[Part 2] Confessions of a Consumer IoT Skeptic: Not a complete failure

Part 2 Intro: What does excite me?

This is the second of a multi-part series on Consumer IoT (Internet of Things). In Part 1, I spent some time talking about why I’m not very excited about the current state of the Consumer IoT market. There really is a lot of disappointing Consumer IoT tech out there that under-delivers, under-performs, and/or completely misses the mark. However, I want to make sure I’m recognizing the fact that there are some Consumer IoT products that do exist and are exciting to me.

Smart Home: Getting smarter

Ever since watching The Jetsons as a kid, I’ve always wanted a fully automated “smart home”. The “smart home” concept is more than just a random “thing” here and there, it’s a fully integrated experience. To build the true “smart home”, there has to be a way to interface with all the devices without having to go to a separate control console or app for each device. Don’t give me some stupid touchscreen panel that I have to have in my hands any time I want to do anything, or a complicated remote control with a million buttons. I want to be Tony Stark with his voice activated assistant, JARVIS. Right now, we’re getting pretty close with Amazon’s Alexa-controlled Echo devices.

I really think the Amazon Echo Dot ($49) is a good start for “smart home” control and at an affordable price. The full size Amazon Echo ($179) is more than three times the cost and only adds a better set of speakers. In my opinion, that’s not worth the added cost, since I can go out and buy speakers that can connect to the Echo for less than the difference. With over 7000 different “skills”, and other customizations that can be added with “If This Then That” (ifttt.com) integration, Amazon Alexa (via the Echo devices) can control just about any connected device you have.

The two Consumer IoT devices I have in my home are both from Nest Labs (which is now owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company). The Nest Learning Thermostat ($249) is a great “smart” thermostat with a beautiful interface. The mobile app allows me to adjust the temperature without getting up, and a great Splunk app allows me to see long-term trending and status information. I haven’t owned it for a full year yet, so I don’t have full data on the cost savings; however, this winter, it seems to have lowered my gas usage noticeably. According to Nest, the Learning Thermostat will save 10-12% on heating costs and 15% on cooling costs. The Nest devices also integrate with Amazon Alexa, so I can control my thermostat with the Amazon Echo device.

I’ve been following the Consumer IoT market for a long time, and the first network connected device that I purchased for my home was the Nest Protect ($99) smoke/carbon monoxide (CO) detector. The Next Protect lasts 10 years. Normal CO detectors need to be replaced every 5-7 years at a cost of $30-50, and smoke detectors require replacing every 7-10 years at another $10... This means, before Nest Protect, I was spending about $70-100 every 10 years. When I needed to replace my CO detector a few years ago, the Nest Protect was the right device at the right price. Its calm voice is so much better than the ear-piercing alarm, although it still sounds the loud alarm if the voice isn’t acknowledged within a few seconds. It also integrates with the Nest Learning Thermostat to turn off the HVAC fan during a fire to slow the spread. Talk about smart!

Consumer IoT: What’s holding it back?

Several things are holding back Consumer IoT adoption. Companies are still in the process of figuring out how consumers interface with these devices. The Amazon Echo is a start, but device manufacturers cannot expect an Echo in every home. The Echo also won’t help with any mobile IoT devices (wearables, car IoT, etc.) because you can't just pick it up and take it with you. However, above all other issues, the cost of Consumer IoT devices is the biggest hurdle, which I’ll cover in more depth in the next part of this series.