Why it feels like the Internet of Things is going backwards

A year ago, it felt like new IoT products were being announced practically every day. Some were Kickstarter projects with broad ambitions, while others were big brand presentations that had consolidated their plans into single channels to release products later in the year. The connected home, where everything talked to everything else, seemed well on its way to being a reality that excited more than just the super geeks and early adopters.

You are not alone in feeling like the Internet of Things movement has stalled, but the delay in progress was due to a much-needed rethink and reboot. Everything that comes next is going to make a lot more sense, but it's still going to be a little while before all of the pieces fall into place.

SmartThings

Looking at the connected home products on the shelf right now reveals a mess. Samsung and LG took way too long to figure out that they needed to play nice with the other big names in this space. Most of the smaller companies expect the user to cobble together a connected home on their own with some of their products hopefully tucked in somewhere — there's only so many things you can make control your lights and thermostat before it stops being interesting.

The only connected home accessory that has demonstrated consistent feature growth and cooperation with the other tech you use is the Amazon Echo, but a cylindrical speaker with great microphones has its limits. None of it is a complete thought yet, and in most cases there's no direct path to that complete thought.

Early IoT had a much bigger problem than whole-home adoption though, and it took entirely too long for this problem to be addressed.

Early IoT had a much bigger problem than whole-home adoption though, and it took entirely too long for this problem to be addressed. We had shelves full of web-connected deadbolts and smartphone-controlled crock pots, with a dangerously small fraction of these products using secure connection mechanisms to communicate with everything in your home. Each no-name connected power socket and moisture sensor became an attack vector to access your home network remotely, and it wasn't until Apple and Google stepped up and demanded that security with HomeKit, Weave, and Project Brillo that most of these companies even cared about encryption. They care now, especially since many of these products require entirely new hardware to support the encryption needed to play nice with these new communication layers.

Having to go back to the drawing board to release hardware complaint with Apple's HomeKit standard and Google's Weave is a big part of why everything IoT feels like its in a standstill right now, but another big reason is a combined decision to start courting Makers in a serious fashion. While Maker hardware like Arduino and intense hardware support from companies like Adafruit have been pushing this group of DIY inventors along for some time now, the big chip manufacturers are trying to push their way in with hardware that plays nice with either HomeKit or Weave. Google's recent Ubiquity Dev Summit focused on the building blocks for IoT, and included in the conference giveaways were kits from either Intel or Qualcomm.

As we learned from Google Developer Expert and Android Central app developer Mike Wolfson, the point here is to give developers Project Brillo-friendly tools to tinker with in the hopes that whatever these tinkerers prototype in their garages become real products that rely on these underlying processors from Intel or Qualcomm when it comes time for mass production. It's a great idea for Intel and Qualcomm, and it gets developers the tools they need to make cool new IoT things, but it also highlights just how far away we are from these ideas becoming products consumers are using in their home.

Qualcomm

The end game is something of a disaster for early adopters, but great for IoT as it applies to the connected home. It means a lot of the stuff purchased within the last two years isn't going to play nice with everything once Google and Apple spin up, but in the meantime Samsung, LG, Nest, Amazon, and several other notable companies have seen the mistakes made and are making the necessary course corrections. It'll still be at least a year before we see the first steps toward a functional connected home, but by no means is this idea going away anytime soon.

