Why the 'Internet of Things' is still fragile

Nest

A Nest thermostat, seen as one of the first successful products in the so-called "Internet of Things."

In the world of the Internet of Things, every device from your refrigerator to your thermostat seems smart. The idea is, we humans don’t have to set temperatures or see if we’ve run out of milk because the devices will do it for us.

It’s all supposed to be seamless. Until it’s not.

And that brings us to Nest, which is halting sales of its Nest Protect fire alarm and smoke detector. The company said the fire alarm's “wave function,” which allows you to turn off false alarms, can, under certain circumstances, delay an alarm going off in a real fire. 

It appears that the "Internet of Things" isn’t making devices as smart or as seamless as promised. The reason is simple: It's still the early days for the Internet of Things, said Jeremey Jaech, the CEO of SNUPI technologies. He said right now, the business landscape is like the wild west.

"And it’s not at all clear who’s going to win," Jaech said. 

Jaech said there are lots of different start-ups producing almost as many varieties of software and hardware to power the Internet of Things. But these products don’t always speak the same language. And that often means you have to start dealing with a human being in customer support.

"What I would expect to happen, because it’s happened in virtually every other industry, is that you start to see consolidation occur, and standardization will come," Jaech said. 

When winners emerge, everyone in the industry starts speaking the same languages. The technology becomes more seamless, and so the help line becomes less necessary -- maybe.

"There’s a gap between the promise of the technology and the reality of the messiness of our lives," said Jonathan Gaw, an an analyst at IDC. He points to the Nest thermometer, which he owns.

"The promise of the Nest is that it recognizes movements in the household so it can adjust the temperature accordingly," Gaw said. 

But Gaw’s thermostat is hidden behind his big screen TV and so it can't monitor movements. Tony Costa is an analyst at Forrester and he said companies need to start adjusting expectations.

"Consumer electronic companies are used developing devices if something goes wrong with them, it’ll ruin your day," Costa said. "You know if your iphone crashes, it’s kind of a bummer."

But if your fire alarm crashes, that could be fatal. Costa said, these companies are known for pushing the envelope. But when it comes to wiring our lives, they might want something less glitzy but more dependable ... or maybe just a human who can help them out.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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