Where Smart Tech Doesn't Belong

Posted home-automation

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an article announcing Pampers was making a foray into "smart diapers." My first thought: "Why?" As a new parent, I really can't picture smart diapers making my life easier. Who wants to try and keep track of diaper sensors? Furthermore, it's already pretty easy to tell if a diaper is wet or not. It's 2019, though, the smart tech industry is growing, and every manufacturer wants to try and get their piece of the pie. As a result, we end up with sentences like this:

Unfortunately, you'll need to buy Lumi-optimized version of the diapers to use the sensor .

Welcome to the future, right?

This inspired me to write about some of the other pointless, half-baked products that try to pass themselves off as "smart." While there are lots of great products out there (lights, switches, sensors, thermostats, power outlets, voice assistants), there are plenty more out there that make no sense. I can't comprehend how some of these products were ever approved.

A device has to serve some useful purpose and actually make life a little easier to be worth buying. These devices below, like the smart diaper, seem to mainly be smart for the sake of being smart, and for the sake of making the manufacturer a little extra money. I'm a big fan of the phrase "a solution to a problem that doesn't exist," and just about all of the products or categories of products that follow fall right into that description.

Microwave

"Alexa, microwave popcorn."

Why? In order to microwave popcorn, I still have to physically walk to the microwave and place the popcorn inside of the microwave. If I'm already standing at the microwave, I can literally push a single button that says "POPCORN." How is asking Alexa easier? Even better: there is an "Ask Alexa" button on the device, with the example given being that you can press that button and then say "cook for two minutes." If you're already pressing one button to activate Alexa, is that really easier than pushing four buttons - two, zero, zero, start? It gets four stars, though, so what do I know?

Coffee Maker

Let's stick with the kitchen appliance thread here. If the microwave wasn't up your alley, perhaps this $91 smart coffee maker will be more your speed?

Or, perhaps not, since all but the cheapest coffee makers support setting a brew timer. Most of the time, if I'm making coffee, it's on a weekday and at the same time of day. The timer on our coffee maker is set-it-and-forget-it for the most part, other than adjusting the clock for Daylight Saving Time. But look, it comes with a really advanced looking app!

Save your money and spring for this $30 programmable coffee maker instead. At least the Griffin Connected Toaster doesn't appear to be an available product anymore.

Toilet

"Kohler's smart toilet promises a 'fully-immersive experience'" - Engadget

Can we rephrase that, perhaps? When I use the toilet, one thing I'm definitely not looking for is a "fully-immersive experience." I don't need fancy lighting, and I don't need to talk to my toilet with voice commands. Let's just pretend this idea never happened. Or, I guess if you literally want to flush money down the toilet, you could drop *seven thousand dollars* for one of these bad boys.

Honorable mention: Kohler also makes smart mirrors, showers, and tubs, in case you still have any money left to complete the ensemble after buying the toilet.

Water Bottle

Just what I always wanted - a water bottle that is synchronized with my smart phone.

Somehow, humanity has survived for millennia without smart water bottles, even though water is one of the things we must consume the most to stay alive. How on earth did we manage that? Well, it turns out, we have a pretty powerful internal signal to drink water. It's called thirst! But, I guess if you can't trust your own sense of thirst, and you have $45 lying around, you could get a water bottle that will remind you to drink water. Or, if you want, you can pay me $45 and I'll text you friendly reminders to drink more water.

Otherwise, there's always this guy:

Anything that randomly includes Bluetooth

There are a whole bunch more products that shoehorn Bluetooth capabilities and/or a smartphone app in for no good reason.

For example, my wife and I were shopping for a new stove and microwave a couple years ago, and we found a set advertising Bluetooth capabilities. Being curious, I did a little Google search to figure out just what purpose Bluetooth would serve in a microwave and an oven. Turns out, it was literally only used to synchronize the time between the stove and the microwave. That's it. That is the definition of a first-world problem.

Maybe if the smart water bottle didn't interest you, a Bluetooth-enabled water pitcher will? That's what PUR is banking on with this $45 faucet filter. That's about 33% more expensive than the same filter without Bluetooth, so that it can send reminders to your phone for you to replace the filter (and it can probably tell you to drink water, too).

There's a whole bunch more products in this category, many of which are cheaply made and potentially vulnerable to security threats as well. Many times, companies throw Bluetooth (or worse, Wi-Fi) into these products, mostly as an afterthought. As a result, they don't put the effort in to ensure they are secure, and they certainly don't put the effort in to update the devices in any way to patch any potential security holes that may be found. Many times, these devices don't even have the ability to have their software updated.

Unfortunately, products like these give smart tech a bad name. There are so many great products out there, but these products try to capitalize on the market growth to make a quick buck, and it really waters down the market. As you are looking for devices, do your research and ask yourself if the device you are looking at will serve a useful purpose. Read reviews and use resources like the Home Assistant forum and subreddit to see what products others recommend, and you'll be just fine.

Any other particularly egregious "smart" devices you've seen in the wild? Let me know in the comments below.

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