The Weekly Echo: we don't want an Internet of Useless Things
Hey there, and welcome back to another Weekly Echo. This week, we’ve got a few new additions to the capabilities of Alexa, the personal assistant behind Amazon Echo, and then we’ll talk about just how ridiculous and useless the Internet of Things might become.
Alexa is coming soon to your television set
Amazon has announced a new model of the Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick. Perhaps the biggest addition to the set top box and television dongle isn’t the 4K capability, though. At least, not to me. What’s really cool in my book is the fact that Alexa is going to be included in the Amazon Fire TV experience. Even better, she’s not just coming to the new model; she’ll be rolled out to existing Amazon Fire TVs and Amazon Fire TV Sticks this fall. This puts the device in the running to beat out the Siri-enabled new Apple TV.
Alexa’s new skills
The Amazon Echo gets new skills, the device’s name for third-party apps, from time to time. These range from trivia apps to games to programs that tell you the train schedule for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Among the new skills added since we last talked is an app called Craft Helper, which will tell you the recipe for making items in Minecraft. Another great new skill is Trove, which will give you the latest headlines on just about any topic you can imagine. Enable these skills using the Alexa app on your iOS device.
An Internet of Mostly Useless Stuff
Last year, Gartner said that a typical family home could contain more than 500 smart objects by 2022. Some of the obvious choices here are smart TVs, Sonos speaker systems, consoles, tablets, smartphones, and so forth. Unfortunately, not everything getting a chip stuck in it has such value.
For example, at the recent exhibition for IFA, the global trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances, Samsung showed off a smart oven that waited for you to be on your way home before starting to heat your dinner. Why would you even do that? Most uncooked food will start to spoil pretty quickly if you leave it out, so keeping your meal waiting in the oven without it turned on seems like a bad idea to me.
Another example, this one from a design conference, is Leeo. Leeo is a nightlight that “listens” for your smoke detector to go off, and then calls your smartphone to let you know that your house might be on fire. Leeo retails for $99, doesn’t detect the smoke or fire itself, and calls your smartphone instead of the fire department. Bear in mind, a smoke detector can be had for as little as $20.
How to prevent the Internet of Uselss Stuff
What manufacturers really need to think about before sticking a chip in a common household object is whether or not they are actually providing a solution to a problem the common person might have. Nielsen, in 2014, identified a handful of items that people really want from the Internet of Things, and it doesn’t include an oven that turns on when you’re on your way home. It also doesn’t include a nightlight that listens for your smoke detector. Instead, people want light bulbs that can detect when nobody is in the room and automatically turn off, or a refrigerator that can recommend recipes based on what’s inside.
Come on, Samsung et al. Let’s have an Internet of Useful Things, not the opposite.