The hype about internet-connected fridges was the first misstep toward the Internet of Things, but the reality today is that internet-connection homes are now on the cusp of intrusion and convenience, says Monty Munford
The 1960 West German black and white film, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse is a classic of its time, a world where a bogeyman haunts the film’s characters because of the protagonist’s shadowy existence. Who is Dr Mabuse? Where is Dr Mabuse? What does Dr Mabuse do?
In this case he bedevils the Hotel Luxor, where every room can be spied on after the Nazis had previously rigged it with cameras and listening devices in World War II. Dr Mabuse has the data, so Dr Mabuse becomes a type of God.
We are all familiar with such dystopias and the more populist works of George Orwell’s 1984 and The Truman Show. These are different type of ideas, but have one thing in common; they show how humanity’s future will involve some form of surveillance, either by a malign Government or a twisted TV network.
There are many movies that show our paranoia about such fears. Films where our every movement is scanned and scrutinised, our data pored over and not just in public or in hotels such as the Hotel Luxor, but in the final bastion; our homes and personal space.
So, Google ’s acquisition, or more correctly its acquired company Nest’s acquisition, of Dropcam for a reported $555 million last month set off all types of (home?) alarms for those unsettled by the prospect of ubiquitous surveillance in the home.
For those who should know better, Dropcam is a home monitoring camera startup and Nest is a maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors; the latter having been bought earlier this year by Google for $3.2 billion. Both businesses are in the cloud, as we all are nowadays and both businesses are a natural, domestic fit.
Whether it’s Glasses or Cars or Balloons or Homes, Google may be becoming a 21st Century Dr Mabuse; here and there and everywhere. The company’s mantra of Do No Evil appears to be a strapline to distract up from its ultimate maleficent plan, or so would the conspiracy theorists have us believe.
The hugely overarching narrative of this New Reality is the incoming revolution also known as the IoT… the Internet of Things. This future is one that is oft-discussed, but nobody yet knows how exactly that is going to impact on us, but the one certainty is that it will be momentous.
Google’s move into the home, as illustrated by the gradual and granular acquisitions of Next and Dropcam, is effectively one of the first IoT plays. Even though the company does not have a particularly perfect record in acquisitions, this strategy seems sensible, even though there is more than a touch of creepiness about how much this New Dr Mabuse will know about us.
In the UK, the phrase ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’ is one that resonates strongly in a country where Thomas Paine wrote the seminal tract The Rights Of Man. In recent years, however, public opposition to domestic intrusion has receded especially in light of wider bailiff powers to enter and seize goods. Even so Google still has a huge job to manage in light of this acquisition.
King Canute couldn’t turn back the tide, the Luddites couldn’t set fire to everything and the Internet of The Home (IoTH) is another phenomenon that cannot be stopped, but this is a huge challenge for Google and especially the service designers they work with.
“Design is a key factor for people to understand and navigate the connected home. Service designers look at the sum of a user’s interaction with products and services and not singular services. Companies that think beyond one product or service and think about the whole home will be successful in this space, so Google and Nest, with their open platform mentality, are well placed to do this.
“But they must watch what people fear; security and safety. They have to ensure that products and services are designed beautifully, yet simply. Nest nailed it, how can this translate across entire spaces? And how can products and services be successful for the mix of people that occupy four walls?”, said Matt Farrar, Co-Founder of design agency Great Fridays.
Nest was indeed smart, it went to market with a clear business model, not a ‘we will connect all of your home’ story and the Dropcam acquisition grows out this strategy intelligently based on the cloud; this is much smarter than the hackneyed IoT fridge that we have heard too much about over the years.
The likelihood is that other domestic businesses are also ripe for acquisition; the wonderful internet-sourced music wi-fi system, Sonos would be another perfect and natural match for Google’s move into the home and there is likely to be much convergence in this space as others scramble for market share.
The challenge now for service designers is to design IoT and IoTH products that look and feel benign to homeowners and not set off anti-emotions because of domestic infringement. They also need to be efficient and good-looking and ready to change as the IoTH business changes… and that change will be even more rapid in the future
Dr Mabuse may linger in the background with his thousand eyes and so will Google and its possible ability to do evil in spite of its mantra, but service design has a chance to save this particular world and if it starts doing it now, then the connected home should be a better and safer place to live.