June 24, 2014 at 5:28 PM ET
All this talk about the Internet of Things might sound like your Space Age home of the future is just around the corner -- but you may want to wait a few years before you hire that U-Haul.
Nest, maker of Internet-connected thermostats and smoke detectors, announced some exciting things on the eve of Google I/O, its parent company’s annual developers conference.
Purchasing a security cam company and opening up its software to independent developers -- including partners such as Mercedes-Benz, Whirpool, and Jawbone -- Nest is poised to provide the “connected home” you’ve perhaps dreamed about ever since “The Jetsons." Eventually, anyway.
But before you fire that thermostat steward you hired to estimate the time of your arrival (via your Mercedes) and adjust the temperature of your home, consider the words of David Berkowitz , chief marketing officer of MRY, a corporate marketing firm: “The vast majority of first generation products are not very good.”
Case in point: “I bought the first iPhone and returned it one day later,” Berkowitz, who considers himself a tech-savvy early adopter, told NBC News. Only those with the most hardcore of hacker mentality are willing to spend big money on bug-infested technology, making them the perfect test market for the Internet of Things. It's through their trial and error that products get easier to use, and often less expensive. As for laggards, Forrester market research found it's still a few years away.
Watching and waiting applies not only to Nest, which now gives users the option of sharing the information they’ve stored on Google. (All the better to learn your habits and adjust your temperature accordingly, my dear!) Apple also wants a bite out of the Internet of Things, and announced the iPhone-connected HomeKit automation software at its own developer’s conference in June. Quirky and General Electric just announced Wink, a platform for connected devices, which will available at Home Depot. And Lowe’s Iris smart home system has been on the market for a a couple of years.
Each claims to be the best, but all require Internet support and none are particularly easy to understand. That's why the majority of consumers continue to wait.
"Consumers show interest in home automation but find that fee-based solutions are still too complex and expensive," Forrester analyst Frank E. Gillett writes in a 2013 report, “The Internet Of Things Comes Home, Bit By Bit."
"As a result, the connected home will evolve incrementally, in bite-sized products that service providers will then pull together and orchestrate."
Smart home systems sold through big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's are perhaps the biggest promise that the Internet of Things will soon be accessible to the not-so-tech-savvy masses. Before most of us get a connected home, however, a few things need to get hammered out.
“None of this is ever going to be as easy as it looks, especially for the generation of people who never learned to fix the time on their VCR,” Berkowitz pointed out. “DVR updates time automatically now, so problem solved.”
That annoying issue took 24 years to fix, Berkowitz observed, though the pace of problem solving is accelerating and people are becoming more savvy. Even so, there's another other hurdle holding up the Internet of Things: convincing most of us that a connected home is a solution to an actual problem.
For most people, dealing with an app to program a thermostat is far less appealing than just tweaking the temperature manually. And sure, an Internet-connected home might make for cool party tricks, such as adjusting the lights via a smartphone. But as someone who has observed this first hand, Berkowitz told NBC News, "by the fifth guest it got old.”
Same goes for integrating your Jawbone wristband with Nest, so your thermostat knows when you’re awake. “A lot of these connected devices seem pretty gimmicky,” Berkowitz said. But like smartphones, the connected home’s true value will emerge when 10 or more products can run on the same system, operating in the background without a lot of management.
Until then, Berkowitz advised, “Let the early adopters deal with the problems and the developers spend time on not just how well things work, but why we should even want it.”