Last week the Electrical Product Safety Conference was held in London organised by Electrical Safety first and claims were made that smart products could make stuff safer.
Safer is good, we’ve no issue with that but somehow the products being made to be “smart”, i.e. connected magically makes them safer is a somewhat flawed notion if you ask us. And, it ignores some little problems.
Martyn Allen from ESF said, “In the next five years, most products will have some level of connectivity, and that’s fantastic – the safety benefits those products will provide will be a game-changer in my view,”
Which is great, in theory.
But here’s the thing, when it comes to appliances we do not see how this really helps people. Sure if your washing machine throws a hissy fit it will be able to report it to some remote call centre who will in turn book you a service call but that’s really about it. However, it does not allow the customer the choice of what action to take, it just takes the action.
As Tim Potter from Dixons Carphone (better known to us as Currys) puts it, “I think [consumers] can see a lot of value in it from that perspective. We want to make sure that when we send a van out to someone, it has the right parts on it. So, being able to diagnose the problem remotely is immensely powerful.
“It makes us more efficient, so the satisfaction level rises. As it progresses, we can get into a pre-emptive state and be able to tell the customer that we’ve detected a problem and arrange the visit.”
We don’t think locking people in like this is necessarily a good thing.
This is old news though that we’ve poured over many times before and, to date, we’ve yet to see a use case for connected appliances that actually makes any sense for most people.
Why then might you ask are appliance makers so keen on connected IoT products then? It’s a good and fair question to ask.
Appliance makers are not exactly making a lot of money and, they need to find ways to increase profit.
Couple that with a race to the bottom of the market where margins evaporate yet more, whilst customers still have a false perception that they are buying quality products and can be demanding far more for much less and it’s not hard to work out that the industry is a train wreck.
One way that manufacturers seem to think they can inject some profit back into the stuff they make is to stick some electronics in it to allow it to become connected to the outside world. Then hail it as innovation, wrap that up with some “green” hoopla and pump up the prices.
The big challenge they face there is that ovens cook, washers wash, fridges cool stuff, dryers dry and you do not need an internet connection for any of the core functions of any major appliance.
Most customers will figure that out pretty darned fast and suss out that really, they don’t need a connected product costing a ton more money for the same job a far cheaper one will do just the same.
Only a week or so ago chunks of the internet were attacked by a botnet apparently that was in part formed by IoT appliances.
If these machines can be hacked so easily how does that make people safer? Surely if they can be hacked that easily and even possibly told to do things that they shouldn’t, is that not more dangerous?
Worryingly when you consider this then read Simon Eaves of Panasonic’s comment which was, “Do you know your children have come back from school safely? Do you know that your elderly relatives are safe? So when you pull together products like cameras, motion sensors – and even water leak sensors – you can have total solution for security and peace of mind, and that obviously links in with insurance premiums.” that means that anyone hacked in could see who’s home or not.
Safety or a criminal’s paradise?
Mo’ Money + Safety + Privacy
Did you catch that bit about insurance premiums?
How happy will you be if your insurers can look in and see what you are eating and drinking, what the condition of your home is and so on? This is very real, only the other day we learned that some insurers are trawling Facebook to find out about their clients to “adjust” premiums, it’s scary.
The safety of your data on these devices, your shopping habits and more may well be up for grabs and, given the ease with which they’ve been hacked already we just cannot see how anyone could trust them.
We wouldn’t even put our payment details into one of these things, they’re just too insecure thus far but that’s a thing as manufacturers line up deals to sell consumables and even shopping through these smart appliances.
Never mind that, in an environment where maker’s are struggling for cash, what’s the betting that some may well sell the data anyways to boost revenues.
When you combine the financial incentives with the privacy concerns and mix in the so-called safety all we can think is this is trying to justify something that makers may well want to boost revenues but that really isn’t needed.
We also think that the “safety” aspect is little more than a way to try to sell it to unsuspecting people.
Service & Parts
Why do we care and why even bother to mention it you might thing as, after all we’re only involved in selling bits of them and fixing them.
Well for a start if they are stuffed full of electronics and the service information withheld then people will struggle to repair appliances themselves, which is bad for us obviously but it also pumps up the repair costs as you may well be forced to call out the manufacturer service only, you will have no choice but to do so.
That in turn means higher cost that will lead to more machines being scrapped we think and that probably won’t be helped by the restrictions on servicing and spare parts let alone even services being dropped as we’ve seen before with “smart” products.
The bottom line being that most large appliances have no requirement whatsoever to be connected in our opinion and in fact may well but, probably will be, detrimental to the people who buy them.