Calm, cruel and connected: 2016’s year-end best and worst of IoT

It’s been an interesting year for Intenet of Things (IoT) devices. I’d like to think that in 2017 we’ll be welcoming a carefully curated market of consumer tested, thoughtfully considered and security first enabled smart devices. However, the reality is that the most superficial of IoT connected devices aren’t going away anytime soon if 2016 is anything to go by.

Here’s some of the hits and misses of the IoT devices of 2016:

Biggest hype: Pokemon Go

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It’s summertime July; the sun is shining and all of the sudden there are crowds of people outside in the sun, mobile phone in hand. They’re not in line for concerts tickets or a store opening, at a demonstration or taking selfies. Instead, they’re playing Pokemon Go, Niantic’s mobile low-fi Augmented Reality game that for a period took the world by storm. Suddenly it seemed to be everywhere, with $3.9 million to $4.9 million made on its first day of release, 20 million active users at its peak over summer and $600 million in revenue as of October 2016.

But it wasn’t without controversy, the cartoon monsters appearing in a series of inappropriate places from funeral homes to war memorials. People’s screen obsession challenged their spatial awareness with an increase in accidents including two Pokemon chasers who fell off a 90ft cliff,  and a car driver playing Pokemon Go who crashed into a police car.

Suddenly its popularity waned as the nights got colder and the sun set earlier. It’s questionable whether Pokemon Go could be considered the poster child for AR taking the world by storm. But it’s not a complete disaster, as recently as November, Pokemon Go is estimated to have made with revenues in November at $2million per day, hardly spare change. It’s even been released on AppleWatch, keeping people in the game.

Honorable mention: up to you….

Best launch: Spectacles by Snapchat

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Spectacles were Snapchat’s first wearable hardware, a pair of sunglasses fitted with dual cameras positioned at the hinges on either side of the glasses’ lenses. These cameras have an 115-degree field of view, and a light ring around the left lens lights up letting everyone know that you’re in the process of capturing a snap. Videos could then be shared on Snapchat.

What made Spectacles the hottest wearables for people who probably don’t usually buy wearables was the limited release. As well as a New York superstore requiring a long queue for a maxim of 2 per person purchase, Spectacles were available through limited vending machines only installed for a day each,  in a range of locations including the grand canyon. One Australian even paid for a return flight for a guy who brought him a pair from America. They’re not the highest tech product of the year, but they certainly had a certain cachet.

Most promise but least success: Sleep tech

A good night’s sleep is a challenge for many of us with our busy, tech embedded lives of work, noise, and stress. The causes of poor sleep are complex and varied and include a myriad of environmental and physiological factors and it seems many intrepid entrepreneurs have spent the year trying to find ways to improve the world’s sleep.

A glance at crowdfunding sites sees a plethora of smart sleep products (over 100 this year alone) on both the Indigogo and Kickstarter sites this year ranging from products to help you fall asleep to those to help you wake up in the morning.

However, to really understand sleep problems there’s a need for rich sleep data of the medical grade accuracy which is difficult to obtain in traditional sleep laboratory conditions, relying on deep data collected over an extended period. You would hope that smart sleep devices with most investments would involve partnerships with academics and sleep researchers, but there’s little evidence that this is the case as the sleep tech devices can range from the intriguing to the bizarre.

Perhaps the strangest example I came across this year, albeit not designed to improve slumber per se, is the Smarttress, a mattress designed to detect a cheating partner. It contains a “lover detection system” of vibration sensors and a “contact zones detector” that can send an alert to your mobile phone when your bed is being used in a “questionable way” which includes how fast the bed is moving.

But wait, there’s been more this year including the Bedjet and — my favorite but one that makes me despair just a bit for humanity — the self-making bed. Watch the video and weep. That said, there’s still hope for sleep tech, in particular, I’m watching the slow but steady development of the Airing device, designed to disrupt the traditional treatment of sleep apnea. There’s hope for the struggling sleepless yet.

Honorable mentions: CyanogenMod

Most innovative device of 2016: Mine Kafon Drone

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Smart products don’t always need to solve a big picture problem to be innovative, but sometimes it just happens that they do. One of the most interesting products I’ve encountered this year is the Mine Kafon Drone (MKD), a drone that flies over dangerous areas to map, detect and detonate land mines from a safe distance, doing work that previously ended the lives of many. It works autonomously and is equipped with three separate interchangeable robotic extensions.

Honorable mentions: Pilot language translator, 2016 Cybathlon, artificial pancreas,  CRISPR

Most promising device of 2016: Google Home

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Amazon Echo and Google Home are divided camps.There are as many reviews that favor Echo as favor Home, with others suggesting consumers buy both and see which they like more. When you look into the respective positives and negatives, it’s clear that people are divided on their primary purpose and household composition. For example, Echo is considered to have superior speakers for listening to music, and in regards to household composition, Echo enables a personal profile for each member while Home is limited to a single profile for the home, making it less appealing for families.

What compels me to favor Google Home is not so much what it can do now (it is, after all, two years younger than Echo) but its future potential. It relates well to smart home connectivity, through relationships with Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue, and IFTTT, with more to come which appeals to me.

Further, Google is heavily invested in machine learning and AI  with real world examples of their work not only in the home connectivity environment but partnerships with the UK National Health System through DeepMind and linguistics through google translate. I believe this kind of knowledge will have a flow on effect to other parts of the Google ecosphere, including Google Home.

Honorable mentions: Mark Zuckerberg’s AI assistant Jarvis (for encouraging the uninitiated into home automation)

Worst PR disasters: Demise of Revolv versus IoT smart device security breaches

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In 2014 Nest acquired Revolv. Then in April 2016, Nest announced on its website that all Revolv Hub devices previously purchased and installed by customers would be permanently disabled and cease to operate the following month. Understandably, this led to extensive criticisms, given the $300 cost of the hardware, and that their customers had previously been assured of a “Lifetime Subscription.” It also set something of a warning precedent for future connected device creators, particularly those of longer life investment products like smart refrigerators and connected cars.

The elephant in the room and the most apparent disaster of 2016 has been the security hacks that IoT connected devices have either fallen prey to or been a conduit for these hacks. This series of unfortunate incidents is cause alone for a name and blame outside the scope of this piece, and it can’t help casting something of a shadow over the beginning of 2017.

Honorable mentions: Samsung Galaxy Note, GoPro Karma

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