3 simple guidelines to protect our ever connected ‘smart’ device universe

As we become more beholden to companies to keep our smart devices functioning long after purchase date, I propose 3 guidelines to address this imbalance and risk.

Smart devices. They are everywhere. Even if you don’t read a single online article, a walk around your local BestBuy, Target or Walmart you can’t but help seeing the growing aisles of devices promising to make your life that little bit easier.

From thermostats, garage doors, security (?) cameras, door locks, bulbs, wall outlets, dimmer switches, drip-monitors to even smoke-alarms they are all vying for our attention in our Internet connected world. This is before we get to the countless consumer devices, like the swarm of voice activated plastic towers (yes, i am looking at you Amazon and Google), baby-monitors to pet-monitors (and one where you can play laser tag with your kitty while you are away). I could go on, but I think you get my point — everything is getting the Internet-Of-Things treatment.


Back in the day, we bought a device, plugged it in, and it performed the duty it said on the box. No fuss no nonsense. No apps to install, no Wi-Fi to configure, no 3rd party service to sign-up to and blindly agree to the terms’n’conditions. No matter what happened to that company or to the network, the device would still do what it was meant to do. I still have the same music deck that I went to university with over 28 years ago. However, as I look around at the various devices I have been seduced into buying, I wonder if they will make it past the year, let alone generational.

We are increasingly relying on a whole ecosystem to stay alive for our devices to be useful. Alexa becomes an ornament when the Internet or Amazon is down. Nest is just a wall-light when Google has a problem. It is not limited to the company staying in profit, we also have to be nice to the company, just in-case they lock us out as a punishment (see the story of the Garadgetsmart locking out a poor reviewer from their own home).

What if a company changes direction? Your investment in all these gadgets are now at risk (Logitech has decided that Harmony Hub is no longer viable bricking a whole bunch of universal remotes).

I have my own personal story — I was locked out of my own home because Tesla put out a software upgrade and broke the garage opener functionality that I was relying on. Two weeks later it was all back to normal after a fix to fix the fix.

Every morning I wake up and if things are still working then it is a good morning — it could all change in a second as each device relies on power, network, service and reliable software. Way too many factors — it is amazing the bloody thing works at all.


We need far more redundancy and stability in this ecosystem. We need confidence in the devices we are buying.

With that I am proposing are the following three guidelines for a consumer charter:

  1. Initial cost $0
    Hardware that relies on a back-end to function, should be free ($0) to purchase. Charge a small monthly subscription to cover all costs.
  2. Minimum 5 year life from date of purchase
    Full refund if the device stops performing it’s duty within 5 years due to a company changing direction. This should be backed by an insurance policy that the company takes out to cover in-case of insolvency.
  3. Open Platform
    Let devices be controlled by a 3rd party solution. Open up your API’s to allow alternatives to take over should you fail to do yours. Allow me to manage everything from one portal.

We need to get a handle on this. We are investing huge sums of money into an industry that is predicated on obsolescent and we’re being held hostage to the whims of a corporate entity whose only goal is to squeeze as much profit from us as possible.

Next time you are about to buy that smart device, read the small print, see what relationship you are entering into, the risk you are taking on and ask yourself if the brand you see before you will still be around in 2, 5, 10 years time.

Otherwise, you just might be buying a pretty piece of plastic art.

Update 5th Dec: Google have disabled YouTube on Amazon’s Alexa Show product.  YouTube on Alexa was a heavily marketed reason to purchase the voice-activated assistant.  Another area where the consumer has little to no recourse on the functionality disappearing from their product.  Imagine your microwave suddenly refusing to reheat your pizza because of a legal dispute.  This is our new world.

This is what Amazon Dash should have been

Alternative to Amazon’s Dash is announced but runs on the SigFox network.

A company from Singapore has announced their version of the popular Amazon Dash button, which is just a button that is connected to the Internet and once clicked can unleash no limit of destruction – though in most cases ordering more toilet paper!

Amazon’s Dash works by connecting itself onto the local WiFi – a right old pain in the ass and something that is dragging down many a great IoT innovation.   However, alternative networks now exist that are becoming practical from a business point of view – one of those is SigFox.


UnaBiz has announced their version, which is a single button that is pre-registered on the SigFox network and costs approximately $1 per month.   While it is more expensive than Amazon’s alternative (one off cost of $5) the ease of setup cannot be underestimated.

Will/should Amazon release a SigFox version of Dash?  probably.

The next AWS? Tesla, GM or Ford

Amazon outflanked the computing industry with their cloud offering; it will happen again, from another unlikely source.

Hands up who would have guessed that the online book reseller, Amazon.com, would turn out to be the enterprise cloud mammoth it has become.   If your hand is up then I don’t believe you.  No one seen them coming, no one predicted that cloud computing was so ripe for the taking.  Just as Microsoft completely misread the importance of the Internet and allowed the likes of FireFox, Google, Yahoo establish a foothold, Amazon completely stole the world of cloud computing from under the noses of the computing establishment.

By comparison, everyone is playing catch-up to Amazon’s meteoric cloud growth.  But if it happened once, could it happen again?   It would be churlish and shortsighted to assume it couldn’t, and just as Amazon out flanked the whole computing industry, there are a number of players quietly working that could pop up and surprise us.

Amazon never set out to be the cloud provider they are today – they were simply solving an internal problem which was to keep the lights on for their e-commerce site and be able to scale quickly and easily through peak period times of the day and the year.  Fair to say they achieved that goal and more, to the point where they could start selling off spare capacity in their data center and create a whole new business line out of it.

chrome_2016-09-24_05-16-50So the question you have to ask yourself, who else is busying solving their own problems and building out huge amounts of processing and storage scale that could one day benefit others if repackaged?

