Smart devices? Most manufacturers can barely make simple ones

28th Jan 2014 | 13:00

Smart devices? Most manufacturers can barely make simple ones

The internet of things needs intelligent designers

If you've ever wondered who'd be daft enough to drop £30 on an internet-connected plug socket, I'm the one in the corner stabbing my smartphone and bellowing "JUST BLOODY TURN ON, DAMMIT! TURN ON!" at my WeMo switch.

So spammy fridges aside, I'm quite excited about the internet of things - and, in particular, the effect it will have on our homes. Sentient smoothie makers! Trustworthy toasters! Companionable cookers! Fun fridges!

Then I look at the appliances I've already got, and my heart sinks. Smart devices? Most manufacturers can barely make simple ones.

The appliances of science

Maybe I'm just unlucky, but when the firm that made my central heating boiler clearly hasn't quite got the hang of making boilers yet, I'm not confident in its ability to make a thermostat that's as good as a Nest.

My cooker's impenetrable timer doesn't make me salivate at the thought of its manufacturer making a smartphone app.

And a quick look at the piles of eleventy-billion-buttoned remote controls sitting next to the sofa suggests that even big-name electronics firms who should have this sussed - *cough!* Sony! *cough!* - aren't exactly brilliant at making things simple.

This is important, because the smarter and more connected our devices become, the more they become about the software rather than the hardware.

Look at the UIs of the devices that do have some smarts, the set-top boxes and washing machines and wireless printers. The theme that emerges is that hardware companies are often pretty awful at the software side of things. And those are the good ones.

Many domestic equipment companies don't do smart devices yet, and their websites suggest they're still having trouble with the internet, never mind the internet of things.

My other worry right now is staying power. When even phone companies find it hard to support relatively recent smartphones, do we really think the smart cooker we buy today will still be supported in 18 months, let alone several years down the line? Will the 802.11n kit in your kitchen still play nice with the 802.11ad router you'll be buying a few years from now?

I want to believe, I really do. But it's hard when you're shouting at your switches, cursing your cooker and threatening your thermostats.

Internet of things Gary Marshall opinion
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