I saw a long thread on Mastodon today about someone’s trials with the “smart home” solution they inherited in a house they had bought. The part in question was the networked thermostats and it immediately resonated with me because I have long been annoyed with these devices as well.
Like a bunch of people, I bought several Nest thermostats back when they first came out, because they were pretty great. I could care less about the “learning” features—I find them dodgy at best, actively unhelpful at work, and disabled them not to long after installing the thermostats—but I really liked being able to adjust the heat or turn the system on and off without having to go to themostat itself. It’s not so much that I mind getting up from where I’m sitting and walking to the thermostat, but rather that it’s pretty handy to be able to do stuff like turn the heat back up when we’re on our way back from a long trip so the house is warm when we arrive home.
Of course, we know how Nest turned out. Google bought the company a few years later. Then I started getting nagged to connect my Nest account to my Google account. Then I started getting hounded to buy a bunch of Google’s other stupid home automation products. It’s the process with which we are all now painfully familiar, as they attempt to extract ever more profit out of their user base. We have seen it across all of Google’s other product lines, so no big surprise they are pulling it with Nest as well.
I have mostly managed to disentangle myself from most of Google’s stuff, but I still have the Nest thermostats installed in my house even though it kind of burns my toast every time I have to interact with them.
I know there are other networked thermostat options that allow for remote adjustments of the heating system, but I am not sure to what degree swapping Google’s system out for someone else’s system really solves anything. Instead of logging into Google’s systems to be able to change the heat in my house, I would have to log into someone else’s systems to do it. Maybe whatever manufacturer I went with would not be as obviously data-grabby and extractive as Google, but you can bet they’ll bend to that same pressure eventually.
Mostly I find “home automation” to be kind of ridiculous. I have no interest in intricate configurations that adjust the hue of my lights based on the Weather Channel’s API. I mostly find a light switch to be a pretty good solution to the problem of needing to turn the lights on and off.
To the extent that I do want home automation, I wish somebody made a box that I plugged into my router that would handle all of that and does not require me to create an account on some vendor’s website. And yes, will I am sure there is some open-source thing I could set up on a Raspberry Pi, I have zero interest in having to spend hundreds of hours reading user forums and Discord channels to get the configuration to work.
The problem is that there is probably no market for this sort of thing. Or at least, no market that would be enough to make any commercial supplier interested in actually building and maintaining it.