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

42 Comments
  • TLDR.... wait Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • The Internet of Things is something I don't think I will partake in for a long time. I don't need or really even want all my stuff to be connected and be accessible remotely. Maybe someday in the future when it dominates the market I will begin to adopt, but for now, it is not for me.
  • Same for me. I like the idea of a connected thermostat, but things like connected lighting and kitchen appliances and washer/dryers just don't strike me as very useful. I'm sure that eventually, we'll reach the point where any appliance worth buying will be connected, but I don't see the benefits outweighing the costs for me any time soon. Posted via the Android Central App
  • What?! you don't want your dishwasher to run when the dryer goes off? that's crazy
  • I like (and have) many things interconnected in my home - and they are securely remotely accessible via ssh tunnel. What I don't want is any third party involvement. I've been rolling my own LoT (LAN of Things) because of that. All IoT vendors want your data, and they route all interactions to their sites. No thanks. I can get the functionality without the intrusive access for about one-third the price (or less). I'm willing to spend a little time learning new things to get what I want; I see it as a win-win.
  • ok name "many things" and how you use them together.
  • I clicked on this post to say the same thing. I hate the concept of the internet of things. To me it is just making everything have planned obsolescence (which is cool for my phone but not household appliances, cars, etc) + the excuse to harvest whatever scrap of privacy I have left. I DO NOT WANT the internet in everything. I suspect most consumers feel the same which is why the movement has stalled. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Echo could benefit from a wrap-around display, all the way around. Also, I could see Echo reading stock levels from IoT connected pantries, refrigerators, etc. "You are on your last tube of toothpaste. Would you like me to order more?" My biggest wish for Echo right now is to connect to Plex so I can play media from my library. It would also be nice to transmit its audio via bluetooth to a BT receiver. For what I know, it receives only.
  • Biggest problem is their high cost, close second is they're fraught with security and privacy implications (see link below), and third is a question of what need or problem does IoT actually address to warrant dealing with the first two items. Internet of Things to be used as spy tool by governments: US intel chief | Ars Technica
    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/02/us-intelligence-chief-says-io...
  • Does the Samsung SmartThings Hub v2 have the encryption built in or work with the encrypted devices?
  • Zigbee is encrypted by default and Zwave has always supported AES128. That isn't the same thing as security though. The laggy, peer to peer IoT networks are very vulnerable to timing attacks, where a command packet is just retransmitted by a nearby device. This means if someone sees you unlock your door, they can capture the packet and use it to unlock the door a few minutes later. The devices aren't smart enough to remember they already responded to a valid command. See KillerZee and KillerBee for tools to test zwave & Zigbee networks. I haven't heard if Weave has been tested yet by 3rd parties. It is based on the same radio protocol as Zigbee so I am curious how much of KillerBee would work on Weave. Posted via the Android Central App
  • A number of Zigbee devices pass the network key in plain text; its a vendor problem, not a problem with the standard as I understand it, but it's rather a widespread problem it appears.
  • During device set up you pretty much have to use a fixed key or clear text. Static keys are no more secure than ROT13 because that key will leak on the internet. I.e. for zwave the static key is a string of 16 zeros, if I remember correctly. However that is generally seen as an acceptable issue because device set up requires both the hub and client to be in "inclusion" mode, which requires you to have direct access to both of them. At that point hacking the IoT communications is the least efficient way to attack the system. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Another thing I would like to point out is Alphabet's internal chaos. Nest has an IoT standard called Weave. Google also has an IoT standard called Weave. They are incompatible and both appear to be actively promoted. Nest has shown no interest in moving away from their protocol and for whatever reason, Google didn't support Nest Weave in Brillo. Posted via the Android Central App
  • This type of thing has long been a problem with Google (Alphabet, whatever) where the different departments/teams really don't talk to each other and coordinate.
  • I think Weave is based loosely on Zigbee and Zigbee as a standard tends to have trouble with compatibility on different stacks
    http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/64096/zigbee-module-compa... Keep in mind they acquired NEST so they first need to deconstruct what it already used to make it compatible. Nest was Wifi only. These things take time (tho I think it has taken way too much time)
  • IoT and VR...Two of the most hyped things in the past year I have absolutely no desire to own. I'm getting old.
  • What do you mean "getting"?
  • Another great read from you Russell. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The home has been a tough spot for companies. Between TV like GoogleTV and Apple TV and the home automation sector, they just have not been able to fully crack it. Internet TV is beginning to take hold but I think it's more out of a hatred of Cable and not a love of what the internet has to offer.
  • Just wait and see. You WILL have IoT whether you want it or not. The appliance manufacturers will put those features in and in the end you will have to accept them. I see a fridge with a 10" display as an everyday product. It will be IoT enabled and can display your dinner menu, shopping list, notes for family, and your recipe while you make dinner. Sounds handy. That said, you can certainly expect that cool display on your fridge to shove ads in your face 24/7. It's only a matter of time. Sometimes I think all this quest for higher speed web access is only so they can shove more ads without slowing down the overall web experience. It's all about the ad money. * “Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you.” *
  • I feel like the entire IoT thing is a solution in search of a problem nobody has. Outside those who look wistfully at sci-fi "things to come" tropes, or those who've watched too many episodes of the Jetsons, I haven't seen a massive collective desire for connected, computerized appliances. The tasks the "dumb" versions of said appliances we have perform such basic functions that the typical improvements associated with making something smart--quicker and more simplified use, new and compelling functionality, new usage paradigms--just don't seem to exist. I predict the IoT movement will go the way of 3D TV--initially hyped to the gills, ultimately largely ignored by consumers, ending its life as a vestigial inclusion in future product lines while the next big thing comes along.
