Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Home automation meets the analog world

Apple homekit 310 236

I sort of hate to be the naysayer, which I seem to be being about a lot of futuristic things these days. But I’m having a lot of trouble with the whole SmartHome idea, Apple’s HomeKit entry notwithstanding.

I’m certainly not a gadgetphobe and I even still have some wireless X10 controlling some lights in rooms that were never completely rewired in my 1823 house. But it’s pretty hard for me to imagine what realistic relatively near-term benefits would lead me to any sort of wholesale upgrade of light switches and such. Heck, cool as the Nest looks, I can’t really justify replacing a perfectly functional programmable thermostat with one.

I suppose that really solid voice recognition and smart command processing for music, video, and communications systems could be interesting in a few years. (Though how long has it been since voice recognition has been on the cusp of good?) I wouldn’t mind telling my phone to turn on music to such-and-such playlist on the downstairs speakers only. But, as the hierarchy of my daily annoyances and chores goes, saving a minute to walk to the old iPhone that feeds my stereo and poke at it with my fingers a few times is pretty low on the list. 

And, indeed, anything that's primarily about getting home digital things to do stuff isn’t hugely interesting. Maybe that’s a failure of my imagination, but so it goes.

It’s not that I can’t imagine useful home automation if I give my imagination carte blanche to embrace the possibilities. Load the dishwasher, run it, and put away the dishes? Sign me up. Do my laundry and hang it up. Please. But Roombas notwithstanding (which I don’t think would work terribly well with my house layout), I don’t see any of this coming about anytime soon. And, arguably, even more modest advances will tend to run smack into life cycles for appliances and kitchens that tend to run into decades.

Automation can be extremely powerful in controlled environments with well-defined tasks and constraints. My messy analog home? A lot less so.

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