The Internet of Things or IoT is a now a trending topic. Being pushed by big names in the industry, IoT publicized as the next big thing in IT is still a trend for early adopters and DIY geeks.
As an embedded systems engineering student, I cheered when people started to talk about smart objects, and finally braking that barrier that existed between the enterprise solutions and general public ones. But soon enough I realized that we were still very far from the smart-dream. And acronyms like “M2M” and “IoT” are getting tossed around pointlessly.
Smart Everything Is a Dumb Idea
The first problem that comes up when you try to do IoT, is to figure out what “Thing” need really to be smart. Then someone came-up with a bright idea and said “EVERYTHING”!
But how does ‘smart‘ work exactly?
Well basically you take a random object and stick a ship in it, add some Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and there you go.
Every startup and Kickstarter campaign felt needs to find a new unique silly concept in order to buzz and standout from the crowd. This started a tsunami of all kinds of craziness, from devices that would track your chewing habits to fridge accessories that tells you how many times the door was open. Anything you probably use in your daily life, probably has now a Kickstarter campaign to make it ‘smart’.
While in some instances, a product does work technologically and commercially, in many others it fails one or more of these aspects. IoT is neither cheap nor optimized yet, battery-life, connectivity and sensor-quality limit the way a smart-object could interact with the environment. Components cost make trivial accessories cost way more than the general public is willing to pay.
The most important question most IoT vendors forget to answer is :
Why would anyone dump their cheap dumb functional item, for a smart, pricey, prototype that would do almost the same thing?
Smart = Troublesome
When you spend a month’s salary trying to make your home smarter, you’d think you’d have lesser things to worry about. Just to be surprised by the fact that operating smart objects is more trouble than it is worth.
When designing a product there is a sweet-spot between customization and usability that should be always considered. Few IoT objects seem to find that spot, they either make it dead simple and you find yourself locked-out unable to customize it the way you need, or you find yourself dealing with massive amounts of data and settings that never to seem to work just right.
Remote Controlled ≠ Smart
Many ‘smart’ objects are basically just plain remote controlled objects. For example, a smart washing machine should not just let you start it remotely and/or give you data and stats.
Yes that is nice, and handy sometimes. But a ‘true smart washing machine‘ should be able to figure out my habits and the way I like my clothes and automatically execute all what it needs to without me pressing a single button.
When I think about the future of the smart object, I really want it far from just mobile apps with dashboards and a load of data and buttons.
When you’re thinking about making a new smart object, devote time studying good design that works. Then spend more resources on market research and product design, understand the use-case and the technology and don’t just look for buzzwords.