It's time to pump the brakes on IoT

A recent survey suggests consumers think smart homes are too expensive, too complex, and too insecure, and despite the hype that surrounds the Internet of Things (IoT) the technology is far from ready for the masses.

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Are you feeling jealous because your home isn't as "smart" as your neighbor's house? Or do you think you're a techno-peasant because you don't know much about the Internet of Things (IoT)? If so, stop.

Despite wildly exaggerated expectations and hype, the push to connect everything to the Internet, from your refrigerator to your garage door opener, is losing momentum amidst the realization that IoT is far from ready for prime time. "Consumers wonder, 'Why do I need this?'" says Elizabeth Cholawsky, an engineer and CEO of Support.com, a company that provides support services for a variety of technologies, including connected homes.

Cholawsky wasn't just sharing a personal opinion; Support.com commissioned a study of about 3,000 consumers, to get a handle on why IoT has been so slow to catch on. The company's findings aren't particularly surprising. Many survey respondents said IoT gadgets are too expensive, and too hard to set up and configure, and they worry about smart home security.

Many serious challenges remain for IoT

When the IoT first started to receive attention a few years ago, an initial flurry of interest led early adopters to quickly snap up smart devices, and some members of the press declared it the next big thing. "Sales have really leveled off since then," Cholawsky says.

This likely had something to do with a few unsettling mishaps caused by half-baked smart products. Nest, probably the best known maker of smart home devices, had to recall some of its smoke detectors because of a "wave" feature that led the devices to not report fires when they should have. You don't have to look hard to find other amusing stories about people who discovered their smart homes were more trouble than they were worth.

One of the most significant problems with IoT is the incompatibility between devices made by different manufacturers. For example, Lowe's, the home hardware giant, offers a platform called Iris that lets users control a number of different connected devices. But Iris doesn't work with Apple's connected-home platform, HomeKit.

To be fair, many popular consumer electronics products suffered incompatibility issues early in their life cycles. Eventually two or three major platform vendors, Apple and Google for instance, could emerge as the dominant players, and manufacturers of IoT devices will build their products to work with one or the other. 

Support and setup for IoT gadgets, however, will continue to be an issue. Anyone who has struggled to get a router to talk to their smart TV knows how frustrating it can be to make complex devices work together. Just imagine how difficult it could be to set up a network that includes four or five (or more) unfamiliar IoT devices.

Cholawsky thinks broadband providers could help resolve these issues, and they might eventually become the main suppliers of smart home networks. "Cable companies are particularly well suited to take the lead since they are already in the consumer's home, consumers already look to them for home security products, and the more forward looking cable companies know what they're doing with advance technical support," she says.

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