Are smart home and home automation technologies “solutions in search of a problem?”

That’s the view of Jan Dawson, who recently painted a pretty bleak picture of the smart home’s future in his article “The Smart Home Is Stuck”.

His argument begins with some of the issues Nest is struggling with: missed expectations, technical mishaps, and a taxing culture (Business Insider provides some details here). To these he adds a fourth:

“…Nest is mostly a victim of the current state of the smart home market, which itself seems perennially stuck in the early adopter phase.”

Slow to start, maybe. Perennially stuck? That’s a bit much.

On this we can agree: early adopters are buying smart home devices at a rate that surpasses that of average consumers. They are buying “more expensive, less reliable, (and) more complicated technology.” That’s what earlier adopters do.

Those early adopters have made Nest arguably the most successful smart home device released to date. And its advance into homes speaks to Nest meeting Mr. Dawson’s three criteria for smart home device innovation success:

1. You don’t have to buy many of them; one thermostat is good for most homes
2. Installation can be tricky, but it’s not rocket science
3. The possibility of a return on investment is obvious (“Control my HVAC more efficiently? Ka-ching!”)

The rest have failed to take off because they “require electrical expertise, devices to be installed throughout the home, and cost a lot of money with increased convenience the only real benefit.”

Here’s where the argument gets a little wobbly.

My beloved Netatmo device that monitors (among other things) humidity, carbon dioxide levels, and sound levels in my house was plugged into the wall socket by my 8 year old. Its outdoor counterpart, an incredibly accurate temperature and barometric station, is attached to my back entryway with zip ties. And while the return on investment isn’t immediately financial with this particular device, there is comfort in knowing the air in my house is clean and dry. (And the chance to remediate a problem in my home before it gets out of control is a huge opportunity for return on investment.)

It’s the insistence that “convenience (is) the only real benefit” that’s most problematic. Device manufacturers don’t help themselves here: promotional videos and the like overemphasize the “look what I can do from my phone!” aspect to their products. Convenience is awesome, but there’s much more to the near future of the smart home than that.

We at CRT Labs believe that the more you know about your home, the better you are. You, your house, and those living in it can be healthier. We envision a homebuying and selling marketplace made smarter by data that enables everyone to make informed decisions about the most important purchase anyone can make.

My wife and I bought a house 9 years ago; we loved the aesthetics, the location, and the elementary school. We also looked at other houses. Did we buy the one that had the driest basement? The one least likely to contain health hazards? The brightest one, or the darkest one?

Sadly, I have no idea. But smart home technology could have told us that, and that’s why if smart homes are stuck, they’ll soon unstick themselves.