Smart-home IoT suppliers are not very smart

11 Sep 2015

As featured in DisruptiveViews

The war for Internet of Things (IoT) supremacy may be only just beginning, but Samsung looks to have won the first Internet of Silly Things (IoST) battle. It was excited to announce that the next generation of the Samsung SmartThings Hub, a new lineup of products, and a brand-new SmartThings app experience is available today. But closer inspection of what is on offer is neither brand-new or particularly exciting.

The marketing follows the same lines as most smart-home suppliers, “The Hub will continue to support ZigBee, Z-Wave, and local internet connected devices. Two USB ports and embedded Bluetooth will support future expansion. The new collection of Samsung SmartThings sensors are now smaller and have been redesigned with a sleeker, more contemporary look to fit seamlessly into the background of your home.”

These sensors are either attached to or have your appliance attached to them and a power outlet. And, from what I can tell, they either monitor the state of the appliance or simply turn it on or off via commands from your smartphone app.

I can already do this with 90% of my appliances by attaching a very simple and cheap timer to them. I can set the dishwasher, coffee maker and lights to turn on whenever. Big deal. But do I really want to know how many times my refrigerator door was opened or when my garbage bin needs emptying.

And who in their right mind would prepare a fish dinner, leave it the oven all day simply to have the convenience of starting the cooking process whilst traveling home on the train. How many cases of food poisoning will it take to prove this is a crap idea?

No matter, Samsung will no doubt come up with an oven that doubles as a fridge. We already have clothes washers that magically turn into dryers at the end of a wash cycle. When they devise one that also irons, folds and places clothes neatly in the wardrobe I will get really excited. That will be smart.

Even more frightening is the concept that these smart appliances and devices will start talking to each other and maybe even plan to remove the dumb human interloper altogether!

Of course, Samsung already makes a version of almost every appliance known to man so adding smart sensors to each, if they haven’t already, will give them a big advantage in taking control of the smart home – or will it?

Unless the Samsung Hub and its associated app are totally ubiquitous and allow any smart device, including wearables, to connect to them – instantly and easily – then Samsung and anyone else with aspirations of worldwide domination of homes and data collection will be doomed.

We are all getting smarter too, and we are truly sick and tired of any one technology vendor trying to be all things to us. We know they can’t and we don’t want to be restricted. This will only happen when one standard is agreed upon – about the same time pigs start to fly.

That’s why GSM-based mobile communications has succeeded. One standard (albeit after a rocky start and competition from CDMA) is when ecosystems really take off and other industries jump in to be part of its success. I suppose just like OTT players are coming on board these days.

And there lies the quandary for IoT. Multiple, competing standards will simply confuse the market and make potential customers wary of committing to any technology they feel has a potential dead-end.

It’s not the cost, or the short lifespan of these products – we are already used to disposable electronics that are not worth the cost of repairing – it’s more about the time we spend getting this stuff to work, and work optimally. I could not be bothered programming my light control device to switch lights on and off – my cheap timer already does that admirably today.

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