Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Jean-Louis Gassée: "IoT Trouble: The Sonos Example — And More"

When we last checked in with M. Gassée, the former Apple honcho was opining on Tesla and he was not impressed.
Here's something else he is not impressed by.

From The Monday Note, January 26: 

The everything-computerized-and-always-connected smarthome is a work in progress. This slow pace is a good thing because it gives us time to consider new technical and societal challenges.
Six years ago, on January 12th 2014, I wrote a Monday Note titled Internet of Things: The “Basket of Remotes” Problem. As I saw it then, there were two Internet of Things: A thriving, professional version for industry and a less mature version for consumers. This is still the case today as the Industrial IoT continues to prosper [as always, edits and emphasis mine]:
“The Industrial IoT is alive and well. A gas refinery is a good example: Wired and wireless sensors monitor the environment, data is transmitted to control centers, actuators direct the flow of energy and other activities. And the entire system is managed by IT pros who have the skill, training, and culture — not to mention the staff — to oversee the (literal) myriad unseen devices that control complicated and dangerous processes.”
As for the Consumer version with its promise of intelligent homes with connected appliances — now with the added frisson of Artificial Intelligence — very little progress has been made in the past six years:
"For consumers, technology should get out of the way — it’s a means, not an end. Consumers don’t have the mindset or training of IT techies, they don’t have the time or focus to build a mental representation of a network of devices, their interactions and failure modes. […]
How to represent in one’s mind a home network of IoT objects that connect the heating and cooling systems, security cameras, CO and fire sensors, the washer, dryer, stove, fridge, entertainment devices, and under-the-mattress sleep monitoring pads. This may be an exaggerated example, but even with a small group of objects, how does a normal human configure and manage the network?"
At the time, early 2014, there was no answer to the management question, hence the real and figurative recourse to a basket of remotes, to isolated, non-integrated controls for each device. One remote for the TV, another for the heating/cooling system, and so on.

Admittedly, managing your consumer IoT is, six years later, a little bit easier. Thermostats have some intelligence and can be controlled from a smartphone; among other competing solutions Apple’s HomeKit and the Home app provides building blocks for tech-savvy users to control lights, power outlets, doors, cameras, and the like, all now accessible through Siri commands. I see convincing examples… at the hands of expert software engineers. But how many normal humans can develop a smarthome system, let alone maintain it when bugs, software updates, or security issues arise?
There is more. We’re now seeing problems and issues that we didn’t anticipate in 2014. Sonos, the popular smart audio manufacturer, provides a good, publicized example.

First, there was the justifiable objection to the company’s Recycle Mode, part of its hardware Trade Up program. You could get a discount on a new Sonos device if you submitted your old one to a software procedure that permanently disabled it after which you would take it to an e-recycling facility. According to Sonos…
“Taking your device to a local certified e-recycling facility is the most environmentally friendly means of disposal”
Protesters objected that the company’s claim, which has since been removed from their website, was disingenuous. Is permanently disabling an otherwise good device — a device that you could have given to a friend or family member — an environmentally sound move? Ah, but that was the condition to get a 30% discount on a newer one.

The Sonos story gets better (meaning worse)....