A few things need to change to put smart devices in more homes

A few weeks ago Gartner released its updated Emerging Technology Hype Cycle, where it places various technology along the early adoption curve and estimates how long technologies have before they reach mass adoption. Internet of Things devices have been on the Cycle for a few years. Last year they were at the Peak of Inflated Expectations, meaning a lot of fluff  and talk (aka hype) but not a lot of great products. This year Gartner moved them off the chart, perhaps signifying that IoT has indeed reached mass adoption. With hardware, appliance, and tech stores full of connected, “smart” devices, maybe IoT really is mainstream.

But is it?

Looking at the abundance of devices we could be tempted to say that yes, there’s a “smart” everything now (even a t a connected candle!) but ask a non-techie friend what smart device they have and I bet they’ll only show you a fitness tracker. I think this boils down to a few issues:

  1. Apple's HomeKit looks like a promising IoT hub with simple addition of devices and the ability to define rooms and scenes for easier and more automated control. Source: Apple

    Apple’s HomeKit looks promising, with simple addition of devices and the ability to define rooms and scenes for easier and more automated control.
    Source: Apple

    Central control is not there yet and every smart device comes with its own app. It’s fun for the first two, three devices but then it becomes tedious to have a different app for your thermostat, blinds, lights, and coffee machine. The act of getting up in the morning now requires opening four different apps or automating everything independently, making it a hassle every time you want to wake up one hour later. The big hope for this space, Apple, just released a version of Home Kit with centralized device control and Google has the “works with nest” platform and is also planning to launch Google Home soon, with the intent of controlling all home IoT devices. Amazon’s Alexa also works with some devices. The question, given that these solutions are relatively new, is whether they are ready for wider adoption and how easy it will be for other devices to work with them. Also, how difficult will it be for device manufacturers to be compatible with all systems?

  2. Setup of each device is unique and it’s not always easy Many manufacturers realize that requiring electricity for their devices is too high a barrier for adoption and have opted for battery powered devices with wireless connectivity (of course) but every device requires its own software setup and each is unique. Perhaps once the IoT platforms are more robust a device will only have to be turned on to be added to the system.
  3. Prices are still way too high. A Nest thermostat costs $249, programmable ones under $50. Light bulbs cost between $20 and $60 each, and some require an additional hub, whereas non-connected bulbs are a fraction of that. The Nest fire alarm costs $99 while a three-pack of regular alarms are less than $50. All six smart locks in this review cost over $150 each where a simple lock costs under $15. A smart doorbell? $200. Granted, all the smart devices offer much more functionality than their unconnected equivalents but those are premium prices, intended for customers who are willing to pay extra, aka early adopters.
  4. Bugs are treated nonchalantly. IoT malfunctions shouldn’t be an acceptable consequence of a software upgrade. It’s not as if a game crashes, it’s unlocked doors or doors that don’t open, burst pipes and cold babies. These stories gather much attention and serve as a deterrent for new adopters.
  5. Privacy of collected data and the ownership of that data. Every smart device stores data “in the cloud” whether it’s steps taken or the content of the fridge or when people enter and leave your house. There are three issues here customers need to be reassured of: whether that data is safe, who has access to it, and whether you need to pay to get that data.
  6. Less ownership restrictions. There are many strange uses of DRM by companies to protect their products such as Keurig with its “use only ours” pod and, more recently, HP blocking third party ink cartridges with a software upgrade. Even IoT devices aren’t immune: Phillips, for a time, blocked third-party lights from its Hue hub. Connected devices are continuously open to such upgrades. Manufacturers can also change the terms of use when they please. Tile just sent me an email notifying me of an update this week of an update to their Privacy Policy without giving me an option to opt out or clearly mentioning what had changed. Manufacturers can also choose not to continue to support older products, leaving important devices, such as a front door lock, inoperable.

Early adopters, those willing to pay a premium, risk security, and spend lots of time setting up devices and getting them to work with one, central hub have already bought the first and second wave of IoT products. Gartner estimates that the number of installed consumer devices will more than triple by 2020. For that to happen, products need to be simpler, safer and cheaper.

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