What does Google’s closure of Revolv (the smart home hub) tell us about the potential pitfalls of the internet of things?
Let’s stir things up a bit and look into the not-so-distant future.
Rover and Revolv
I remember when Rover went bust in the UK.
All Rover owners were annoyed, not just because a brand they loved and a British manufacturing giant had disappeared, but because their cars were suddenly worthless, on account of the impending difficulty getting hold of parts.
Rover was selling cars – one-off purchases, pay your money and drive away. But the nature of ownership and the lifespan of a vehicle meant it was also selling a service.
That service got owners from A to B, either on a lease plan or including warranties, service plans or, at the very least, the implicit promise of paid repairs at a dealership should your voiture become kaput.
This is a scenario that could be set to be echoed many times with connected devices.
A new world of connected devices will effectively turn many once-simple objects into services that rely on apps, APIs and cloud data storage.
And, with a fragmented marketplace of connected-home products, if one of these services goes down the pan, there may be no recourse for consumers who find parts of their home suddenly stripped of functionality.
The first example of such a scenario has received plenty of press coverage this week, as Google’s Work with Nest (a smart home platform that supports many devices, including the famous connected thermostat) decided to shutter Revolv, another smart home hub that it bought in 2014.
On the Revolv website, the co-owners ominously announced “as of 15 May 2016, your Revolv hub and app will no longer work.”
A rather dystopian imagination might conjure images of customers’ doors suddenly unlocking and their lighting going dark.
But what are the implications for connected devices long-term?
The Rover 75
More work for lawyers?
Let’s start with the boring issue of warranties. Revolv customers were supposed to have a lifetime warranty.
Many will receive compensation from Google, but it raises the question of what a warranty can cover. Hardware and software? What happens when service is reliant on both?
Many connected devices will still maintain their traditional (non-connected) functionality, even if an app is no longer supported. You’ll likely still be able to use your coffee machine for example, but maybe not from your bed via your phone.
But others may lose vital functionality – think of a remote camera or, like Revolv, a home hub – if a company decides to cease support of a product.
Effectively, this could be similar to when websites stop supporting IE7 – those users have to upgrade.
Obsolescence becomes more common?
The rate of change of software is pretty quick compared to the rate of change in home product design.
What I mean by that is a fridge’s lifespan is between 10 and 20 years (fridge tech peaked long ago), but think of the change in mobile devices, operating systems, interface design, even interaction design in the next 20 years.
Does that mean the connected fridge will have a reduced lifespan? Even if the answer is a confident ‘no’, software updates would undoubtedly be required and this may be enough to scupper some machines.
Yes, the connected refrigerator may always continue to refrigerate (good times, come on!) but if the consumer is mad keen on maintaining the latest connected functionalities (I am not, for the record), they’ll have to upgrade fridges as often as they do phones.
Fragmented data a user headache?
I remember Christian Payne writing about trying to move all the data from one brand of connected wristband to another. It was pretty much impossible.
If your connected thermostat company goes bust, how easy is it to download your usage data and keep it, or upload it into another service?
It’s the development of hubs like Works with Nest that may be integral here. Ultimately, there may have to be some sort of walled-garden platform needed to bring consistency and security.
Integration is the challenge.
Complexity will bring unforeseen issues?
The IoT seeks to achieve wonderful simplicity through underlying complexity.
Eventually, tech lovers may have fully connected homes and risk the consequences of security breaches and obsolescence. Fans of the broom, the mangle and the Aga might resist.
Whatever happens, it will be fun to watch.