Essays on Technology and Culture

The Internet of Industrial Things

This is it. 2016 will finally be the Year of the Internet of Things, which is fast replacing the Year of Linux on the Desktop as a perennial fantasy tech prediction. Guaranteed, as CES comes to a head, every consumer technology company will show of some sort of connected home device. There will be a 500 word gadget blog piece on each. And they’ll either never reach the market, or summarily tank when they do. The optimism shall continue unabated, if only because there’s a still an untapped market of consumers with dumb, functional home devices that they’ll have to replace at some point, anyway.

Over at The Kernel, AJ Dellinger is cutting through some of the IoT nonsense, and he has some help from Nest CEO Tony Fadell of all people. The entire piece is well worth your time, but this is the big takeaway for the home:

When we think IoT, we think of things shown through the “smart house” trope, and companies already in the appliances business happily oblige the fantasy…

It’s never going to happen, as Nest CEO Tony Fadell has pointed out.

Sure, we have a ton of Internet-connected things, mostly RFID stuff for industrial applications. Home users are left with a frustrating, broken, insecure, and fragmented ecosystem of competing standards and platforms. There may be something to connected home stuff, though I remain skeptical. I’m unwilling to invest in expensive hardware to smarten up an apartment I might not be staying in for the long haul. Either way, the privacy and security aspects freak me right out. Let me cite Dillinger again:

These are billion-dollar industries that would love to be able to better target potential customers, and the data is floating around inside everyone’s homes. Google and Samsung, among others, are trying to capture it—and as interested as they are in selling it, they aren’t all that into the idea of sharing it.

And what the hell am I theoretically giving all that data up for? Aside from smart thermostats, nobody’s shown that potential in the home beyond a bunch of neat tricks with lightbulbs, and maybe having your phone go off when your food is finished cooking. (How is that easier than saying “Hey, Siri, set a timer for 30 minutes” to my Apple Watch, again?) It’s the data and insight into process that Internet connected sensors bring into our lives is valuable. That’s why advertisers want dibs on it. Dellinger seems to agree:

Businesses will continue to adopt the Internet of Things, and consumers will be able to benefit, whether by package-delivery notifications straight to their phones or sharing information from their Fitbits with their doctors. The $70 lightbulbs that connect to the Internet, though? They’re not going to be flying off the shelves.

Maybe I’m just missing something. I’ve been cynical about new product categories before. If anyone knows of a product that isn’t vaporware that has a quantifiable benefit over a non-computerized dumb appliance, I’d like to see it. Until someone comes up with the killer app for all of these expensive “smart” things they want to shove into my home, I’m going to remain skeptical.