The internet of Things - IoT - is a marketing buzz-term, but the whole thing will be upon us sooner rather than later. Cheap electronics and ubiquitous internet connectivity will see to that, along with manufacturers wanting to add "smart" to tea kettles and toothbrushes to shift more higher-value everyday products.
Some of the now networkable household items could be useful, like the Belkin WeMo Insight switch that I tried out. The Insight can be found for $90 to $100; it does what existing timer switches do, and then some.
With an Insight switch, you can not only turn appliances on and off as you wish using a smartphone app, automatically and manually, it'll also measure the power consumption. Enter a per kilowatt-hour price and you'll see how much using an appliance costs you over time.
I hooked up the Belkin WeMo Insight to a coffee maker to see if it'd cost more to leave it on constantly, or to turn it off after use, something I've been wondering about for a while. Setting up the Insight and making it connect to my house Wi-Fi network was quite easy using the smartphone app, and quick too.
The Insight - if I read the results right - told me that switching on the coffee maker for a few hours in the morning and then turning it off costs about as much as leaving it on all day.
Obviously, the Belkin Insight is a fantastic IoT device for slightly obsessive people like yours truly.
However, it is buggy.
The Apple iPhone app would frequently complain it couldn't find the Insight; worse, the rule I created to turn on the coffee maker in the morning would either refuse to do so, or turn it off too soon, for no clear reason. I've reported the bugginess to Belkin and hope there'll be an update that fixes the random rules of disobedience and loss of connectivity.
At the same time, IoT and its associated networked devices bring with them the risk of abuse. Network security is one and manufacturers should be made to stipulate how long they'll support a device with updates - ideally for as long as it lasts. Then there's the data that networked devices in your home generate. It has to be kept safe.
Tracking if people are at a certain place at any given time is of interest to others, too, like marketers, insurers, police and criminals which means it's probably not information you'd want to share involuntarily for safety and privacy reasons.
A scenario where a country's mains grid has been networked, feeding smart homes that might or might not be secure from internet-borne attacks, is a total nightmare from a national security perspective, too.
A vulnerability in the smart water heater in your house could bereally quite unpleasant in that situation.
The IoT concept also brings with it scope for abuse by vendors, like product lock-in and region encoding. If you want to replace a burned-out dumb lightbulb, you can screw in another of any make, from any country, as long as it fits into the socket and is made for the right voltage.
A smart, multi-hue networked Led lightbulb - or the socket it goes into - might want to first contact a vendor to see if it should turn on, or if it has been bought from the approved local dealer for the territory.
Something similar is happening in Europe, where Xerox has decided to region-encode printers and replacement toner cartridges http://www.heise.de/ct/ausgabe/2015-18-Xerox-Drucker-verweigert-die-Nutzung-von-Original-Toner-Kartuschen-2769261.html, German-language tech publication C'T reported, so it's not as far-fetched as it may seem.
Before we head further down the internet of Things, with sensors everywhere, networked houses and vehicles, we as a society should consider some basic rules to cover security, safety, privacy and competition for the concept.
Otherwise, we could be staring into a Black Mirror http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2085059/ style dystopia where the devices control us, and not the other way round.