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New Technology: The Link Between Effectiveness and Ease-Of-Use

New Technology: The Link Between Effectiveness and Ease-Of-Use

There is a running joke in our culture; one that relates to older people and their technical capabilities. As the thinking goes, new technology is too complicated for people over a certain age to master. And by the way, this running joke is not new. Those of us who remember when VCRs were a thing can attest to that.

At any rate, this cultural joke is funny because it is rooted in the truth. Older people are rarely as adept at technology as their younger counterparts. It has been that way forever. Yet it doesn’t have to be. There is a link between technology’s effectiveness and its ease of use. In many cases, those who design technology can make it easier to use if they want to.

The trade-offs with ease of use are many. For instance, transitioning from command-line computer terminals to graphic user interfaces (GUIs) back in the nineties introduced security issues that were never a problem before. New operating systems with GUIs also required larger hard drives, more memory, better hardware, etc.

Home Automation Technology

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These days, home automation is one of the biggest things in the technology arena. Cell phones are old hats. We all have them. So are computers. The technologically-minded in our midst have moved on to developing things like smart thermostats and remotely operated door locks.

Vivint Smart Home is a nationwide provider of home security systems. In a recent blog post addressing home security for Florida residents, they decided to bring up the subject of home automation. From their standpoint, it follows that you would want the benefits of automation as long as you are going to the trouble of having home security installed. If so, it makes sense to buy home security and automation systems together.

Such thinking is perfectly legitimate. It is also smart marketing. But here’s the question: how easy is a home automation system to use? Before you lay out your hard-earned money, are you confident you will not be spending more time trying to figure it out than your grandfather invested in his VCR?

Easier Smart Thermostats

In their defense, home automation manufacturers have made great strides in the ease-of-use arena. A good example is the modern smart thermostat. Its predecessor, the older programmable thermostat, was a veritable nightmare to own.

It wasn’t uncommon for nineties-era homeowners to purchase programmable thermostats and then never use the features. Their problem was having just a small LCD screen and two or three buttons to navigate and program. Simply put, programming one of those thermostats was complicated. Many people just threw up their hands and acquiesced to using them manually.

Today’s smart thermostats are completely different. Their interfaces are designed to be similar to cell phones. They are programmed with a series of taps and swipes, the same way you work your favorite mobile apps. Virtually anyone who can use a smartphone to check email or post on social media can complete basic thermostat programming.

Setting up Smart Home Systems

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A smart thermostat represents just one device in a much larger smart home collection. If you are working with just a thermostat and your phone, the chances of you running into problems are slim. But what if you’re working with a complete system integrated through a central hub? Now you are on a whole new level.

This is where ease of use becomes a real problem for the home automation industry. It starts with connecting the hub to a wireless network. It is as easy as setting up a router, but many people don’t know how to do that. There are people who do not even know how to connect computers or smartphones to wi-fi.

Once the hub has been set up, it’s time to move on to individual devices. Each one must connect through the wi-fi network. With some systems, the hub is the hard part. Get that working and all of the individual devices just drop into place. But on other systems, each device requires its own setup.

Wrapping the entire project up involves going back to the hub and programming each of the devices in your system. First, you will program the thermostat. Then you will program the lights. Then it is on to the smart locks and sprinkler system. Each new device added to the system increases the complexity.

Complete Systems Out-Of-The-Box

One way to combat complexity in the home automation arena is to give customers complete systems out-of-the-box. In other words, manufacturers produce a full array of devices all designed to work seamlessly together. They are assembled and tested at the factory. That way, the company knows they work before the system is ever shipped out.

In a perfect world, such a system would require little to no setup. The customer would simply pull each piece of equipment out of the box and install it in the appropriate place. Then, with the flip of a switch, every piece turns on and works with the hub to automatically complete the setup.

We are not quite at the point of automatic setup yet. But manufacturers are working on it. Until then, purchasing all your home automation equipment from the same manufacturer mitigates set up complications. Another option is to hire a company like Vivint to come in and install a system for you.

Maximizing Smart Home Usage

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It doesn’t make sense to invest in home automation if you can’t maximize your usage of every device you purchase. On the other hand, you cannot maximize usage if you don’t know how to properly set up devices. That takes us back to the principle of home automation effectiveness being linked to ease of use.

Any home automation device is only as effective as the person setting it up. If a homeowner doesn’t know how to program his thermostat, he won’t. The thermostat becomes ineffective as a result. So when all is said and done, ease of use should be a priority among equipment manufacturers and home automation service providers. Otherwise, a lot of fantastic technology goes to waste.

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