We Have, In Fact, Arrived

In response to Stacy Higginbotham’s article “Are We There Yet”, IoT Newsletter (September 16, 2016)

Stacey Higginbotham poses the question “Are We There Yet?” In the most recent installment of her popular IoT Newsletter. The question is prompted by her recent visit to ThingMonk in London this past week. Her concerns are valid, as she reports on a growing malaise within the residential and consumer IoT market.

As a boots on the ground installer of IoT infrastructure, and home automation products, Datasavior and Lawson Home Technology have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of both commercial and residential IoT hardware installations. One of the key indicators that this market is starting to wane slightly is the sheer volume of throw away and one off plug-n-play devices flooding the market. These devices are the result of cheap PCB’s and microprocessors coming out of a veritable “puppy mill” of silicon manufacturers in the far east. Many of these products should start to fall by the wayside as more advanced professional grade products gain traction in the home building and consumer network industry.

As the line between two classes of consumer is drawn, we will see more and more that the sensors remain the source of our collaboration between human and machine. People want the IoT to change their lives, but we are no longer the sole consumer of these products and services. Machines, computers, and business models are increasingly influencing the course of the IoT movement. Without the input of our less organic co-conspirators the IoT will remain a market of widgets and do-dad fads that amount to a complete waste of resources.

Without making any lofty predictions of what human and machine agree on as a minimum viable product, I would postulate that there is a very clear vision currently of how we are going to get to that place. If we regard these networks of processors and data crunchers as subject to certain rudimentary evolutionary pressures, we can quickly deduce that certain characters remain prevalent within the IoT ecosystem.

1. The sole purpose of hardware is to collect and translate data
2. A common denominator is necessary to rule the ebb and flow of data collected
3. Transfer of data is only as good as its most stable infrastructure hardware
4. The data collected must be useful to solve an immediately perceivable problem
5. There must be an end user willing to place a unit of value on the solution

We as humans get hung up on the hardware, because we not only have a desire to buy the latest and greatest products on the market, but a neatly packaged product will likely result in a better return on investment. We produce, package, and market products whose purpose is not to accelerate the IoT movement, but to separate people from their money. The sole purpose of the hardware is to collect and translate data through the ecosystem. Missing that point turns the “IoT Movement” into the “IoT Market”. That is likely the source of pain that Stacey Higginbotham is feeling at ThingMonk.

The common denominator is a system hub, or software platform (possibly a cloud server) who dictates the rules of the microsystem. Many applications rely on Apple or Android to provide that common denominator, but as we know there are thousands of languages and platforms from which to drive practical end user solutions. When the base of a microsystem or mesh network is an application within the iCloud or Android families, often times there is poor reciprocity with other apps, or processing takes place within the plug-n-play device. Data translation is then deemed unnecessary across other platforms. The end result is a bunch of standalone (and expensive) products which are quickly derided as obsolete when another product comes along showing more promise or better integration with other microsystems. People should be unwilling to take a chance on purchasing these products for the reason cited in Ms. Higginbotham’s article (reference Revolv hub).

Transfer of data MUST be reliable and secure. All I am going to say here, is that we rely heavily on wireless transmission between products, because a plug-n-play device should be a product that requires no “professional installation”. This goes back to a lack of cooperation within the ecosystem, and companies who continue to create standalone microsystems through WiFi and RF transmission protocols, will not only face increasing scrutiny for insecure products, but will also leave themselves open to obsolescence due to an acceptance of industry standards for highly secure hardwired solutions. In residential and commercial, the industry professionals all know and accept that hardwiring your data and POE (power over ethernet) is the most secure way to ensure that your network is properly tooled for the 21st century.

The last two criteria of a successful IoT widget goes without saying and are completely necessary within a capitalistic infrastructure. It is possible that we are not focusing on creating data runs that provide actionable data. Nor are we creating products on which the end user is willing to spend an increasingly scarce amount of discretionary capital. I believe that the last two problems are products of the aforementioned, product focused issues of platform and hardware infrastructure. Perhaps as we shore up our products and infrastructure we will start to assess the ecosystem for viable end user buy in. We may even find that the increase in artificial intelligence, and product congruence will usher in a new consumer subclass that includes software and machines. However, until we come to terms with the product offerings that we currently have on the market, we will likely struggle with this new consumer culture.

Ms. Higginbotham regularly tests and promotes plug-n-play products, and my challenge to her would be to focus on the true direction of what a secure and robust IoT future looks like, for residential consumers, as we adopt solutions designed within the commercial and industrial economies. Look at infrastructure trends that will result in actionable data, and ease of end user productivity, especially in light of the fact that the end user may not even be human in the foreseeable future.

In response to Stacy Higginbotham’s article “Are We There Yet”, IoT Newsletter (September 16, 2016)