First Click: you can’t spell ‘idiot’ without IoT (Internet of Things)

May 4th, 2015

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Confession: I get excited about $200 smart cups that promise to track my liquid caloric intake and $250 door locks with geofencing. I swoon over $500 wearables that communicate with $150 Wi-Fi scales. I’m awestruck by a future where every device in my life is connected.

I also have more money than sense.

This is best illustrated by the $200 I recently spent on the Philips Hue starter pack of smart lightbulbs. For that money I received three wireless bulbs and a little hockey-puck-sized bridge to link them to my home’s Wi-Fi. I trumpeted my purchase on Instagram to which my friend and former colleague Darren Murph warned: “Good luck — one of the worst buys I’ve ever made.” Luddite.

Now I know he's right. I'm an idiot.

Although I’ve integrated the bulbs with IFTTT recipes and enough “friends of Hue” apps to fill an entire smartphone screen, fact is, the lights are without power most of the time. Nobody else in my family of five thinks that pulling out a phone, unlocking it, launching an app, and clicking an “off” icon is better than simply flipping the wall switch — so that’s what they do, killing the power and the internet of the things. In theory, the idea of making bulbs turn purple to warn of impending rain is cool. But in practice, it’s a novelty and not worth $200 or the price of the five smartphones required to control it.

Oh sure, I could spend another $60 for a Hue Tap wall switch or $199 Amazon Echo so I can just shout commands into the room. Or maybe buy a sensor that I could program to only turn on the lights when motion is sensed after sunset but before bedtime — unless it's caused by a pet, or when every member of the family is away from the house in which case any motion is likely caused by a burglar so I should probably integrate the lights and sensor into a siren… which should work with a Nest Protect smoke alarm so I might as well get a Nest Thermostat, too. Or I could just use the wall switch with inexpensive dumb bulbs.

That’s the slippery slope of Internet of Things (IoT) — fix something that isn’t really broken with a solution that’s costlier, more complex, and requires regular charging.

The rise of the smartphone has created a glut of cheap sensors and wireless chips that are small enough to put into just about anything. Literally, any common household device. The We Put A Chip In It! Tumblr chronicles some of the best of the worst IoT devices competing for attention on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The market will undoubtedly undergo a shakeout as described by Christopher Mims in the WSJ. But right now it’s a fools paradise of variable hues.

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