IoT
IoT
IT Life
Commentary
2/10/2016
09:06 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
Commentary
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
50%
50%

IoT Reality: Smart Homes Not Smart Enough Yet

The Internet of Things needs standardization and easier programming options. Until then, the promise of IoT for consumers remains unfulfilled.

14 Ways IoT Will Change Big Data And Business Forever
14 Ways IoT Will Change Big Data And Business Forever
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The Internet of Things is the most exciting thing to happen in the technology industry since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. At the same time, it remains challenging.

The iPhone demonstrated the utility of having a connected computer available at all times and provided proof of the utility of cloud services at a time when on-premises computing was still the norm.

The Internet of Things promises similar benefits by adding computational power and sensing capabilities to previously non-communicative objects. 

But that promise isn't yet convincing, at least as far as consumers are concerned. Last June, Icontrol Networks, which offers white label IoT gateway and device management software to connected home service providers like Comcast and Time Warner, published its 2015 State of the Smart Home Report based on a survey of 1,600 consumers from the US and Canada. Icontrol found that about a third of respondents said they intended to purchase a connected home device in the next year.

In a phone interview, Corey Gates, CTO of Icontrol Networks and IEEE member, said smart home adoption has moved beyond early adopters, but he noted that home security remains the dominant application by far. "Peace of mind as the value proposition is the No. 1 thing people will spend money on," he said.

(Image: Icontrol Networks)

(Image: Icontrol Networks)

The easiest path to a smart home, Gates said, leads to service providers like Comcast that offer professional installation. DIY device installation, networking, and programming is the more affordable option, but that approach can be rough.

My own experience with Scout Alarm and Nest devices offers an example of the some of the pitfalls and the benefits. 

After years as an AT&T and ADT customer, I was fed up with high fees and went wireless over the holidays. I was paying about $50 per month for a landline I had maintained for my alarm system and about $30 per month for alarm monitoring. I cancelled my ADT and AT&T accounts in order to switch to a self-installed Scout Alarm system and Ooma VoIP calling. (I considered Piper, a competing alarm service run by Icontrol Networks, but went with Scout because Piper's focus on security through video and motion sensing seemed ill-suited to a household with pets. Piper says its system can be tuned for pets.)

Scout Alarm was easy to install and comes with a well-designed app. It's mostly a pleasure to use, and it's more affordable than legacy systems. But its hardware isn't very flexible. Its access sensors and door panel, for example, work well on doors and door frames with flat surfaces, but they don't sit well on the sort of decorative molding and trim used in old houses. ADT offers magnetic sensors that can be inserted into holes drilled in doors and frames, which ensures the contacts are in close proximity. Scout's sensor requires exterior mounting and that isn't always the best solution.

Worse still, Scout Alarm's alarm is far too quiet. An alarm should be loud enough that an intruder finds it uncomfortable to remain in the house -- during a break-in over a decade ago, I'm certain that my blaring ADT alarm kept the thief from lingering. Scout's alarm is, to put it bluntly, pathetic. The problem has been discussed at length in Scout's online forum, but the issue hasn't yet been resolved.

In theory, this should not be a problem. In the Internet of Things, where everything is connected, I should be able to use a different siren. But reality hasn't quite caught up with that idea. The best workaround appears to be buying a third-party siren, plugging the siren into a Belkin WeMo connected outlet, then activating the outlet through IFTTT, a cloud service that allows you to trigger events based on other IoT events. Using IFTTT, the activation of Scout's alarm can turn the WeMo outlet on, activating the third-party siren. If that sounds a bit like a Rube Goldberg machine, that's because it is.

[Read MIT's Eyeriss GPU Could Transform IoT, AI.]

The workaround is far more complicated than it should be and may not happen instantly. That isn't surprising given that free services like IFTTT don't provide service-level agreements, but it's not useful to have a siren delayed several minutes if there's a break-in in progress. In an ideal world, I could just replace the Scout door panel with a louder one, but IoT hardware isn't composable. You can't just replace one component with another and expect the system to work.

Standardization, Gates concedes, is not quite there yet.

The extent to which IoT devices can be programmed is also an issue. For example, I'd hoped to be able to tie the motion sensor on my Nest thermostat into my Scout Alarm system. But Nest hasn't exposed enough device capabilities to make that easily doable. It's surprisingly hard to color outside the limited lines provided by IoT device makers. And that's really where the value of IoT lies. A home isn't smart if it can't respond to complex events and conditions. 

