed dedicated to the wisdom (or not) of connecting home appliances to the internet. “The Internet of Shitty Things is here,” the feed, @internetofshit, proclaims. “Have all of your best home appliances ruined by putting the internet in them!” Egg trays that allegedly struggle to connect to home wi-fi and lamps that “crash” are among the devices named and shamed.

Despite the antipathy, about four million homes in the UK had adopted smarthome technology by the end of last year, research by Strategy Analytics suggests. This was an increase of nearly a third on 2014. PwC,the professional services firm, estimates that the smarthome market will be worth nearly $150 billion (£105 billion) by 2020.

Among the most popular smarthome devices in the UK are Philips Hue lights, whose brightness can be controlled with a smartphone app, a digital door lock made by Yale, the Netatmo Welcome, an internet-connected video surveillance camera, and a smartphone-controlled thermostat made by Nest. Last week, however, Tony Fadell, the founder of Nest, left his company under something of a cloud. Former employees accused Nest of meandering aimlessly in the years after it was acquired by Google.

Several smaller smarthome companies have struggled of late. Quirky, which built the Wink home automation hub, filed for bankruptcy in September. Revolv, another hub maker, which was bought by Google as part of the Nest deal, shut its doors in April.

“The market is a bit of a mess at the moment,” Mr Garner said. “A few big players will see that as an opportunity, however. Apple, Google, Samsung and Amazon: they will broaden out their ranges. It will be a bit like it was with smartphones: a few big companies will dominate and the smaller ones will need to get with them.”

The security of smarthome devices remains a concern. In October 2014 a website streamed live video from thousands of security cameras, including footage from baby monitors. The site’s anonymous creator later said that he was trying to expose lax security.

“Manufacturers are now taking security very seriously,” Blake Kozak, principal analyst at IHS Technology, said. “But there are hundreds of millions of devices being shipped every year. We’re only coming across a few hacks.”

He predicted that video surveillance, thermostats, anti-intruder devices and video doorbells would be the most popular smarthome products in the near term. “The market will move forward,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

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