I offer up the automotive industry as likely candidates.  People like Tesla, Ford or General Motors are all working on far more innovative computing problems than most give them credit for. The modern day car has a huge amount of processing power contained within, collecting data from a whole range of sensors.  That is before we even get to the self-driving revolution – but they are preparing themselves for that scale.

So why aren’t they simply using cloud providers like Amazon, Google or Microsoft?  They probably are in part, but it is in their best interests to build out out their own.   Cars stay in circulation for a very long time, and even though the car passes from owner-to-owner, the data is still being collected and analyzed.  This data is too valuable to hosted on a 3rd parties data center.   The security implications alone is too much to simply trust to another.

As drivers we demand that our cars are not vulnerable to any attacks.  We demand a closed ecosystem that is secure and immune from the noise that the Internet can sometimes generate (imagine if you will your car going down as a result of the Internet going offline because of the DNS attack a few weeks ago).

This is why Tesla and others are busy building their own closed secure systems that can scale dramatically and continually.  These are the same sort of problems that IoT (Internet of Things) companies will be looking to solve as their devices go online and live perpetually for many years.

In addition, due to the very large volumes of historical event data grows, so will the need to innovate tools to pour over and analyze these data sets.   This is another area I believe the likes of the automotive companies could outflank the traditional data companies.  I would also put Uber into that category; the sheer amount of data they are collecting and processing would make you blink.

Amazon caught the industry off guard and redefined the whole landscape while they were still arguing over whether or not the business model was viable or even serious.

It will happen again and from a quarter we least expect it from.

Weekly Top 8 Tech Stories – 17th October

This weeks top tech stories for the week of the 17th Oct. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla, IoT and Indiana Jones.

For those that missed out this week, here are the stories in the tech world that was making the headlines in the week of the 17th October.

  1. Apple iCar isn’t going to happen
    chrome_2016-10-22_10-11-56It was a long standing rumor for many years that Apple was getting into the electric car business, competing head on with Tesla.  Bloomberg announced this week that the project that headed up this initiative has been dismantled with many lay-offs coming.

    One wonders if Tesla/Ford/Mercedes will welcome back those that defected.  Oops.

  2. Tesla announces cars rolling off their production line can self-drive
    chrome_2016-09-24_05-21-25While we are on the subject of electric cars, Elon Musk teased the internet for a week about a big announcement and this Wednesday he held a press conference and demonstrated a Model X driving by itself from home to the office.  The video is extremely impressive and worth the watch, complete with Rolling Stones theme.

    This in the same week that Germany have asked Tesla to stop using the term Auto Pilot as it is confusing the poor Germans drivers.

  3. First it was Samsung’s Note 7; now Apple’s iPhone 7 bursts into flames
    chrome_2016-10-22_10-25-13While Samsung are figuring out how to rebuild its reputation Apple’s latest flagship handset, the iPhone 7, has had a couple of reports of it bursting into the flames.   They haven’t officially commented on this, only to say they are investigating this thoroughly.

    This could seriously rock the high end handset market if both market leaders turn out to have handsets that can light a campfire quicker than Bear Grylls!

  4. Nintendo announce its new handset, the Switch
    chrome_2016-10-22_10-31-16The king of gamers for the masses have set the standard again with its latest Switch device. Just as the Wii appealed to everyone, Nintendo are hoping to capture that same family appeal with the Switch.  Think of the Wii and the 3DS and then put that in a portable, multi-player handset and you have something that could catch on.

    Nintendo are entering a very competitive space now, with smartphones accounting for a large amount of mobile gaming (assuming they don’t catch fire!).  They are missing the Christmas buying period by launching it March 2017.

  5. Internet for North America goes offline this Friday, due to IoT devices
    chrome_2016-10-22_10-42-35The previous week, we had DNS provider, hover.com, go offline due to a massive DoS attack on its servers.  This week it was the turn of Dyn who were the target of the same attack that knocked out many of the big players, including Twitter, Amazon and Spotify.

    Insecure IoT devices such as routers, printers, cameras, etc were at fault again.  These devices are very easy to take over due to default username/passwords that most people don’t even know to change, though some can’t be changed anyway.  This problem is not going away anytime soon.  The ISP’s may have to step up and start firewalling these devices.

  6. Amazon looking to provide you with Internet
    chrome_2016-09-24_05-16-50Amazon is looking to become an ISP, in Europe initially, and start to offer that as part of its Prime service.  This may not be as big a leap considering how big and expansive their AWS cloud computing is.

    Amazon have repeatedly said that their Prime membership is where they make their money as members are more likely to buy from Amazon.com instead of going elsewhere.

  7. Microsoft’s SalesForce competitor, Dynamics is selling very well
    chrome_2016-10-22_10-56-16This week Microsoft’s stock was at its highest after a very good earnings call this week detailing that all its subscription services are way above expectations, with the enterprise suite Dynamics getting most of that attention.

    Microsoft have successfully redefined itself away from relying on just Office and Windows revenue as it looks to things like Azure, Dynamics and Office 365 (an online subscription service).

  8. Indiana Jones, Ark of the Covenant, now on display
    chrome_2016-10-22_11-00-51The real big news of the week, was that a real piece of movie history, the Ark of the Covenant, went on display at Walt Disney World Hollywood in Orlando.   You can view this legendary prop while you are queuing for the Great Hollywood Movie Ride, though you will be forgiven for just queuing and not making it to the ride.

    Hurry before Disney decide to put it back into the huge warehouse!


… and this week’s soundtrack was provided by Norah Jones new album Day Break released this month.  Good to see her back to releasing under her name.