Your phone tells your house that you’re on the way home, the house raises the heating to the exact temperature you like. Your front door tells your speakers to hit your After Work Ambient Relaxation playlist just as it opens, and as the blinds come down they tell the lights to brighten up the living room.
In theory. The “Internet of Things” is the awkwardly named solution to so many of our dreams about how technology will make our lives easier in the future – allowing devices and objects to track, measure and communicate, working together to solve all the little problems of modern living. It sounds like the answer to so many of our shared pop-cultural dreams of what the near future will be like – but how close are we to that kind of seamlessly connected world? Or will it remain constantly just out of reach in the never future that never comes, like the ‘flying car’ ?
The most visible products in the market already are Nest’s thermostats which allow remote control via an app as well as ‘learning’ what temperatures the user prefers and building schedules based on that data. There’s an immediate demonstration there of one of the ways in which the tech-industry’s vision for the Internet of Things remains some way off: there’s a lot of direct human input still required. So many IoT devices, even those that have some degree of capability to learn and respond to the users behaviour, are still driven by an (easy to use, convenient) iPhone app where you manually control the object.
And those apps are another sign that we’re not there yet -anyone enthusiastic about IoT products is soon going to find their home screen flooded with different icons, as so few IoT systems truly work with each other. The lack of industry-wide standardization and our tendency to choose competition over collaboration is creating lots of closed, technological ecosystems. It’s still very unlikely one company’s products will talk to any other’s – I think this is the second biggest stumbling block for IoT, there are now hopeful industry standards groups looking to solve it but even they are in competition with each other and it’ll be interesting to see if either AllSeen Alliance or Open Interconnect Consortium can unite the industry in the future.
The biggest problem for IoT is still, and may always be, security and trust. Consumers have gotten comfortable with computers and phones that can, in theory, be hacked – but what about your home’s locks – what if your motorbike gets a virus? Technophobes are quick to play up the most extreme and potentially lethal threats introduced by adding the internet to previously offline objects, and it is currently very unlikely that a teenage hacker is going to overheat your connected boiler but it’s not impossible. A recent study by HP showed that the average IoT device currently on sale has roughly 25 security vulnerabilities.
This is an exciting field that I personally believe will take off in a bag way and permanently change the world and the way we live in it, I think it’s just a question of how soon the wider public will embrace it and how far they’ll be willing to go.