Smart Devices – essential tech or expensive toys?

Written by Jarod Farrer, IT Support Apprentice

Being amongst the world’s fastest selling products, you might find up to 18 smart-enabled devices in an average modern household. These can range from watches and speakers to kettles and fridges; but are they used as intended or simply over-hyped tech that we rarely use?

Products with a hidden catch

We live in a world where technology plays a massive part in our everyday lives. Apple Home Pod, released in 2018, is a smart-connected speaker designed to work as a Siri-powered voice control assistant – as well as a hub for smart devices. As a previous owner of the Home Pod, the device didn’t come across very useful for myself or most people I spoke to. I had tested the speaker within the first 4 days of its release. It worked like a dream, with a sound quality that rivals those nearly twice the price. But it had its drawbacks. Apple forced you to only use Apple Music, iTunes or Beats 1 which heavily restricted me as a user.

Of course, there is a way around these limitations such as using AirPlay from a different device but this defeats the purpose of having a smart speaker which theoretically should allow you to stream music from any application or device, and without Apple requesting extra money on top of what you’ve already paid.

I’m not saying all smart speakers will be similar. For example, the alternatives from other tech giants (such as Google and Amazon with their Google Home and Amazon Alexa smart-enabled speakers) offer great functionality and features straight from the box – like the ability to order household items from using a simple voice command to remind you to do something, use as a hub for other home devices or even browse the internet.

Whilst I feel other tech giants are making a scene for smart speakers and trying to push them to every household, Apple should make the HomePod an open platform for developers to create or integrate existing applications. I doubt this will be something Apple is willing to change any time soon, for now, it just remains a piece of tech with limited functionality and something that wouldn’t get used on a daily basis.

Products not fully used

At the start of 2018, a survey from Ipsos Connect highlighted exactly how owners of smart speakers used their device. An overwhelming majority of respondents (71%) agreed the main use was to listen to music, whilst 58% regularly like to ask their speaker general questions. Whilst most owners use their device for its intended purpose, one of the main benefits of the Amazon Alexa is to order goods. However, only 9% of holders used this function – perhaps unsurprising as most people still like to go out and purchase products they know can be bought there and then (without having to wait an extra day or so whilst Amazon packages and delivers).

Keeping it simple

Smart-connected devices can be very useful in households, for example, the Phillips Hue range, which was released in 2012. Offering a variety of functionality and flexibility in your home, it gives users controls of their lighting setup, by adjusting colour and brightness from any smartphone or tablet.

As I own some of the Phillips Hue products, I have never had any doubt about the whole idea of being able to wirelessly control lighting with the help of the Hue Bridge. There are many benefits for myself and countless others who own similar systems; such as waking yourself up in the morning (you can set times to when lights come on and be nudged awake by the lights) or in different cases you can automatically set what time you’d like your lights to turn on or off (to be waiting when you return from work, or away on holiday).

Making the switch

You may ask “What about people who are not as technology focused and would prefer to use the traditional way of turning on the lights by flicking a switch?!”. Phillips has taken that into account in designing the system with two methods of control; one being the central operation via the Phillips Hue app or buying the add-on accessory (called Dimmer Switch) which is a handheld remote providing similar functions.

While Phillips Hue boasts some amazing benefits and features, some people may disagree with how useful I find the device. It depends on how much you invest into the ecosystem, and if you’re motivated to keep using the system.

The expensive road to everyday use

Are smart devices here to help every day? Basic systems have arrived to make life easier – home control through your phone or using assistants such as Siri or Alexa on smart speakers – but these can be expensive and can set you back an increasing amount of money to keep maintained through subscriptions or if parts need replacing. In reality, there is a mixed picture of what is essential and those created as a way to simply have a smart product somewhere in the home.