The Internet of Things Isn’t a Slam Dunk

It’s clear that the hype cycle for the Internet of things (IoT) has now reached maximum velocity. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was rife with devices—everything from connected lights and water kettles to smart toothbrushes and locks—that are supposed to simplify and improve our lives in so many ways.

There’s no question that over the long run—perhaps even in the short-run—most of these devices will have about as much impact as a 5-watt light bulb on the Las Vegas Strip.

About 40 percent of U.S consumers believe that the smart devices they’ve seen so far are nothing more than gimmicks, according to research firm Nielsen Affinnova. Yet, at the same time, the company found that 57 percent of consumers believe the Internet of things will be revolutionary, and another 47 percent indicated that companies that aren’t trying to connect their products to the Internet are missing a big opportunity.

Here’s the deal: The Internet of things will be huge. It’s already worming its way into our lives in ways that are both obvious and invisible. Yet, too many products and interfaces remain clunky, junky and require too much monkeying around.

We’re moving in the right direction but, in order to fully succeed, apps and controls must be drop-dead simple. Think voice commands and sensing capabilities.

For now, engineers, developers and IT professionals need to focus on a few key issues: ensuring that users feel in control of connected devices, making systems more contextually and situationally aware, providing actual benefits and protecting private data within connected systems. If the history of the Internet has taught us anything—and it’s a message that escapes a lot of business and IT executives—it’s that our ability to invent things exceeds our ability to make them useful, workable and secure.

That means focusing on real-world solutions and understanding the nuances of how people—including employees and customers­—use devices in their daily lives. An Internet-enabled lock that relies on a smartphone for authentication is no good if it can automatically lock even when you leave the house without the phone. Clothing or costumes tagged with RFID or other sensors are essentially useless if they can’t stand up to washers, dryers and daily abuse.

The IoT is not about simply connecting things. It’s about connecting them in smarter and better ways.