The number of connected devices on this planet has nearly doubled in the last five years. There are currently an estimated 26.66 billion of them around the world, with as many as 75.44 billion expected by as early as 2025. The question is, what’s driving these massive and skyrocketing adoption rates?
The Pursuit of Convenience
Meet Jake. He’s a lot like you. When it comes to technology, he’s your standard millennial. He has all of the basic gadgets and gizmos, plus a couple of luxury items that he was easily able to purchase off the shelf. This is his morning routine:
Jake’s fitness tracker gently buzzes him awake every morning at precisely 6:30 a.m. He taps the snooze button, sleeps for another seven minutes, and then gets another gentle buzz on his wrist. This time Jake opens his eyes. He grabs his smartphone beside his bed and opens up his smart home hub app. He disarms the security system, turns the heat up a couple of degrees on the thermostat, and sends a signal to his coffee maker to start percolating.
Next, Jake gets out of bed, walks to his bathroom, and adjusts the little thermostat box that controls the heating mechanism beneath his cold marble floor. Within minutes, the temperature of the floor rises to the precise temperature that he likes and his feet are toasty warm. This prompts Jake to consider what he’ll wear today. “Hey Alexa…what’s the weather forecast for today?”
Upon showering and dressing, Jake walks down to the kitchen and grabs his freshly brewed cup of coffee. He pilfers through his pantry but doesn’t find anything he wants to eat for breakfast – but that’s not an issue. Jake simply pulls up his favorite food delivery app and schedules a breakfast burrito to be delivered to his office at precisely 9:05 a.m.
Before heading off to work for the day, Jake performs a couple of taps and swipes on his phone. Instantly, his car starts remotely and the seat warmers kick on. He walks out of his apartment and his security system recognizes that he’s left the premises. His doors lock, the alarm activates, and his thermostat readjusts to an energy-efficient setting.
Finally, Jake sits down his the driver’s seat of his warm vehicle and his navigation system automatically provides him with the perfect route to the office based on real-time traffic patterns. It notifies him that this route is 14 minutes shorter than the standard route, which will ensure he arrives in time for his hand-delivered breakfast.
You and Jake aren’t that different. The details of your routine may vary, but the underlying drive behind what you do, how you do it, and when you do it is the same: You crave convenience and comfort.
You might think your morning routine looks a bit average, but it’s anything but mediocre when viewed through the lens of history. You have more technology inside your house than entire countries had just 30 years ago. Yet, you’ll continue to buy new devices, upgrade the ones you have, and dream up new ways to use emerging gadgets. For example:
- If you need to buy a bunch of groceries for the week, but don’t have time to meander through the aisles and shop for yourself, you can easily hire a personal shopper from a smartphone app and pay just a few dollars to have the items delivered to your doorstep.
- Need to sell your vehicle but don’t want to deal with the hassle of running around town from dealer to dealer? Using a cash car buying service in your area, you can list a car, have a company come to your driveway, and receive cash/transfer title with nothing more than a smartphone.
- Want to water your lawn while you’re away on vacation? A smart sprinkler system can be installed and remotely activated/programmed for a very small investment.
Convenience is at your fingertips. There’s no need to feel guilty about it – that’s just the way it is. In modern culture – specifically the Americanized version – convenience decides everything. It makes our decisions for us, even when our personal preferences say otherwise.
“Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable,” Tim Wu writes for The New York Times. “Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. To resist convenience — not to own a cellphone, not to use Google — has come to require a special kind of dedication that is often taken for eccentricity, if not fanaticism.”
As technology improves and the number of connected devices swells, convenience becomes even more accessible. It’s no longer a question of if something can be made easier, but by how much. Convenience is driving purchase decisions and, in turn, the products tech companies invest in. And as inconvenience is slowly weeded out of our lives, it’s fair to ask the question: What are the ramifications of this shift?
Risks and Concerns Abound
The relationship between convenience and connected devices is a lot like the relationship between the chicken and the egg. Has the desire for increased convenience led to the massive growth in connected devices, or has the growth in connected devices spawned a desire for more copious amounts of convenience? In all honesty, it’s probably a little bit of both.
We’re at a unique junction in the growth and development of connected devices where people want to utilize the conveniences they have available to them, but are somewhat hesitant to go all-in. According to a recent survey of 20,000 global consumers, 48 percent of Americans say they’re comfortable if a device, such as a refrigerator, orders items on their behalf without asking. However, 62 percent say they want approval before purchases are consumed. A hefty 78 percent want a notification before an order is placed.
The same study suggests that, when it comes to connected devices, security is the top concern. Roughly three out of four consumers are worried that manufacturers will share their personal data. And then there’s the issue of overreach. While 51 percent of consumers say they understand the benefits of conveniences that connected devices provide, 54 percent say they don’t understand why devices – like refrigerators – need to be connected to the internet.
If you zoom out and look at connected devices from a macro perspective, concerns over security are substantial. The interconnectedness of the IoT means there are more entry points into networks than ever before. All it takes is a single compromised device to produce a costly domino effect.
“In the past, an attack on critical infrastructure meant damaging a building or destroying a weapon. Now, any Internet-enabled device connected to the network – be it a smart phone or an internet-connected thermostat – can serve as a hackable entry point and an attack on critical infrastructure,” Mesay Degefu writes for NetCentrics. “This is evidenced by events like Target’s data breach via HVAC, leaked account credentials from a ‘smart’ teddy bear, and even hacked smart TVs.”
The Future of Connected Devices
American consumers want convenience. They want to live lives that are easy, simple, and free of unnecessary encumbrances and pressures. In fact, most feel entitled to lives of ease.
Moving forward, the challenge lies in delivering convenience without compromising security. In other words, tech companies must find ways to satisfy the insatiable desire for ease, simplicity and comfort, without putting personal data and privacy at risk. And unfortunately, this is far easier said than done – especially in a business landscape where money is the biggest controlling factor.
“Americans say they prize competition, a proliferation of choices, the little guy. Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit,” Wu writes. “The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.”
When monopoly sets in, businesses feel less compulsion to do the right thing. Instead of offering convenience and security, companies will focus in on the former at the expense of the latter – because it sells.
People say they care about privacy, but continue to buy devices that openly harvest their data and leave them exposed. Until collective desire for security supersedes cravings for convenience, this will be the state of the market.