What Everyone's Getting Wrong About Home Automation

Illustration for article titled What Everyone's Getting Wrong About Home Automation

Yesterday, we posted about the potential future of the Apple TV as your smart home hub. It prompted an analysis from one commenter of what works—and what doesn't—in home automation that was so spot-on, we're sharing it here.


I am into home automation, so I will chime in though I never plan to use HomeKit.

First and foremost, I think the ultimate goal for HA is "automation." So pulling out my phone to do everything is unacceptable, but so is for the most part using my TV to control my lights (or a box connected to my TV). I want my house to respond to me, my family, and our movements/actions. I don't want to have to tell it what to do. Perhaps a Nest style "learning" system would be ok as a "starter" for people, but ultimately the goal is to not interfere with it unless there is a special need to (in which case wall switches should be acceptable overrides). This is why I don't normally use "smart bulbs" except in lamps or where I can use a scene controller on a wall to control them. I don't always carry my phone or tablet and to have to pull one out to turn on a light is dumb in my opinion.

Now, as to why you would want it locally. Look at all the newest players into this market besides Apple. Two that come to mind first are the Wink Hub and Smart Things. Both use "cloud logic." That is to say you have a box in your house, but all the "automation" logic is on a server in the cloud. This is the complete wrong direction in my opinion. You don't want logic that determines when/if your lights turn on somewhere out in the internet. You want all that logic locally. Why, you ask? Well, if my internet goes down for some reason, I don't want to lose my "automation." I know that I'll retain local switch control, but I also just want my system to continue as is.

As much as the MiCasa Verde Vera is flawed, it allows me to keep my logic local. If my internet goes down (which is rare), I know that stuff will just continue to work without me having to do anything. I don't know if Apple is really planning on handling any of the automation logic with HomeKit or not, but if they do, they need to have a way for it to be local and not in the cloud.

I should also note that I am not into using my phone or tablet to control my TV. I have a Harmony Remote and it is great at what it does. I can control all my equipment (including thermostat and what Phillips Hue bulbs I have) and I don't have to navigate to an app on my phone to do it. Best of all, the most common functions can be done without actually looking at the remote (this is a must for me). I do occasionally use the apps, but I find that is for special occasions when I just need to do something quick for one of the kids and the remote is not near me.



While having to pull our your phone is a pain, just speaking to your house would be pretty cool. "Kitchen lights on". Or "Good night home" and have it turn off all the lights except a single (power efficient) bulb in your bathroom or something.

Now it would be pretty cool if you could just walk into a room and things turned on and walk out and they turned off, but I'd rather have the voice commands myself.

As for local vs cloud. There are trade offs there. You are right that local makes it better for when you lose internet, but cloud can take advantage of a lot more inputs and context and just relay that output to your home. The cloud can be a lot smarter than your home device because you are sharing computing power with other users. The cloud can also learn a lot faster from all the the user inputs it is receiving, so you'd see benefits there as well. Taking everything the cloud has picked up on over millions of uses and the logic that has come from that and pack it into a tiny device on your TV stand is pretty hard.