TV commercials show busy women directing their robot vacuums to clean up crumbs and pet hair, opening an app to heat their ovens while they shop in the frozen food aisle and asking their smart speakers to notify them when the laundry is dry.
For many older adults, the technology that makes a home “smart” evokes memories of The Jetsons in the early 1960s more than their own abode today. But that’s OK, according to a half dozen tech experts that AARP asked about smart home technology.
You don’t need most of it — with one exception: Our experts love doorbell cameras, which can connect with your computer, phone, tablet or TV and allow you to see who is at your door without opening it. You can also set many of them up to send alerts when packages are delivered or when someone walks by.
“Porch pirates are real, and you want to know when something is delivered; you want to know when someone comes up to your door,” says Judie Stanford, editor in chief of electronic review site Gear Diary. “That’s not fearful; that’s being a smart consumer. It lets me know if somebody comes up and doesn’t ring the doorbell, which is always strange to me. I like to know.”
Edward C. Baig, an AARP contributing writer who was a longtime USA Today tech columnist, agrees: “I’m a fan of video doorbells. They may deter a burglar who, seeing the camera, will move on to someone else’s house.”
Smart home devices not wildly popular or necessary
Video doorbells were among the few smart home devices that cracked the double digits when the not-for-profit tech website Reviews.org surveyed 1,000 adults age 18 and older late last year to find out what smart or Wi-Fi enabled devices they own. In the top five, excluding a smart speaker or hub, gaming console and smart TV, were these gadgets:
- Video doorbell, 14.6 percent
- Smart garage door opener, 13.8 percent
- Outdoor security camera, 12.3 percent
- Smart thermostat, 10.3 percent
- Indoor security camera, 9.3 percent
Beyond video doorbells, the experts we asked have little use for most internet-connected appliances. Many on our panel say simpler solutions are available.
“One of the things you can do on the smart fridge is display a recipe on the screen,” Baig says. “It’s handy, but no more so than looking at the ingredients and following steps on a phone, tablet or — dare I suggest — an old-fashioned cookbook.”
If you want to wake to the smell of piping hot coffee, you don’t need to tell Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant to brew it, says Ty Ahmad-Taylor, vice president of marketing at Facebook’s parent Meta. And you don’t need to pay the premium price that smart coffee makers command.
“I have my coffee maker on a timer, just a regular analog timer that turns the power on and off, and that’s how the coffee gets made,” he says. “I think there are simpler ways for people to get the benefits of home technology without enmeshing them in a whole internet-connected universe.”