  • This. Stupid answers result from needless questions. Unlocked Marshmallow Nexus 6 on Verizon. I'm a happy guy.
  • Well for one, The Internet of Things is a stupid name. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I just got the Philips Hue am in instant love. But it not because its a connected device, its because the versatility (a single bulb producing a myriad of colors and shades of 'white') and because their usage is macro driven... It just happens to be those macros are delivered via a smart device and able to be controlled via the internet. Point being the product has to be a good, functional and useful product BEFORE you give it internet connectivity. That's where most IoT devices fall flat. An internet connected coffee maker is no more useful if it's still the same basic appliance as one that isn't.
  • This Posted via the Android Central App
  • Absolutely. Internet-connected appliances need to offer something of extra value besides internet connectivity to make it worth the premium. The Hue bulb is easily worth the premium not just because it's internet connected but because it allows tweaking of the shade of white depending on the time of day (a cooler tint for the day, a warmer tint for the night) and changing the color of the light depending on your mood and preference.
  • The point is, is that the cute bulb is a security breach for your home network. That bulb that cost you $30 could end up costing you a whole lot more.
  • +1 Posted via the Android Central App
  • Devices that talk to a "cloud' server are the bigger vulnerability since a hack of the cloud can expose all users. More clouds more vulnerabilities. I have Hue bulbs but I don't have a Hue account. My router doesn't let my Hue hub talk to the net. I can still remote control my home automation via a single channel that gets to my HA hub and it gives the Hue orders. If that ever turns out to be insecure I'll close it down and maintain local controls and functionality. A Zigbee or zwave bulb isn't a big threat since it requires a specialized radio and software to perform an attack. Defending against anyone going to that length is going to be hard to stop. I would be more afraid they use a rock on a window and just take my computers. Bluetooth is a weak point IMO because the tools to hack it are ubiquitous and cheap. But it is a physical proximity attack so again low probability of being swept up in a mass hack. Posted via the Android Central App
  • There are ways to mitigate the risks.  Check out Steve Gibson's "Security Now" episode titled "Three Dumb Routers" which details how to setup secure, isolated networks for your IoT devices. https://www.grc.com/securitynow.htm
  • I will check that out. I kind of have 3 routers now. 1) There is the router on my ISP. Its pretty stupid. 2) My HA hub is a router with the hue hub and other HA widgets on that LAN. I wouldn't put traffic over my HA hub but I will use it as a stupid wall. It connects to the ISP router. 3) router for the PCs and wifi. Crack my HA and you still need to get past another router's firewall to get to my other devices. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Ok I see a flaw in the 3 dumb routers approach. It assumes you aren't going to talk to the IoT devices directly. You'd have to punch a hole through the IoT router to let your home LAN give commands. That isn't dumb routing. I suppose if you have dedicated tablets for your IoT it is ok. Otherwise you have to hop WiFi networks to give orders. I prefer the "LAN of things" where everything operates locally and you block the cloud. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Many IoT devices communicate via a web server/service rather than direct communication.  There are a few exceptions to this, but those can be dealt with. For instance, if you give the two networks separate subnets (ie: 192.168.1.0 for the secure network and 192.168.2.0 for the IoT network), then you can setup firewall rules for the specific IP's that you need to be able to pass from the secure network to the IoT network.  That may not qualify as completely "dumb" routing, but doesn't take too much effort to setup and doesn't require hopping networks. Many IoT devices will not function if they don't have internet access.  For your "LAN of things" setup, it would mean that any device you have attached to that network does not have internet access.  Using the "Y" router setup means that everything can have the web access it wants, but my light bulbs can't intercept all the traffic from my laptop (which is totally a possibility, if it's on the same network). There might be some inconvenience involved in getting it setup, but I'll take not getting my bank account credentials stolen over a minor inconvenience any day :)
  • I'm just gonna wait On a side note, I happen to have THE EXACT SAME NFC tag.
  • I remember seeing some kind of tech year in review curve last year or two ago. It went up and down in increasing amplitude, and the height was something like interest, but the position along the curve was use. 3D printing and IOT were at a point on the wave very high in interest, but not very far in use (although maybe 3D printing was a bit farther along). The curve was dipping back down to low interest but improving use. I dismissed it back then, but it actually makes a lot of sense now, as do other things on it. This is the improving use but without a lot of hype phase, and in a year or two it'll come back strong. Still think some connect stuff is dumb. My parents just had a brand new house built, with all kinds of connected stuff and touchscreens on the wall. I actually found it rather annoying, because they have to have a tech guy set it all up, and make adjustments for them because everything needs to be coded in. Can't add new devices easily. And when stuff doesn't work it's a real pain.
    And I love tech. I'm a computer engineering student. I also believe everything in moderation however, so will be interesting to see where this goes in the coming years. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The cringespan with 'that phrase' is enormous, please, stop calling it that.
    Just accept that what is happening, cannot be named.
  • How about, Intrusion of Things?
  • I did some rethinking too. I think I will reject the concept of having my home both "automated", and connected to the net. The government can't keep it's employee's records secure from hacking. Will refrigerator manufacturers keep bad guys out of my ice box? Your faith in more and more technological answers to questions that require humanity is misplaced and foolish. Unlocked Marshmallow Nexus 6 on Verizon. I'm a happy guy.
  • Why would a bad guy want access to your ice box?  Worried they'll know that you're almost out of milk?
  • Why does it seem like the internet is going backwards? Well maybe because SJW's like you have this weird obsession with censuring the internet. Once somebody has as opposing viewpoint you go all call them a bully or micro-aggressor. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The internet of things is the biggest farse since 3D. All the things that will be connected all have one thing in common, they are there to constantly check if they can find an excuse to take your money. The internet as it is is not going to last forever, people are already looking into the next big jump in the internet and I am fairly sure that will include an internet that doesn't even need networks to function.