Here's what it's like to wake up in America's smartest home. More precisely, here's what it's like for Alex Hawkinson, CEO of two-year-old smart-home company SmartThings, to wake up in his newly retrofitted suburban Maryland home, in which every single light and power outlet, plus a dozen gadgets, are all connected to and controllable from the internet.
Mr Hawkinson stretches. The accelerometer inside the Jawbone UP fitness tracker on his wrist registers movement, and wirelessly communicates it to his iPhone, which passes the signal to home-controlling software in the cloud.
Downstairs, lights come up, illuminating a split-level kitchen and living room. The coffee maker switches on. The thermostat increases the home's ambient temperature by four degrees. The security system is switched off.
By the time Mr Hawkinson pads into the kitchen, his coffee is ready. When he opens the cabinet in which he keeps coffee mugs, a sensor on its door triggers an internet-connected speaker by his dining-room table. In a slightly robotic woman's voice, it reads today's weather report to him.
Sensors controlled by a hub and smartphone provide security for an antique map.
And, for the home's morning routine at least, that's it. If you were hoping for a robotic butler, a fully automated kitchen, or anything that couldn't be accomplished with a minimum of effort in a non-smart home, you'll have to return to the worlds of science fiction.
Home automation systems are nothing new. What's different about 2014, say Mr Hawkinson and others trying to sell home automation systems and 'smart' gadgets, including heavyweights like Apple, AT&T and Lowe's, is that now it's easy and relatively affordable to make any home intelligent.
The larger question is, why would anyone want to?
Homes already have interfaces that are remarkably robust. Imagine, for example, how revolutionary the light switch would seem if until now we'd all been forced to control our lights through our smartphones.
Sensors also alert Mr Hawkinson to mail. (Matt Roth for The Wall Street Journal)
Mr Hawkinson believes the most compelling application for smart-home technology, at least for now, is home security. Surveys suggest about 80 per cent of Americans might like some kind of security and home-monitoring system. For $US300, SmartThings will sell you a kit that fits the bill -- while also avoiding the monthly fees associated with traditional home-security systems.
Google apparently agrees with Mr Hawkinson, as its Nest subsidiary -- which started out making a smart thermostat -- has announced that it's acquiring internet-connected video camera start-up Dropcam. What's a surveillance camera for if not home monitoring and security?
It's this task-driven approach to selling the idea of the smart home -- offering a device or kit that solves a specific problem, rather than an all-in-one solution -- that seems most likely to overcome the reluctance of most of us to add complexity to our personal sanctuaries. If you need to monitor a pet, elderly parent or home, why wouldn't you add a straightforward system to do it?
But frankly, other than people who have very specific reasons to add automation to their homes, I have no idea why anyone would do it, even if the equipment were free. As countless reviewers have noted, including in this newspaper, even when smart-home technology works as advertised, the complexity it adds to everyday life outweighs any convenience it might provide.
Some of the many connected devices in the SmartThings CEO's home.
Have we really gotten to the point where we can't be bothered to switch lights on and off or adjust our own thermostat when we go to bed or leave our homes?
Plus, getting anything done with a system like SmartThings requires you to think like an engineer. Granted, with SmartThings all this can be accomplished through a visually appealing smartphone interface. But like all home-automation packages, it still feels like the Google Glass of home gadgets -- immensely appealing to a few die-hard tinkerers but a headache for everyone else.
Google's Nest is trying to deal with the complexity inherent in bringing a home to life in a different way. When I spoke with Maxime Veron, head of marketing at Nest, he emphasised that the company's thermostat is deliberately not programmable. Plus, it works whether or not it's connected to the internet, by learning the preferences of its users. It's at least an attempt to make technology adapt to the user, rather than the other way around.
This isn't to say that smart homes don't have potential. This is a technology in its earliest stages. And I wonder if the problem with modern smart homes and connected devices is that they lack any sort of 'wow' factor. Where's that slick future we were promised? What can a smart home do that is truly new?
The most compelling things I saw in Mr Hawkinson's home were also the most novel. When a light on a bookshelf changed color to indicate that the postman had just dropped a letter in the mailbox, I found myself envisioning the ways these simple hacks might at least create the illusion that technology could change the way I live.
Right now, it still feels like makers of smart-home tech are struggling to find the 'killer app' that will drive broad adoption. For some people it might be home security. For the rest of us, it might be energy management, or pet and child monitoring. But whatever it is, it will have to accomplish something our current homes simply can't.
I pressed Mr Hawkinson for more of these future whiz-bang applications, which should soon be in abundance given that Nest, SmartThings and early-stage competitors like Oort all have opened up their systems to outside developers. Mr Hawkinson says that one developer created a system that launches a drone that can capture video of someone who enters a home without authorisation. Given that some drones already carry tasers and pepper spray, it isn't hard to see where this is going. Yes, it's dystopian, but it shows what I hope smart homes will turn into: a hotbed of experimentation with things that transform how we live, instead of just adding complexity where we want it least.
Write to Christopher Mims at firstname.lastname@example.org.