Smart Appliances? I think not…

There’s been a lot of talk lately about adding various “smarts” to our everyday durable goods: things like refrigerators, cars, TVs, dishwashers, etc. You know, the kind of things you only buy every 10-15 years or when they’ve become too expensive to keep repairing. Manufacturers seem to think that since the hardware is cheap and the software is mostly free, they can just stick Android and a touch screen in your toaster.

That sounds like a horrible idea–for so many reasons. And I was prepared to enumerate them here until I came across a great ArsTechnica article: Smart TVs, smart fridges, smart washing machines? Disaster waiting to happen

To pick a few choice quotes:

These devices will inevitably be abandoned by their manufacturers, and the result will be lots of “smart” functionality—fridges that know what we buy and when, TVs that know what shows we watch—all connected to the Internet 24/7, all completely insecure.

And why is that?

To remain useful, app platforms need up-to-date apps. As such, for your smart device to remain safe, secure, and valuable, it needs a lifetime of software fixes and updates.

That’s not so hard, right?

Herein lies the problem, because if there’s one thing that companies like Samsung have demonstrated in the past, it’s a total unwillingness to provide a lifetime of software fixes and updates. Even smartphones, which are generally assumed to have a two-year lifecycle (with replacements driven by cheap or “free” contract-subsidized pricing), rarely receive updates for the full two years (Apple’s iPhone being the one notable exception).

Also…

Our fridges, cars, and TVs are not even on a two-year replacement cycle. Even if you do replace your TV after it’s a couple years old, you probably won’t throw the old one away. It will just migrate from the living room to the master bedroom, and then from the master bedroom to the kids’ room. Likewise, it’s rare that a three-year-old car is simply consigned to the scrap heap. It’s given away or sold off for a second, third, or fourth “life” as someone else’s primary vehicle. Your fridge and washing machine will probably be kept until they blow up or you move houses.

And the final recommendation, which I can get behind 100%:

Instead, use smarts elsewhere. For example, instead of using the smartness in your TV (such that upgrading the smarts means upgrading the entire TV too, pointlessly wasting the LCD), you leave the smarts in a small set-top box like a Roku or an Apple TV. That will give you your streaming media and rich connectivity, but it’s in a box that’s relatively disposable. Sure, even that box won’t be supported forever (though I daresay it will be supported for longer than a smart TV), but replacing it means replacing a small $99 gadget—not a thousand bucks of flat panel.

Now, who’s ready for the next 5-10 years of disaster after disaster as people buy these “smart” devices, only to discover bugs that the manufacturers missed and a complete lack of interest in software updates.

I guess the only real hope is that these devices are easily “rooted” so at least tech savvy folks can install, ahem, “alternative” firmware long after the manufacturer has given up on it.

About Jeremy Zawodny

I'm a software engineer and pilot. I work at craigslist by day, hacking on various bits of back-end software and data systems. As a pilot, I fly a Flight Design CTSW and high performance gliders in the northern California and Nevada area. I'm also the original author of "High Performance MySQL" published by O'Reilly Media. I still speak at conferences and user groups on occasion.
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3 Responses to Smart Appliances? I think not…

  1. bcs says:

    A related post: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2014/01/security_risks_9.html

    $99 for a set-top gadget? How about 35$ for one (chromecast) that plugs in the back?

  2. P. J. Miller says:

    Smart appliance, with your smart idea. Hope it will be realize soon…

  3. Archer Viner says:

    Definitely it will be a good technology for mankind and also it will help mass of people. Thanks for thinking this kind of technology…….

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