Gartner sets up not-so-smart house in the IoT trends business


Using hackneyed consumer hooks to flog high-level strategic research is a baffling strategy, says Chris Middleton of Gartner’s new IoT market trends report.

gartner-logoGartner is increasingly at the center of a spin cycle about the Internet of Things (IoT), with another report, this time on market trends in the battle to own the IoT gateway to the connected home.

Once again, the venerable research house has opted to use the concept of smart ‘white goods’ in the kitchen as the popular consumer hook for a premium-priced, seven-page, C-level report – a decision that implies that business and IT strategists have no idea how to look after themselves, despite running billion-dollar corporations. (“Order milk!” “Put the chicken in the oven.” Such things are beyond the ken of a mere C-level executive who can’t enter a room without GPS and Google Maps.)

Paul O’Donovan, principal research analyst at Gartner, toes the party line on helping people imagine the IoT-enabled home by hiding in the kitchen:

The numerous IoT applications for the home include smart stoves, which tell you how to cook a meal and provide recipes; and smart washers and dryers, which help you determine the optimum time to run a load of laundry.

Now, all of this white-goods-hypothesising ignores the fact that cookers, washers, driers, and so on, tend to be at below waist height – not ideal for on-device web surfing – because we don’t need or want to think about them. But of course, in the IoT future they will be talking to your tablet, laptop, or phone. No one doubts that such devices are on the rise, although the market may stumble once the first one to be hacked burns your house down. Gartner says:

Add to that smart lighting, which can be operated remotely and programmed to dim or turn on or off at specific times; thermostats, which can have your living space at the desired temperature when you walk in the door; and entertainment devices, which can stream programming to your display whenever you want to watch it.

To the best of my knowledge, thermostats have been doing this since 1620 – or the mid-1800s if you prefer mass market uptake to early adoption. In short, Gartner would be well advised to take its thinking about the IoT out of the kitchen. Using hackneyed consumer hooks to flog high-level strategic research is a baffling strategy.

But Donovan does have a serious point:

As home appliances have increased in smartness, as cellular and cable connections have improved – and their pricing declined – the desire to monitor and control the home as an holistic platform of devices and appliances has emerged.

That much is true. And Gartner adds,

Many IoT applications are triggered by sensors and need data management, but there is no single IoT gateway to the home. As Internet-connected homes become increasingly smarter, the gateway is becoming the ‘center’ for connecting the different devices and home appliances to make the management of the ecosystem happen.

As the IoT gateway market emerges, ISPs will be the early winners… provided they develop solutions or partner with hub manufacturers. The mobile phone providers will gain a smaller part of this market, but ultimately the cellular model will not have enough bandwidth to compete with the ISP solution. Longer term, there will need to be an integrated device, whereby the gateway is also the hub, or integrated hub and gateway solutions will be needed.

Connected scenarios

Much of this is obvious: of course the user’s ISP will, initially, be the gateway, because no device is ‘smart’ until it can connect to your local network and, from there, to the internet. (What happens if you change your network provider, or your broadband service is unreliable, is a moot point.)

In the real world, there are two obvious scenarios for the connected household: first, using your phone, tablet, or dedicated interface/hub in the home to control a household of smart devices centrally and holistically – which will have positive impacts for energy efficiency, sustainability, and so on. And second, using the mobile network to control a home remotely, perhaps with customizable presets, such as ‘holiday’, ‘winter’, and so on. Clearly, the stress points will be where these two use cases meet.

(And there are other emerging scenarios: environments that learn individual preferences for temperature, light, air con, and so on. Meanwhile, several car manufacturers are experimenting with cars that remember individual users, and automatically adjust steering and seats.)

At those crunch points between the broadband/wi-fi and mobile networks – and between operating systems and cloud platforms – interoperability and security will be the keys. Logic suggests that any provider that has a foot in both ISP and mobile network camps will have the advantage – although the potential for cartels of partners to force consumers to buy certain products, peripherals and parts to support and maintain a branded version of the connected home must be a serious risk.

The home IoT gateway market is expanding rapidly, says Gartner, whose figures claim that the number of smart connected homes is expected to grow from between 100 million and 200 million homes today to between 500 million and 700 million homes by 2020.

The problem is that it doesn’t say what it means by ‘smart connected homes’, which could mean any household that already has a smart TV, for example. Nearly every statistic that has been published – by any analyst firm – about the predicted uptake of the IoT has either been vague, deeply flawed, or wildly optimistic (and proved wrong).

Gartner says:

The lack of a good business model or the immaturity of home IoT products has not stopped gateway makers from trying to develop the market to grab share in the home IoT opportunity. Cable companies, Internet companies, alarm companies and mobile phone operating system providers are actively creating platforms and ecosystems in an attempt to break into the market.

But that’s not all: also in play are network equipment suppliers, such as Cisco – which is betting a chunk of its business on a new suite of IoT products – and major IT services companies, such as IBM.

But while Big Blue might be a fan of smart cities, it has some major issues with the smart home and smart office. As previously reported by diginomica, 2014 IBM research found that a smart vehicle’s brakes could easily be disabled using a modified MP3 file, while an office’s HVAC systems were disabled by entering through an insecure smart light bulb, through which the white hats were able to determine all of a building’s wi-fi logins and passwords.

My take

Gartner predicts that the most successful home gateway provider will develop a system that seamlessly integrates with nearly any vendor’s IoT application and is relatively painless to the homeowner – painless presumably meaning simple, intuitive, and (hopefully) secure. And with the IoT, security doesn’t mean securing the smart device from a compromised network, it means securing a network from a compromised smart device.