/ Home & Energy, Technology

Is the smart home finally wising up?

Smart fridge

We’ve so far been reluctant to turn our homes into Star-Trek styled palaces of technology, but the next generation of ‘smart home’ products holds more promise.

I’ve been at the world’s largest consumer technology show, CES, for the past week catching a glimpse of the products you can expect to find on the shelves of Currys and Argos in the next year.

The show was dominated by one word, ‘smart’. We’ve seen smart thrown into everything from belts and dresses to American footballs – so you can track the speed and distance of your throw.

Most of this stuff is rubbish. Yes, you could buy a smart peephole that wakes up, takes a picture, connects to your wi-fi and sends that picture to your smartphone. Or, while you’re waiting for all of that to happen, you could just go to the door and find out who is knocking.

Sony is still trying to flog us a light bulb with a speaker built in that you control from your phone – a completely pointless product surpassed only by the surround sound rug from Panasonic.

Smart is not forgetting the milk

But buried beneath the gimmicks there are signs that manufacturers are starting to make progress on the sort of smart innovations that people might actually use.

Take the fridge camera from British firm, Smarter. This sits inside your fridge door and takes a snap of what’s inside each time you open and close. So when you’re dashing home from work and can’t for the life of you remember whether you need more milk or if there is bacon for a fry-up in the morning, you can check the latest photo on your phone. It saves you buying bacon you don’t need, or having to climb out of bed at 7am for a milk run because you thought you already had a bottle.

This is a simple rather than stunning innovation, but it solves a genuine problem and that’s what is often missing from many smart devices – an actual purpose. Putting wi-fi enabled screens on the front of fridges is all very well and good – but does anyone really want to check Google Maps while grabbing a few eggs at breakfast time?

Did I leave the oven on?

Like the fridge camera, the best devices are the ones that help you save money or offer a little handy convenience – like the Samsung Flex Duo cooker, which can be controlled by an app on your phone.

The advantage here is for those of us with ‘just left the house’ anxiety. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve had to go back to the house because I can’t remember if I turned the oven off. I always have – but that doesn’t matter. Being able to check on my phone if the oven is turned off would save me a lot of stress – if they could just come up with the wi-fi iron next.

From nice to have to must have

None of these products are essential, but most of the technology we own is non-essential – it’s a convenience. You don’t need a remote control, but it saves a lot of hassle having one. How about a washing machine? It’s not a necessity, but you wouldn’t fancy spending most of your Sunday stooped over the sink instead.

I’ve been covering smart technology for a couple of years now and while I think it’s inevitable that our homes are set to become smart, the products I have seen so far have largely underwhelmed. That’s changing.

Rather than making products smart for the sake of it, manufacturers are working out ways that connected technology can save us time or money. And it’s this convenience that will likely lead to us popping down to Argos to pick up a fridge camera.

Are these new smart home products clever enough to convince you?

Useful links:

Best smart home devices at CES 2016
See all the news from CES 2016 on Which? Tech Daily


This comment was removed at the request of the user

Yes Duncan, smart meters are not for our advantage but as usual we are gobbling up the blurb about saving t he customer money. It is to save others not us
It does away with another little man called the meter man for a start
The generation of smart washing machine and various other domestic can receive stop start instructions on the “0 volts” of the electricity. It may seem like a bright idea to lesson the load on an overstretched grid but why not tell the public. No because if they can do that then they can do more
We have endless reports of phones being on when they look like they are off
We have endless evidence of camera’s being on when they look like they are off
We have endless evidence of “smart” items including TVs having their microphones on without being switched on
Us who say these things we are all nuts but we not conspiracy theorists but pay attention this had all been on mainstream BBC ITV channels if you would get your faces out of the soaps for a month

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I have a Heatmiser WiFi thermostat which turns on my heating and hot water remotely from anywhere in the world. When I returned from a visit to Seattle one Christmas, I could check the temperature of the house (I had set it at 7 Celsius while away) before I left the States. By the time I returned to home here in the UK, the house was nice and warm without my heating being on all the time. Likewise, I have LightwaveRF lighting which enables me to come home to a lighted house late at night. As a pensioner, I find both of these valuable to me – who wants to come back to a cold, dark house? Very dispiriting.
I also suffer from arthritis. Having to get up to answer a knock on the door is literally painful. I can see a market for cameras on the front door linked through WiFi to my iPhone – especially if there were a microphone and loudspeaker enabling me to talk to a caller. In a few more years as the arthritis gets worse, a remote unlocking device on the front door would be a good idea, too.
Don’t knock the idea of some of these gadgets they can be a godsend for some…

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I am definately for any type of technology like the ones mentioned in your magazine that help to save time, money and generally make life stressful.I think the wifi connections are secure and encrypted it will be a good thing so bring them on.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

There’ll be non of that in our new cabin,
Go sit on it nosey little men.
I’ll do as i please in my own little house.

Perhaps to provide balance to the media, and Which?, in admiring the the new frontier in gadgetry I link a few cautionary tales. Particularly the pain of investing in a system that is no longer supported.


And of course when it goes rogue
and the lack of adequate security must be a concern to all.

I had not realised that Nest is owned by Google so I look forward to the time when all my activities personal and household will be safely recorded for me by a US corporation. Incidentally as a piece of odd information Google and the CIA have much in common including Google Earth .

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Which must stop claiming that “a shortcoming of traditional systems is that if you don’t pay an ongoing subscription for them to be monitored, you’ll have to rely on your neighbours” as you have again done in this report. It is not true.
Last time you said that, I told you that I added a speech dialler to my traditional alarm system years ago. This calls my mobile phone with a pre-recorded message, telling me that my intruder alarm system has been activated. (It sends a different message if a smoke detector has been activated.) It continues to phone a succession of pre-programmed numbers until one of us accepts its call.
No subscription is payable for this reliable system.

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Ruth Wilkinson says:
21 December 2016

In ‘How to make your home more secure’, you advise people to change from a letterplate in the door to a lockable letterbox on the wall to prevent burglars fishing through the door to reach keys. However in my area we have issues with post being stolen from these boxes. People push folded newspapers into the letterboxes before the delivery, so that post cannot fall down, then wait till post has been delivered and quickly fish out the post before the householder goes to collect it. They can thus get bank statements, credit cards and other useful documents for identity theft. Much safer to keep the letterbox in your front door and move your keys!

Another item to add to your smart home? What does everyone think of Bixby 2.0? https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/10/samsung-announces-bixby-2-0-and-vision-for-the-connected-home/

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I’m sure if Duncan had been around at the dawn of the motor car he would have focused on all the negative aspects.

Phil says:
19 January 2019

The Model T didn’t listen to your conversations or send details of your journeys to Ford.

Aside from the security issues there does seem to be a real risk of creating dependency.