The smart home sounds like the physical fulfilment of a digital dream, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? Are today’s smart home users facing a new set of problems that their adoption of new technology has created?
We are becoming smarter. Not necessarily more intelligent, but more connected to the environments and devices we use on a daily basis. The Internet of Things (IoT) has extended digitalisation to our living spaces in ways that reach beyond computers, tablets and phones.
Smart home technology enables user to monitor and control their home devices from smartphone apps. This offers greater energy efficiency and can help keep our homes secure.
According to a Smart Home Week survey, there are 15 million smart homes in the UK.
Other research predicts that people will spend £10.8 billion on smart home devices in 2019.
But there are barriers to greater adoption of this technology, including concerns over privacy.
Privacy Concerns in the Smart Home
Because many home devices use voice commands, smart home developers have found it difficult to uphold the privacy of home owners. They have failed to create control settings and set boundaries in spite of privacy concerns.
Manufacturers of voice devices have been found to listen and record users’ conversations for marketing reasons.
There are also security implications. Hackers have discovered ways to communicate with smart devices to then issue instructions to them. Home smart devices are capable of recording private conversations and sending them to hackers.
Some IoT producers are failing to take the right degree of responsibility over personal privacy.
Vulnerabilities in the Smart Home
The list of hacking stories connected to IoT devices is growing, and it includes hospital equipment, on-board vehicle computers and even children’s talking dolls.
It is not surprising then, that the smart home is especially vulnerable to hackers.
Hackers can find ways of accessing the network and turn off security lights and alarm systems, leaving the home vulnerable to break-ins.
Malicious hackers can also intentionally damage the electronic components of smart homes causing fires.
The more smart devices a home has in it, the more heavyweight and complex the home system becomes. This makes its hardware architecture more difficult to maintain and upgrade.
Consequently, this also means it is more likely to have weaknesses in its system that hackers can exploit.
There also physical vulnerabilities too. If the smart home is controlled by a person’s smartphone and it is stolen, then potentially the thief may then gain access to the home via the mobile device.
While these issues have not prevented the spread of smart technology and IoT products, consumers do have concerns. Research indicates that 90% of them lack confidence in the security of IoT devices.
When smart home development works, it works well, but when it doesn’t it can leave users with a whole raft of issues.
Many smart homes have a limited scope as they serve specialised consumer needs. For example, smart homes can enable users to remotely monitor and control home appliances including washing machines, ovens and refrigerators. But these homes then fail to extend this functionality to other related systems, such as entertainment and lighting.
Inclusive smart home systems can end up consuming more energy than specialised, dedicated systems, because of the complexity of the XML rules used to perform different functions in different household devices.
Simple activities such as switching on the lights can be incredibly complex in some homes. In an extended system, the user interface is complicated as the user has control over every component of the entire house.
Smart Home User Challenges
Just because we are surrounded by more and more smart devices doesn’t mean we are entirely comfortable with them.
Smart homes demand a degree of familiarity with technology, otherwise users may find them overly complex to manage on a day to day basis.
Smart home developers have attempted anticipate users’ needs, but often they fail to balance complexity against user-friendliness, which makes the lives of home owners more difficult.
Many developers are now building homes with pre-installed smart home technology, but in embracing innovation and in the rush to develop, they may have forgotten that they should be making homes that people are comfortable living in.
The future of smart homes lies not just in more innovation. It also depends on developers listening to users’ concerns, and working co-operatively while drawing on solid research to drive future, user-friendly and secure smart home technology.