Barriers to Home IoT

HouseThe early IoT industry has been busy making smart thermostats and monitors of all kinds for homes, but the industry so far has not done as well as some industry analysts predicted. I think there are a number of barriers that have to be overcome for this to become a widespread technology.

Ease of Installation. Ideally you could buy an IoT device, take it out of the box, push a button, and it would work. But there are almost no devices yet like that, and many devices will never work like that. Hooking up a thermostat and many other smart devices means electrical wiring work and most people aren’t comfortable doing this on their own and are not always ready to pay an electrician to do this for an IoT device. Putting in smart door lock means changing out the old one, and anybody who ever changed a door lock knows that it is never as easy as it ought to be.

Ease of Connection. Even after you install most current IoT devices you aren’t done; you next have to connect them to your home network. We are not yet at a time when a device can self-configure, and perhaps we never want it to be that easy since a device that can do that can also be easily hacked to reconfigure. But if you think people are uncomfortable wiring a thermostat, there are just as many people who are uncomfortable messing with the settings on their home WiFi networks.

Fear of Hacking. It doesn’t take very much web research about home IoT devices to run into articles about the lack of security in these devices today. People don’t want an outsider to be able to hack into their surveillance cameras to watch them or to be able to maliciously tinker with the settings on any of their devices. Until the industry gets serious about security this fear factor is very rightfully going to a barrier to entry for a lot of people.

Ease of Using the Information Generated. When I read the literature on a home energy system it goes into great length to describe the great graphs and charts it will generate for me about my energy usage. But I don’t think most people want data – they want solutions. They don’t want to have to interpret data on hourly usage and then decide how to tinker with the settings to get the results they want. People want solutions and they are going to want IoT devices that understands what they want and takes care of the details. If you have to constantly monitor the data out of your IoT devices and then fiddle to achieve your goals, then what you’ve really gained is a new chore – and none of us want that. I think what we are waiting for is the smart house that can take care of all of the IoT devices for us.

Solving One Problem and Creating Another. I took a look at getting smart door locks. But as I thought through how they work I could see they were not for me. They work by interfacing with your cellphone and also have a manual override. But I am the prototypical absent-minded professor-type and I rarely have my phone with me when I leave the house, even when I should. I picture myself locked out of my house and not able to remember the manual code. And who the heck do you call – a locksmith or an IT guy? And oh crap, my phone is locked inside the house.

Value Proposition. In many cases I just don’t see the value proposition that some of the early IoT devices deliver. For instance, do smart locks really make my home any safer from a guy with a crowbar? Do I really need to pay extra for a smart refrigerator or dryer? It might be that the value propositions are there, but the manufacturers need to do a better job of convincing me why any device is indispensable in my life.

Only for Do-it-Yourselfers. All of these issues to me tell me that everybody who is not a do-it-yourselfer is going to want and need help with IoT, either in setting it up, configuring it or deciding how to use it. Today one a certain rather small percentage of the population is willing to tackle all of those tasks, and that is probably the limiting factor for most people.

But there is an upside to any business that can devise a business plan to help people with IoT devices. Cable companies, telcos and ISPs are certainly in an ideal spot to be that vendor for many homes. All that is really needed is that your customers like you and trust you. And trust is the key word. When you want to have a home security system installed you must trust the company and the people doing the work. I remember back when I lived in Maryland that Comcast once sent a tech to my house who was driving a dilapidated 25-year old pickup and dressed poorly. This guy was clearly a contractor and I would not have let this guy install a Comcast burglar alarm in my house. But the Comcast technician in Florida showed up in a Comcast truck and seemed very knowledgeable and professional and is somebody I would be more likely to trust.

There are a large percentage of people who are never going to want to fiddle with IoT devices, no matter how easy this becomes. I can’t ever foresee the day until maybe when we all have smart robots that a smart home is going to be easy enough for the average person. There are too many components of a smart house that are going to be beyond the comfort level of most people. And that sounds like a permanent new service business to me.

One thought on “Barriers to Home IoT

  1. 1. What does it cost to read a utility meter? ISPs could be making additional revenue on a customer account by reading water/electric/gas meters and billing the utility for doing so.
    2. Vice versa: If the utility needs a smart connection to a home, why don’t they provide broadband while they are at it? Example: Xcel energy’s $27 million “Smart Grid City” project for Boulder, CO deployed fiber optic strands to thousands of power meters in residences solely to read the meter.
    3. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, utilities are not “smart” (subsidized monopolies) and have little incentive to deploy “smarts” on their grids. Ultimately, the driver will be customers trying to be “smarter” and saving $. Many lost opportunities here.

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