You know the feeling. You’re on your way to work or the airport, and you can’t remember if you turned off the lights, turned on the security system and locked the door.
What do you do? Do you go back home? Continue on your way and hope for the best? Or do you simply pull out your smartphone, open an app or two and make sure everything is OK? Convenience, control and peace of mind are the powerful combination that the newest smart products are selling.
With mainstream corporations such as Amazon, AT&T, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Staples and Verizon introducing smart products and services, this might actually be the year that home automation catches on in a big way – or at least becomes difficult to ignore, given those companies’ fat advertising budgets.
Product selection is growing, with 37 billion smart products expected on the market by the year 2020, says network hardware maker Cisco.
Already there: Ranges and ovens from Dacor and GE can be set to preheat during your drive home so you can get dinner on the table faster. A side-by-side fridge from Whirlpool texts you if a door is ajar, helping you save energy and prevent food from spoiling. Certain dryers can tell you if your dryer exhaust duct is clogged, which prolongs drying time, wastes energy and is a fire hazard. Appliances from Kenmore and LG can self-diagnose problems via your smartphone, potentially saving on repair costs or time waiting for the service technician.
The public is definitely intrigued. Almost 20 percent of Consumer Reports subscribers already use their phone or tablet to remotely control some of their home, and almost 70 percent of those who don’t voiced interest in doing so in the future, according to its latest survey. Thermostats, security systems, blinds, lighting and door locks are the home items readers most want to manage remotely.
Consumer Reports’ other findings:
Your Wi-Fi network is vulnerable. Even if the security settings on your home’s router limit access to devices you’ve authorized, you need to be just as careful about the security settings of each device you add to the network, whether it’s a whole-house suite of products controlling lighting, security and smoke or carbon monoxide alarms, or just an Internet-enabled fork.
Otherwise, the device could allow hackers – and whomever they sell your data to – access to other connected products in your home, such as the computers on your home network.
In one cyberattack, about 100,000 products, such as routers, TVs and at least one connected refrigerator, sent out more than 750,000 phishing emails over two weeks, according to security consulting firm Proofpoint.
The blame: weaknesses in their basic protection or setup. Proofpoint would not disclose the model of fridge, suspecting the user hadn’t changed the default password, but not every smart device is even designed for high security.
Privacy can be a problem. An unconnected “dumb” gadget shares no information that you might prefer to keep to yourself, such as when your home is empty. But a smart thermostat might be less discreet, alerting hackers when it’s in vacation mode. Or the history log of a smart-lock app might let thieves learn when you usually get home from work without having to stake out your home.
You could bet on the wrong horse. Connectivity is still in its infancy, with no clear winner among competing technologies. So you can control a product via its app on your phone, but you’ll need multiple apps to control your household, which isn’t all that convenient.
The alternative, a suite of products from a single brand or that run on the same wireless standard, such as ZigBee or Z-Wave, leaves you vulnerable to potentially buying into the Betamax of smart products.