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The IoT Struggles to Find a Home

Posted April 22, 2016 10:54 AM by HUSH

We've been told for several years that the Internet of Things (IoT) was going revolutionize how we interact with everything. From changing the thermostat to toggling lights, and making ice cubes to starting a load of laundry, the IoT was going to empower its users with the ability to interface with any device from anywhere.

And yet, the adoption of IoT technology in most households has been…sluggish. This is perhaps in large part due to the unfulfilled destiny of Nest, the home automation market's largest manufacturer.

Nest received a lot of accolades when it released its Learning Thermometer in 2011. Customers would replace their analog thermostat with a sleek one with an LCD face that could be interfaced with via a smartphone app. After a few days of learning your heating and cooling preferences, the Learning Thermometer would adjust the temperature automatically. The next release was Nest Protect, a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that brought added functionality and integration to a typically lifeless product. At the time, many experts believed Nest would be the next tech giant.

Google, sensing a chance to acquire a flourishing start-up, paid $3.2 billion for Nest in 2014. But outside of a [redesigned] security camera and cloud subscription it released in 2015, Nest has had a quiet few years. How has such a promising technology market turned stale so quickly?

Nest has been slow to build and release new products, which reduces the potential for return customers who want to expand their home automation capabilities. Meanwhile, it's also shutting off legacy products, which is maddening to customers who already own Nest products.

Some wonder if the nature of home automation technology limits its attractiveness. This article appearing on Vox points out that people interact with smart appliances much differently than say smartphones. While smartphones have essentially become on-the-go computers, customers don't get a radically richer experience with a smart thermostat versus a dumb thermostat, and many other appliances.

Another good argument is that some home automation platforms run competing software, meaning that customers have to open two or more apps to toggle separate smart appliances if they're from different manufacturers. Nest has attempted to develop a communications standard, Works with Nest, to promote seamless communication with third-part devices. While some other companies have jumped on board, others have resisted. A technology that's meant to simplify lifestyles is actually complicating them.

There have also been rumblings that the lack of innovation from home automation's biggest player has more to do with internal mismanagement than hardware or software issues. In one (since deleted) comment in this reddit thread, an anonymous engineer says that executives are creating a toxic environment, and skilled engineers are being replaced with sub-par talent. This is a perspective backed-up by a Dropcam cofounder who left the company after it was bought by Nest.

It's tough to determine why more home automation products aren't being adopted. In all likelihood, it's some combination of all the above.

As home automation becomes cheaper and more impressive, the second and third generations of the technology will be more popular. It just remains to be seen if Nest is a part of that future.

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Re: The IoT Struggles to Find a Home

04/22/2016 12:13 PM

The more things that are connected to the internet, the more that are vulnerable to mischievous hacking.

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Re: The IoT Struggles to Find a Home

04/23/2016 6:48 PM

My own experience is that the IOT's strength are not relevant to consumer products.

They can be useful if they make the device easier to use. Self-troubleshooting with the real cause of the problem is a useful feature neglected by manufacturer. If the thermostat would tell granny why the heat doesn't come up, that would be useful if it tells her that the breaker tripped and she doesn't need to call an electrician.

I see even more potential in plants where the maintenance people are inundated by high tech devices. They cannot keep up. It would be nice to have the motor drive or the chiller tell clearly why it is not starting.

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Re: The IoT Struggles to Find a Home

04/27/2016 10:11 AM

The novelty value of home automation isn't enough to sustain interest. Last summer Mr. Best in Show set up some of our power outlets to accept controls from our smartphones. We were out of town for a couple of weeks, and he wanted to turn lamps on and off more or less at random, rather than with pre-set timers. OK, that makes sense. We can also turn the exterior lights on and off remotely. The thermostats are online.

These capabilities are handy. Mr. BiS is a mostly-retired IT guy, and he enjoys doing little projects like this one. But could we have lived without the internet-controlled outlets? Yes.

Does anyone out there remember the Internet Coke machine a couple of computer science guys set up at Carnegie Mellon back in the 1980s? I guess that was the original "thing" on the Internet.

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