I have faith the situation will improve. Standards will be hammered out. Devices will play together nicely in time. And it will be easier to add intelligence to the system through programming. But I expect nature will provide me with a better security solution than technology -- I'm planning to get a dog.

Are you an IT Hero? Do you know someone who is? Submit your entry now for InformationWeek's IT Hero Award. Full details and a submission form can be found here.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
seoworks2015
50%
50%
seoworks2015,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/3/2016 | 9:06:07 AM
Safety is key
I totally agree that I'd rather be lazy than risk it with some of these systems. The number 1 thing for people is security, as well as being able to turn the heating up behind their partners back, and I think the connectivity problems people have with such "smart" systems do not leave them to rely on the programmes. I would definitely love to be able to lock my door from upstairs, but then I doubt technology like this and would still want to get up and check it has actually done it. 
KevinB2011
50%
50%
KevinB2011,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2016 | 10:31:11 PM
re: Smart Home plan
It is sad to see the glacial pace at which improvements in standards and interoperability between devices is moving in the realm of Smart Homes.  But I also think that there is a huge void that is not being filled, between the DIY, simple, disparate component home systems and the professionally installed and uber capable home automation system.  The middle class of consumers that would be willing to shell out a few (under 10) thousands to have a home that is quite integrated, energy efficient, secure, and convenient.  Companies like Best Buy, Sears, and maybe Home Depot are poised in a good position to take advantage and leverage a professional services workforce to install and configure mid-range systems that operate more in harmony and offer customers the benefits of HA - 1) security; 2) energy efficiency; 3) convenience; 4) cool factor.  But they need to be pro-active and work with manufacturers to demand what customers and installers are asking for. 
Michelle
50%
50%
Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2016 | 4:34:02 PM
Re: Room to evolve
@impact I can imagine you have pretty high standards. I expect a lot from such technologies - security is one of the more important features. When security is overlooked, I'm no longer interested in the device.
impactnow
50%
50%
impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
2/12/2016 | 2:16:38 PM
Re: Room to evolve
Michelle my home is also pretty dumb but I do have cameras and a water leakage sensors that alerts my phone. The other smart items don't seem to have much value at this point sadly they don't meet the standard of what we are accustomed too with the rest of our technology
Brian.Dean
50%
50%
Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
2/11/2016 | 3:34:59 AM
Re: IoT device makers undercutting their own message
The DIY community will have to reach a critical mass before the tipping point is reached. Code already exists that can convert an Arduino or Raspberry Pi from a home protection device into an energy production device, and vice versa. However, it requires a fair amount of time to search the necessary code and implement it in the new environment.

Once DIY user 1 has worked out the details then, the blueprints are easy to transfer to DIY user 2. If enough projects are a success, the tipping point will be reached for the IoT.
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
2/10/2016 | 4:24:19 PM
IoT device makers undercutting their own message
Yes, the people who established themselves in the land line business stopped trying to be competitive a long time ago. Now the future has caught up with them. It's also a little surprising how the IoT device makers hem you in when they're selling use of a more flexible intelligence. They are undercutting their own message.
Michelle
50%
50%
Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2016 | 1:43:22 PM
Re: Room to evolve
We all saw this coming in IoT devices. We expected siloded data and closed off connections. Interoperability, we said, was far off. I thought we'd have better options by now. I hope it doesn't take another 10 years for IoT companies to see value in interconnected device pairings. My home, for now, is pretty dumb. I might consider a smart lightbulb but I don't think I'll get fancier than that for a while...
impactnow
50%
50%
impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2016 | 12:21:34 PM
Room to evolve

Yes, I agree the IoT at home has been a laggard in tech innovation. All the products seem to come with significant limitations out of the box. While I love gadgets I have to admit my home is very traditional because of the limitations. The thermostats causes pipes to freeze for snowbirds last year, the Wi-Fi door bell has connectivity issues and your noted alarm system is lacking. Hopefully the IoT at home will mature over the next ten years to really help our home lives become more efficient.

Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Top IT Trends to Watch in Financial Services
IT pros at banks, investment houses, insurance companies, and other financial services organizations are focused on a range of issues, from peer-to-peer lending to cybersecurity to performance, agility, and compliance. It all matters.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of August 14, 2016. We'll be talking with the InformationWeek.com editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.