U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 35 mins

What is the Internet of Things?

“The Internet of Things” is a pretty annoying term, as buzzwords go. There is no new Internet made up of objects. There’s no little Twitter for thermostats, or Facebook for waffle irons.

“Internet of Things” refers everyday appliances that are now networkable: Lights. Thermostats. Coffee makers. Security cameras. Door locks. Sprinklers. Robot vacuums. Usually it just means you can control them from your phone.

(There’s also an explosion of IoT interest in industrial and commercial buildings, and that’s a totally different ball game. Those uses allow alarm systems, heating/cooling, lighting, and all kinds of sensors to communicate intelligently, both with each other and with building managers, for a huge boost in convenience, savings, and environmental payoff. But in this article and video, we’re talking about the consumer Internet of Things things—stuff in your home.)

Some of these consumer things make sense. The thermostat is handy; the Nest thermostat programs itself by observing what time you come and go, and the Honeywell Lyric uses your phone’s GPS to know when you’re approaching the house, and get it heated or cooled in advance. OK.

But most of the IoT is just like a gold rush to sell stuff. There’s an IoT water bottle, an IoT doggie-treat dispenser, and IoT toilet-paper holder (lets your phone know when the roll needs replacing). There’s an IoT umbrella, an IoT fork, an IoT toothbrush, an IoT trash can, and—I am not making this up—an IoT tampon.

And don’t forget the Egg Minder. I kid you not: now, from anywhere in the world, you can see HOW MANY EGGS YOU HAVE LEFT. This is a real, shipping product.

So far, the Internet of Things is more like the Internet of Things that Aren’t Selling Well. That’s partly because they’re complicated to set up, partly because they’re just not that necessary, and partly because you need a different app for every single product! One app for the lights, a different one for the thermostat, a third for the coffee maker.

Every big company is trying to create a unified standard—Apple, Microsoft, Google, Intel—but that just means that there are now 40 “unified standards!”

So—clearly, this is like the Commodore 64 era of the Internet of Things: a lot of heat, very little light.

The security cameras and thermostats make sense; most of the rest of it, you can safely ignore. But that’s the way it always is with new tech developments, right? Everybody throws everything at the wall, and a few things might stick. A few years from now, we’ll have figured out which consumer items actually need to be networked.

You know how we now understand “phone” to mean “cellphone,” “TV” to mean “HDTV,” and “refrigerator” to mean “refrigerator/freezer”? In the same way, the term “Internet of Things” will eventually fade away. It will be unnecessary; we’ll just assume that anything that deserves to be networkable is networkable.