What Makes a Device ‘Smart’?
"Smart" products are everywhere. But what does that label actually mean?
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.
If you had described a toilet as “smart” ten years ago, there’s a good chance you would have been on the receiving end of some questioning looks. Fast forward to the present day and it seems that if there’s a product on the market, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a “smart” version of that same product available. Less guaranteed, though, is that that “smart” tag actually means something.
In a world of “smart water bottles” and “smart piggy banks,” how are you supposed to know when a product being smart is actually beneficial? To know that, you have to know what “smart” technology is intended to be and how it is meant to improve your daily life.
What is a “Smart” Device?
By definition, a smart device is something that connects and interacts with other devices and with the person using it. The term gained popularity as the standard way to describe a cellular device that could connect to the internet, turning it from a cell phone into a smartphone. Soon, connected tech ranging from watches to refrigerators was being described as “smart.”
As strong and consistent home WiFi networks became more and more common across the United States, companies created products that could really take advantage of those networks. The smart devices in your home are linked together through your home WiFi, all operating and communicating via the same central network. Provided that network is functioning properly, the smart devices in your home can work together to create an environment that is fully synchronized with you in control.
When Does “Smart” Matter?
Smart devices typically come with an increase in the price-tag. Deciding whether or not that additional cost is worth it largely depends on how much of an added benefit connectivity provides. Smart technology should be able to provide at least one of two main benefits: Efficiency and convenience. A smart device is doing its job if it’s making your life easier.
Another thing to consider is whether you are actually going to use the technology to your advantage. Having a smart refrigerator that can tell you when your milk has gone bad definitely seems cool, and the convenience it provides is obvious. But that convenience only comes through if you actually use the technology. If the smart refrigerator app on your phone sits there untouched, your new smart refrigerator might as well be any old fridge.
Of course, there are some other reasons to go “smart.” Some smart products can provide energy savings, like a smart thermostat that lowers the temperature while you’re away. Others have an undeniable “cool” factor, like smart lighting systems that can change colors and respond to music.
If you’re a tech geek with an interest in staying on the cutting edge, getting all of the latest smart products is probably more of a priority for you. Otherwise, take the time before purchasing a smart device to think about whether it will make your life easier, and if you will actually take advantage of the technology it provides.