Large communication and IT companies are betting on wide adoption of the technology that promises to connect all your things to the Internet. Intel, Sony and others are racing to create the next SoC, MCM/SiP or other integrated circuits that will power future IoT devices. Qualcomm has initiated the development of an ambitious software framework aimed at defining a standard way for IoT devices to communicate. Cisco is looking further than IoT with their Internet of Everything vision which connects people, data and processes in addition to things.
The potential of ubiquitous smart connected devices is endless: from city asset management to cattle ranching, many industries are set to be disrupted. However, will consumers benefit directly? While we can expect the necessary investments for successful industrial deployments, what about the success of IoT in the consumer space?
We are seeing more and more connected consumer products, but the overall outlook is far from rosy. After the novelty wears off, continued consumer adoption of IoT products is not guaranteed.
The IoT world is currently fragmented, and manufacturers are still — by a large margin — trying to figure out how to do IoT properly. There is an evident lack of well-defined and respected best practices and hard learned lessons from the software world have not been forwarded to hardware manufacturers.
Every month brings so many examples of bad consumer IoT products that some have turned to social media to mock those devices such as this popular twitter account.
The unsolved problems are numerous : privacy and security concerns, lack of interoperability, reliability issues, early obsolescence, etc. Because standards have not yet emerged, most manufacturers are creating their own software stacks. They are in effect reinventing the wheel and causing a fragmentation of both the user experience and the data.
IoT requires much more than hardware, and many manufacturers have historically been bad at software. This is not because they don’t care but rather because software development is difficult and expensive and they often lack the necessary resources in house. In addition to traditional embedded software, they must now work on a full stack because IoT requires a significant amount of software, including communication protocols, update distribution mechanisms, data management platforms, websites, mobile apps, etc., all of which must be scalable and secure.
When a toy company decides that it is capable of handling all this on their own, disaster strikes, such as with the 2015 VTech data breach, which resulted in the personal data of more than six million children being stolen. Some might argue that it’s unfair to single out VTech when big-name companies with software expertise, such as Sony, Adobe, LinkedIn, or Dropbox, have also suffered major data breaches recently. Yet, software security is hard, and without the establishment of an industry consensus regarding a framework of best practices for IoT, consumers will lose at the privacy and security game.
Threats can also come from the devices themselves. Last month, hundreds of thousands of compromised IoT devices (mainly IP cameras) were used as a powerful cyber-weapon to carry out a large distributed denial of service attack against a popular security-related blog. The attack was so large than even the Akamai network was unable to mitigate it.
Yesterday, many suffered from network troubles, due to a large attack from the same IoT “mirai” botnet against a popular DNS service provider. Yet, it is estimated that only 10% of the total nodes in the botnet was involved.
Existing products that have received an IoT upgrade are often more prone to issues than their non-connected versions. Will your pet feeder still feed your pet when the manufacturer’s servers are down? Will your smart thermostat still work when the manufacturer has been bought out and the product is discontinued? Does the added value offset the extra complexity and associated downsides of having a networked computer in your appliances?
Right now, early adopters are in the honeymoon phase and are still overlooking those issues; however, it might not last. If the industry does not cooperate in the creation of an IoT ecosystem that can be trusted, we likely will soon see not only consumer backlash but total rejection of IoT consumer devices.
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