Be it at events such as the Consumer Electronics Show, or trends coming in from global OEMs, one thing is for certain: The IoT is definitely IN. The Internet of Things is turning out to be a fast paced movement which aspires to connect a multitude of devices to the internet – and not just smartphones or laptops, but also consumer electronics such as televisions and even refrigerators and washing machines. Ambitious, and truly revolutionary to say the least.
But let’s look beyond the buzzwords and hashtags for a bit, and focus on the underlying state of affairs as they truly are. The Internet of Things as perceived right now is straying off its intended path and becoming more of a novelty rather than a necessity, and in this piece I talk about the current ramifications of IoT and how they can be corrected.
Hold Your Horses
Before you all come at me with angry glares, flaming torches and rusted pitchforks, I’d like to make my stance clear: I’m completely in favor of the IoT movement. I believe that empowering devices to be able to connect to the internet and communicate with each other would be a futuristic technology like none other, and it would in turn pave the way for a more quantified lifestyle.
But right now, the IoT is comprised of a lot of noise and cluttered paraphernalia without a solid foundation. Of course, there are frameworks such as AllJoyn, but other than that it’s just a lot of hardware with functionalities that aren’t really deemed practical for the typical middle class consumer.
That being said, am I saying that the IoT movement is constrained primarily to the more affluent? Not exactly, but shelling out top money for the current IoT devices in the market doesn’t really strike a chord with me. I’ll elaborate upon this when I discuss the existing forms of devices.
So, let’s go over the ABCs of the Internet of Things: what exists, and what needs to happen soon.
A Plethora of Devices
So, first things first. How many devices are connected to the internet right now?
The exact numbers are hazy and unclear, but according to Gartner there were a total of about 4,902 million installed units in 2015. Out of this number, the consumer sector hogged the majority of the limelight, with 3,023 million installed units globally, and cross industry and vertical specific businesses accounting for about 815 and 1,065 million units respectively.
Sectors which are bound to grow are the automotive sector – with self-driving cars becoming the new talk of the town – and intelligent consumer electronics. Devices include the likes of LG’s signature line of refrigerators and washing machines, and Samsung’s smart fridge which can actually help the user in buying and comparing products. Both these devices were unveiled at CES 2016.
Over that, are the number of home automation devices such as Nest and Hive, and smart lighting in the form of OEMs such as Philips, Osram and Misfit. There are also intelligent trackers from companies such as Withings and Xiaomi which track the user’s health and sync the findings to a smartphone based ecosystem.
Till now, things look promising. Lots of devices, lots of players in the IoT sector, and with advancements in sensor technology and data crunching algorithms, aided with the evolution of machine learning and artificial intelligence to boot, we might be looking at a disruption in the consumer electronic space through IoT.
Now you might ask, why does the IoT look bleak from where I stand?
First off, there’s the huge expenditure. According to Avnet and Gartner, the endpoint spending of IoT based devices in 2015 was to the tune of a staggering $1,183 billion. And ultimately, it is the customer who pays the price for these IoT based experiences.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a stat: Samsung’s Family Hub smart refrigerator that was unveiled at CES 2016 comes with a huge tablet on its door, connectivity to the internet and features to enable the user to see the items within the fridge without even opening the door. The price tag? $5,000 only.
Move over to smaller devices, and you’ll see that smart bulbs, smart scales and smart smoke detectors among others all cost almost double the price of their ‘non smart’ counterparts. Which brings up the question: what is the target audience? Enthusiasts? Innovators? Fanboys? Or an actual consumer?
Devices and trackers everywhere record information and transmit it to the internet. While info on the web isn’t really a cause of concern, the internet is also a base for nefarious elements which can use the information to their advantage. For instance, people can actually hack into the data recorded from your fitness tracker, to gather a deeper perspective of how you function and at the same time push malware in.
Back in August, a UK based information-security firm Pen Test Partners reported that Samsung’s smart fridges – while allowing people to check their mail on the fridge – does not adhere to the certificates required for SSL encryption. Which literally means that any hacker worth his/her salt can launch an attack – such as a Man in the Middle one – and gather the user’s login credentials, simply because the user chose to check mail on a fridge rather than a PC.
Want a change of perspective? There’s a search engine called Shodan, which enables you to see just how many devices are connected to the internet in real time. Check it out, see the potential. And then you’ll realise the need for improved security measures.
Wrapping up: Major Issues with IOT Movement
In case you want the gist of my take, here’s the TL;DR version:
POINT ONE: IoT right now has too many devices. The consumer sector constitutes the majority, and automotive sector will be the emerging vertical.
POINT TWO: Too many devices isn’t a bad thing, but they’re all cluttered. The AllJoyn framework hopes to bring them to a common platform, but unless we have a transformation in software (as was the case in Android and iOS for smartphones) they’ll remain cluttered and divided.
POINT THREE: IoT based devices right now are targeted at enthusiasts, rather than actual consumers. The smart home for the future is a collection of passive trackers which will only report data and happenings to the user, and not do anything to rectify / remedy the situation.
POINT FOUR: Security issues remain, and security based updates might not be easy enough to install on an IoT based device.
Call me a hopeless optimist, but despite these points, I still try and see the ray of light in the disruptive movement that we call the Internet of Things.
First off, the devices are cool, but now even processor makers are joining the IoT bandwagon. CES 2016 saw the likes of MediaTek and Qualcomm make announcements in processor tech aimed at smart homes. This means one thing – mass production. And mass production in turn implies a reduction in cost for the average consumer.
Secondly, there are a few devices which aren’t really IoT devices, per se, but when they’re connected to (or placed upon) a regular electronic, they transform the current consumer device into an IoT device instantly. Examples include the Mother sensor and Motion Cookie System for smart homes and Caruma for connected cars.
In essence, I find these to be the real IoT devices. They’re add-ons to regular products, so the issues associated with the consumer having to adjust to a new product or shell out massive amounts of cash are immediately eliminated.
All in all, the IoT movement is still in its infancy, and needs a lot of room and space to grow. Given the right foundation (in terms of hardware and software), connection (in terms of handshake protocols), security (in terms of advanced encryption) and target audience (regular consumers, not rich enthusiasts), we can surely see the IoT evolve from a mere disruptive notion to a full-fledged transformation.
Guest post by Nivedit. He is a gadget freak and a programmer and part of the editorial team at FindYogi.com