The low hanging fruit in the smart home

For some time now I’ve been convinced that all things security would find the most traction in the smart home. Think applications like cloud video surveillance (Dropcam) and smart locks (August, Kevo). On the horizon is one more app—connected garage door openers.

My reasons for being relatively bullish on security apps in the smart home are that they make a lot of sense for families. There are smart home devices like smart thermostats and smart water heaters that have clear returns for consumers like energy savings and lower power bills. But many smart home devices don’t compete on that level. They don’t have a simple cash return.

Rather, they have a much more challenging proposition. They have to improve our experience of the home by making our lives more convenient and providing peace of mind. It’s this second benefit—peace of mind—that has me interested in connected garage door openers.

Wondering whether you’ve closed your garage door is a question everyone has wondered as they drive to work in the morning, particularly if there are children at home or if the door connecting the garage to the house is left unlocked as it often is. Being able to remotely check if the garage door is closed, as almost all smart garage door openers allow, creates simple peace of mind.

As we grow increasingly tied to our smart phones to monitor everything from our heart rate to our communications to our door locks, the behavioral shift towards remote monitoring is accelerating among consumers. Are we becoming more neurotic? Probably. But that doesn’t change the reality surrounding consumer expectations.

The challenges of the smart garage door opener are twofold. First, installation depends on device but does require some effort. In the case of the Chamberlain MyQ, brackets, access to power nearby in the garage, and the placement of a sensor unit on the garage door are required. Additionally, WiFi signal is often needed in the garage.

Beyond installation, one of the issues right now is that entry isn’t passively controlled, meaning you have to take out your phone to open the garage door. Is that as simple as the one click opener or the openers embedded in newer vehicles? It’s debatable.

But adding access for others is much easier with a smart garage door opener given that we’re dealing with an app to download, not additional hardware. This translates into no more worrying about extra garage remotes. Also being able to remotely open one’s garage door for a neighbor, for example, could come in handy.

Still, navigating to the app screen with the right button isn’t perfect. I’d like to see some passive entry options, the way we’re seeing on smart locks. There are some barriers here in terms of radio frequency distances from an arriving vehicle to the garage. And as we’ve seen with smart locks there can be some issue related to one’s intent (If you walk out of your house into the front yard, will your smart garage door get confused and think you’re arriving home?). Still, if some of these problems could be solved it would be a nice addition.

Right now we’re seeing a myriad of connected devices being marketed for the smart home, as was evident at CES. Devices like connected toasters, crockpots, and coffee makers are likely to take a long time to get out of the early adopter set, if they ever do. But those devices that elegantly solve a problem for users while absorbing more control into a smartphone (and thus eliminating another control device as a smart garage door opener does), will find traction. If they improve peace of mind for your average person who can’t remember if they closed their garage door, all the better.