[Part 1] Confessions of a Consumer IoT Skeptic: Not excited

This opinionated blog post discusses the idea that a lot of the IoT devices popping up start out as very cool ideas, but most of them end up missing the mark. This multipart blog series is going to highlight the pieces of Consumer IoT that Tim isn't the most fond of...

Introduction: The rant begins

I have been watching the Consumer Internet of Things (IoT) scene for a long time. From what I've seen, over the last decade or so, it seems like every time an “exciting” new IoT application pops up on the horizon that it fails to deliver as expected. A lot of these devices start out as very cool ideas, but most of them end up missing the mark. This multipart blog series is going to highlight the pieces of Consumer IoT that have annoyed me to the point where I must go on this rant.

The Challenge: Consumer IoT hasn't had the same success as Industrial IoT

Industrial uses of connected technology have a long and successful history. Devices such as RTU (Remote Terminal/Telemetry Units) and PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers) have been interfacing with SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and DCS (Digital Control Systems) for decades. These Industrial IoT devices provide an obvious improvement in speed, safety, and consistency that provide clear benefits for business implementation. Most of the Consumer IoT devices don’t provide the same obvious benefit for the end-users. Let's talk about some of these a little bit...

Central Hub: Separate interfaces for different devices

Many of the options in Consumer IoT applications require some sort of proprietary central controller that act as the brains behind these devices. These kinds of devices have been on the market for more than a decade, but have low adoption because of very high costs and terrible interfaces with the central hub. For most of this series, I am going to focus only on devices that connect directly to a network (WiFi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth).

Lighting: Yikes! That’s seems expensive...

The ability to turn lights on and off has been a cornerstone of the Consumer IoT market for a long time. Having to buy a central “hub” for these devices has made most of this market really hard to work with. While these hubs can control other devices, they are usually limited in which types of devices they will connect to. The WiFi and Bluetooth light bulbs were more than $100 each just a few years ago. Although the prices of these have come down drastically -- you can now get a good quality connected light bulb for around $20-40 per bulb -- this is still 10-20 TIMES the cost of the standard LED light bulb. With 23 light bulbs in my house, this would be a huge cost to upgrade. Since I recently replaced most of these with long-lasting LED light bulbs, replacing them as the old ones burn out will take quite some time.

Home Security: Door Locks -- Not effective

The IoT door locks that are currently on the market cost $100 more than the traditional locks. Most of them are nothing more than simple push-button code readers. These take twice as long than just shoving the key in the lock. There are bluetooth connected locks that will allow me to enter my house as long as my phone is in range of the lock. Most of my house is in bluetooth range of front door! Some locks would allow anyone to enter my house any time that I’m home.

There have been RFID door locks in hotels and offices for quite some time, but the consumer options are still lagging behind. Most of the better consumer door lock brands don’t have RFID locks, so the hardware in the lock is easy to pick or easy to break-in with a kick. They certainly aren’t any more secure than the traditional consumer locks.

Wearables: I’m putting WHAT on my body?

The tech bloggers love to talk about wearable connected devices. While I do concede that the “Fitbit” style step-counters are useful for those trying to maintain an active lifestyle, and are quite affordable, they seem to be the exception. “Smart” watches are almost usable, but most of them are missing major features, or have limited compatibility. Plus, a lot of them don't even have attractive-looking watch faces. The few watches that have decent features, mature integration, and a usable interface cost more than $300. I thought this stuff was supposed to be cheap and ubiquitous?

Trackers: Nope

Here’s the pitch: Attach this expensive thing to crap that I don’t want to lose. Then, by the time it actually gets lost, the app will have forgotten about it, the thing will have broken, the battery will have died, or it’ll be out of range to be useful. I will concede that these might be useful for those people who constantly lose their keys. But these are usually the same people who also misplace their phones (often WITH the keys), so that limits the usefulness.

Appliances: Really, what’s the point?

“Smart” fridge. Nobody needs a TV or a full computer or anything with a screen on their refrigerator. I don’t need a fridge that buys stuff for me automatically. Stop trying to make the “Smart” refrigerator happen. Seriously. Just stop.

At CES this year, Griffin Technology debuted a new Smart Toaster. What do I need a smart toaster for? I can’t start the toasting remotely, since I have to physically put the bread in the toaster. It uses bluetooth to connect, so I can’t even walk too far away from it. What is the point? The Internet Toaster isn’t even new. At the Interop Internet show in 1990, John Romkey and Simon Hackett introduced a toaster that was controlled using Simple Networking Management Protocol (SNMP), and added a network controlled robotic crane to insert the bread the following year.

What I do want is a “Smart” oven that can tell me when preheating is done and will alert me when my food is done, or if it’s been on longer than expected. The “June Oven” was supposed to deliver most of those features and has many others. Unfortunately, it’s a glorified toaster-oven. It’s not a full-sized oven. I want to see this functionality in a full-sized cooking range.

The Future: There’s still hope!

There are many exciting things on the horizon for Consumer IoT devices. Unfortunately, my excitement has been throttled by now because the most exciting IoT devices have been sitting on the horizon for over a decade. There’s a lot of disappointing Consumer IoT tech out there that under-delivers, under-performs, and/or completely misses the mark. I’m trying to remain optimistic because there are a few devices that are awesome enough to make up for it and keep the Consumer IoT ball rolling, which I’ll cover in the next part of this series.

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