The smart home is meant to add new levels of convenience and utility to everyday life. Why, then, is the setup process so often a nightmare? Whether it’s tricky processes, apps that feel more at home in 1990 than 2021, or the odd position of QR codes, the setup of smart home devices needs to be streamlined and standardized.
Each company has its own process, but there should be at least a set of four to five basic steps that each device should follow. I have configured dozens of smart home devices. Sometimes it takes three steps, and other times it takes 10. The ease of installation has nothing to do with the price of the product either – the budget devices had the easiest setups I’ve seen. I’ve ever seen, while luxury smart lights have been some of the worst offenders.
Wi-Fi names are easy to find, or so I thought
I recently installed and tested a set of smart lights for an examination. In the process, I had to connect to my home Wi-Fi network. This is not a problem; it’s part of almost every device setup and helps ensure that firmware is up to date, remote features are available for access, and more.
The problem with this particular device setup was that it didn’t offer a list of Wi-Fi names within range of my phone. Instead, I had to manually enter my home network name. Fortunately, I renamed my own network to something punny (House LANnister), but if someone is still using their default network name, it becomes more difficult.
No one wants to type NETGEAR-15GD52X9R. The actual name entry isn’t the problem – the problem is that most people won’t remember a default network name and will have to go find their network name, write it down and come back, especially as their mobile device must remain within two meters of the smart device during setup.
The ability to choose your network from a list of those in range has been a feature of literally every smart device I’ve ever installed except this one. The weirdness came across as something that would be an easy fix (and could be fixed in the app via an update), but it feels like a huge oversight on the part of the programmers.
The camera should not need to see a QR code
Home security cameras sometimes include a special requirement in their setup process. The application displays a QR code on your phone that you must then position in front of the camera for it to scan. In theory, it’s not complicated, but unless you have studio-grade lighting in your home, the camera will have trouble seeing the code.
I’ve seen this in at least two home security cameras. The easiest solution is to make sure you have decent lighting in your home (don’t install the cameras in a dark room) and set your phone’s brightness to its highest level. I’m sure there are security reasons for this step in the setup process, but it seems pointless and pointless. At last count, I have eight different brands of security cameras in my house, and only two of them required me to hold a QR code during the installation process.
Please stop placing unique QR codes in manuals
One of the worst offenders for configuration processes is any device that works with HomeKit. The HomeKit code itself is either placed on the device or in the manual. Think about it for a moment: a unique code required to set up the device, placed in a paper manual that is unlikely to be retained. If you need to remove the device from your network and reinstall it as part of the troubleshooting steps, getting this code requires a long call with customer service.
The theory behind scanning a QR code is that it simplifies the setup process. The problem in practice is that the codes are never in easily accessible places. I also don’t want to lose access to the codes because I accidentally threw away a little piece of paper. Devices should be discoverable at all times, even without the passcode. Including the QR code should be another optional way to add devices to the network.
How setup and installation should work
There are necessary steps in the setup process, and there are unnecessary steps. When a device is more complicated – for example, like the Eight Sleep Smart Mattress Cover – including pictures and videos in step-by-step setup is beneficial. It guarantees that there are no errors.
For the majority of devices, especially ones like smart lights or a smart plug, there should only be a few steps:
- Log in to your account for the service, whether it is LIFX, Govee or Amazon.
- Fill in your home details if you haven’t created an account yet. If so, add the device via the on-screen method (usually a + sign somewhere in the app.)
- Select the new device from a list of options.
- Configure the new device.
A smart device with many features and settings should wait until it has been added to your network to prompt the user to customize it. By waiting for the device to be recognized and added, this avoids the hassle of configuring and customizing a device only to fail to connect and requiring the user to repeat the setup process from scratch.
I’m a big fan of smart home technology. I use it daily in my home for everything from lighting to cleaning, but there have been times when the setup and installation process has been decidedly unsmart. By loosely standardizing the configuration of smart devices, companies could eliminate some of the anxiety this poses for people intimidated by technology.
Wait, there’s still hope
Through collaboration between leading companies in the smart home industry, including Amazon, Google, and Apple, the idea of simplified setup and control might not be a thing of science fiction.
The Matter protocol (formerly known as Project CHIP) seeks to create a sort of “intelligent language” between all smart home devices that allows them to communicate, regardless of brand. This means that in the future, some of the current Google-only products may work with HomeKit, Alexa, or any other compatible platform.
Despite my gripes about its setup process, HomeKit is a great example of what it could look like. HomeKit-enabled devices can be set up and controlled directly through the HomeKit app without the need to download the device app. The number of devices that work with HomeKit is limited, but Matter could provide backwards compatibility for older hardware, allowing it to work with HomeKit.
On my phone I have over a dozen apps to control my smart home. Although most of my devices can be controlled through Alexa, I still need the specific apps to adjust certain settings, access security features, etc. The idea that Matter can bring these apps together under one umbrella is really exciting.