I have expressed many concerns about the Internet of Things in the past few years (along with nearly identical complaints about wearables). Apparently there is a growing consensus that Silicon Valley has gone completely off the rails on this one, creating idiotic and harmful products, moreover, products that no one will actually buy.
Allison Arieff provides a nice summary of this case in the NYT this week. The calls it “The Internet of Way Too Many Things” (TIOWTMT – pronounced “tee-ow-temt”?). She is right on target with her comprehensive analysis.
For one thing, she is offended by poor design, which is rife in this area. She cites an example of Leeo, which is supposed to reinvent the hone smoke alarm. But it turns out to be night light gadget that listens for the sound of your smoke alarm, and calls your smart phone to let you know about it. Not only does this not even replace the old smoke detector, but as Arieff says, “to “improve” a $20 smoke alarm, the designer opted to add a $99 night light and a several-hundred-dollar smartphone.”
As she says, “This is not good design.”
She comments on several other such stupid and badly designed products, including notably 94fifty, “The only connected smart basketball for iOS and Android to help improve shooting and ball handling skills – fast.” (This one is on its way to the Inappropriate Touch Screen Files -fast!)
As Arieff points out, the products are worse that stupid, they are bad for customers (or, not to put a fine point on it, “evil” in the Google sense of the word).
“What the products on display have in common is that they don’t solve problems people actually have. Technology is integrated not because it is necessary, but because the technology exists to integrate it — and because it will enable companies to sell you stuff you never knew you were missing.”
Arieff lays out four key topics that need research and dare I say, good design: “may I make a plea for R&D in four major areas? 1) integration of functions 2) usefulness 3) sustainability and 4) privacy/security.”
As a designer, Arieff is rightly critical, and even offended, by the multiplication of devices which do not work together. This is bad for everyone, and simply cannot work for very long. There are many (bad) reasons for these bad designs, but it has to stop. Standards and interoperation are difficult, but they are critical to good design.
The IOT seems to bring out the worst in designers, who present us with an amazing array of useless products that solve no problems and no one wants. My own view is that our efforts in the 80s and 90s to make the Internet and computing accessible to all have succeeded to the point of diminishing returns. Just because it is possible, even easy, to build a basketball that sense senor reading to and Internet service does not mean that it is a useful thing to do. As Arieff says, there are plenty of real problems to try to solve.
And one of the big problems is sustainability in many forms. Considering the ugly footprint of mobile devices (which have also have a short life and mostly are not recycled), adding a mobile device to any product is a big hit. Adding a bunch of similar devices throughout the home adds up to a huge footprint, one that is not likely to be compensated by the trivial “efficiencies” they might or might not implement.
Finally, Arieff pulls no punches to complain about the fact that the IOT is basically designed to invade privacy, and generally with rudimentary security. This is not only bad design, it is embarrassingly poor engineering. It is increasingly clear that the combination of business interest in collecting your data and the inbred culture of Silicon Valley have created a mindset that this is just the way things work.
Wrong. This is the way things come crashing down.
We’re trying to warn you guys.
Go back to the drawing board, get your thumb out, and figure out how to build stuff that is both good for people and solves real problems in new ways.