The Internet of Things arrived with a bang a few years ago, and it feels like we haven’t quite recovered. Everyday appliances are Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-enabled by default, even when you don’t need them to be. (Smart shoes that lose the ability to lace up when the connected app goes down, anybody?) Many of these devices work no better than their offline alternatives, and you effectively give manufacturers carte blanche to eavesdrop on your usage habits when you buy them. And if you do buy a connected device, you can rest assured it won’t work perfectly forever.
There are countless examples of banal “smart” devices gone horribly wrong. Mattel built an internet-connected Barbie doll that was used by hackers to spy on children and say awful things. Nest cameras and thermostats have been used in domestic abuse cases. Simple software updates can go horribly wrong, bricking your thermostat or removing features you rely on.
I’ve seen it all. I purchased a smart thermostat, Tado, which once went ballistic when my internet went down. Apparently unsure of what to do without a connection, it pumped the heat up. We woke up to a 95°F house and a thermostat that refused to relent until we physically disconnected the boiler from the wall. When my sleep tracker’s parent company, Sense, went out of business, I was left with a very nice $200 paperweight and no sleep tracking, while the device’s lights spun on sadly, unable to reach its servers. I’ve spent hours of my life updating light bulbs.
Tado was probably just trying to help cover its own costs, but it ended up feeling like a recurring microtransaction for your house.
The core problem is that adding the internet to a device introduces a ton of new complexities, and most companies that make those devices aren’t equipped to deal with them. On top of basic electronics, they’re now dealing with processors, connectivity, firmware, iOS and Android apps, and eternally updating software ecosystems. That infinitely increases the work and skills required to make a coherent product that lasts…