The Downfall of the Smart Appliance

As technology progresses at an ever-increasing exponential rate, we will realize that “smart” devices that integrate with current ones will age at a similar faster rate than their “dumb” counterparts. Many appliances in my house have not been replaced since its construction, for instance: AC/Heating units, thermostats, ovens, stoves, showers, plumbing, and many other items are still the way they were when they were built almost 20 years ago. However, the televisions, sound systems, video game systems, and computers have been replaced quite often over the years, perhaps the computers most often.

The products that have existed in my home since its construction all have one thing in common: they operate on their own and do not interfere with other items in my house. In today’s lingo, they are “dumb.” Seemingly obsolete. They are not dumb, however; they are actually quite clever.

In integrating modern technology into common and oft-used appliances, we set a date in the near future where such an item will be outdated and in need of replacement to run. For example, when Apple changed from the 32-pin connector to the lightning one, nearly all iPod and iPhone docks became dated. Yes, one could attach an adapter, but eventually these things moved on, and those old docks were no longer useful to us. Our CD players and Walkmans are gone, replaced by our iPhones and tablets. The same will happen to our “smart” appliances. “Smart” thermostats will leave incompatible phones in the dust, and when wireless connectivity technology evolves beyond its current state, those connective thermostats and other devices will be left behind too. This is natural given rapid progress we see in the technology sector.

No matter how “new” an appliance is, its usefulness stretches only as far as its most obsolete component.

Imagine, if you will, that your thermostat today was dependent upon an Apple Newton. That would be silly, but the Newton was still revolutionary for its time. So is the iPhone, and so are the many “smart” appliances we are seeing at CES this week. The “smart” hardware that many developers are boasting about will exist on appliances that have a lifespan of over two decades but are built on technology that has a much, much shorter shelf-life. The connectivity standard of Bluetooth has been updated 10 times since 1994, each update leaving older devices and older hardware in the dust. All phones became obsolete when the 3G data standard was set, then 4G, then LTE, and soon there will be a newer and faster radio to replace that. New Macs were required to use the AirPlay standard, then even newer ones were required to use AirPlay’s display mirroring features. The point is that no matter how “new” an appliance is, its usefulness stretches only as far as its most obsolete component.

This is why this:


or this:

Honeywell Thermostat RTH7600.jpg

will always be more effective than this:


Notice that the Nest unit itself underwent some changes. The software must be updated and the hardware must also be updated to add newer features and connectivity to the device. This is a problem that makes devices such as these more of a hassle to use: they are not plug-and-play solutions; they are digital hassles to setup that need constant maintenance. Notwithstanding privacy concerns, the time and energy spent fussing with so-called “smart” devices is nonexistent with the older counterparts. The older devices, which have served me for nearly twenty years, are self-sufficient; they do not require an outside influence to work.

A Nest, or any other “smart” device, does not simply exist on its own.

This is what separates them from newer, faster-aging technology. A Nest, or any other “smart” device, does not simply exist on its own. It needs external support, which is what will be the downfall of the “smart” appliance industry.

Further, this necessity to yearly upgrade hardware or software (a pattern inspired, it seems, by Apple) burdens the user with yet another product cycle to pay attention to and another device to fix when network problems arise. “Smart” appliances are another software update to install and another security flaw to be exploited. They cause more network hassle, higher cost, increased energy wasted in setup, and as a result general loss in overall productivity.

Keep your home safe, private, and secure. Make the smart decision, use dumb technology.