Am I losing my edge? I’ve always thought of myself as a brave, early-adopter of technology, who is first in line for the latest gadgets and apps. Got a new beta? Count me in! Things are buggy? Who cares? I’m experiencing the future! The trouble is, that for the first time in recent memory, I’m finding myself apprehensive about one of the hottest areas of technology today: the Internet of Things (IoT), specifically home automation products. I dream of a connected house where only my voice is needed to control the things around me, but my fears regarding interoperability security are holding me back.
When you play the game of formats, you win or you die. There is no middle ground. Format wars are nothing new. They are painful and there are big winners and big losers. Did you choose VHS or Betamax? USB or Firewire? Businesses hate these wars because they are forced to place risky bets. Consumers hate them because they don’t want to buy products that will become obsolete.
In the home automation space, all of the big dogs are in the fight, forcing consumers and manufacturers to pick sides. Apple has HomeKit, Alphabet/Google have Works with Nest, Amazon has Alexa, Samsung has SmartThings, and there are others as well. The worst part is that if your ecosystem of choice disappears, you’re out of luck. Even if your ecosystem was purchased by a large corporation. I’m looking at you, Google!
Even if you happen to choose a home automation ecosystem that survives and has the devices you want, you still have to be aware that each of those devices is a new way for malicious hackers to break into your house, get on your network, or watch a streaming feed of your baby sleeping. Part of being on the bleeding edge of technology is risk, and the risk here is too large to ignore. I expect things to continuously improve over time, but for the most part we are at the mercy of companies keeping their products as secure as possible through updates and smart designs. Not a super comfortable place to be.
IoT and home automation are not going away. All the cool kids are doing it. Literal, actual kids. Interoperability and security will mature and improve, but to avoid falling too far behind, I’ve started by dipping my toes into the IoT pool. My rule is that I’ll only connect things within my house and nothing on the perimeter. That means no connected locks, garage door openers, doorbells, etc. I’ve settled on HomeKit as my platform since I’m an Apple geek, but secretly I want an Amazon Echo. I now have two lamps that are connected via smart plug switches, I bought a pair of ecobee3 (which I love) connected thermostats to replace my ancient, mercury controlled thermostats, and I have a few Tile trackers on items like my keys and backpack. So far, I am enjoying the convenience of these new devices and don’t feel overly exposed to the risks. Someday I’ll go all-in, but for now I’m taking it slow and enjoying the ride.