Setting up a smart home device shouldn’t have so much of a hassle
The smart home is meant to add new levels of convenience and utility to everyday life. Why, then, is the installation process so often a nightmarish affair? Whether it’s fussy processes, apps that feel more comfortable in 1990 than 2021, or the bizarre position of QR codes, the configuration of smart home devices needs to be streamlined and standardized.
Each business has its own process, but there should be at least a set of four to five basic steps that each device follows. I have configured dozens of smart home devices. Sometimes it takes three steps, and other times it takes 10. Ease of installation has nothing to do with the price of the product either – budget devices have had the simplest setups I’ve ever had. views, while luxury smart lights were some of the worst offenders.
Wi-Fi names are easy to access, at least I thought so
I recently installed and tested a set of smart lights for a review. 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 firmware is up to date, remote functionality is available for access, and more.
The problem with this particular setup of the device was that it didn’t offer a list of Wi-Fi names within range of my phone. Instead, I had to manually enter the name of my home network. Fortunately, I renamed my own network to something puny (House LANnister), but if someone still uses their default network name, it becomes more difficult.
No one wants to type NETGEAR-15GD52X9R. Entering the actual name isn’t the problem – the problem is that most people won’t remember a default network name and will have to fetch their network name, write it down and come back, especially since their mobile device must stay within two meters of the smart device during setup.
The ability to choose your network from a list of those within range has been a feature in literally every smart device I have ever installed except this one. The quirk appeared as something that would be an easy fix (and could be fixed in the app via an update), but looks like a huge oversight on the part of the programmers.
The camera should not need to see a QR code
Sometimes home security cameras 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-quality lighting in your home, the camera will have a hard time seeing the code.
I have seen this in at least two home security cameras. The simple solution is to make sure you have decent lighting in your home (don’t put the cameras in a dark room) and turn your phone’s brightness up to its highest level. I’m sure there are security reasons for this step of the setup process, but it seems unnecessary and unnecessary. At last count, I have eight different brands of security cameras in my house, and only two of them asked me to keep 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 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 probably won’t be kept. If you ever need to remove the device from your network and reinstall it as part of the troubleshooting steps, obtaining this code requires a lengthy call to 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 small piece of paper. Devices should be discoverable at all times, even without the passcode. Inclusion of 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 photos and videos in the step by step setup is beneficial. It guarantees that there are no errors.
For the majority of devices, especially those like smart lights or a smart plug, there should only be a few steps:
- Log into your account for the service, be it LIFX, Govee, or Amazon.
- Fill in your home details if you haven’t created an account yet. If so, add the device via the onscreen 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 must wait until it has been added to your network to prompt the user to customize it. While waiting for the device to be recognized and added, it avoids the hassle of setting up and customizing a device only so that it does not log in and requires the user to repeat the installation process from scratch.
I am 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 was decidedly not smart. By loosely standardizing the configuration of smart devices, companies could eliminate some of the anxiety this poses for people intimidated by technology.
Wait there is still hope
Through collaboration between large companies in the smart home industry, including Amazon, Google, and Apple, the idea of simplified setup and control might not be science fiction.
The Matter Protocol (formerly known as Project CHIP) seeks to create a kind of “smart 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 prime 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 backward compatibility for older hardware, allowing it to work with HomeKit.
On my phone, I have over a dozen apps to control my smart home. While most of my devices can be controlled through Alexa, I still need specific apps to adjust certain settings, access security features, etc. The idea that Matter can bring these applications together under one umbrella is indeed exciting.