Make gadgets great again

Make gadgets great again

By Geoffrey A. Fowler, Washington Post

Updated 2:26 pm, Friday, January 12, 2018

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An awaited is a mobile device during a power outage at the CES technology event in Las Vegas this past week. Many products at this point have been previously unimagined moments of your life with additional stimulation. less
An awaited is a mobile device during a power outage at the CES technology event in Las Vegas this past week. Many products at this time … more
Photo: David Paul Morris

LAS VEGAS, NV – JANUARY 11: Looked at the Yamaha Motobot, an autonomous motorcycle-riding humanoid robot, at the Yamaha booth during CES 2018 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 11, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 12 and features about 3,900 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 170,000 expected. (Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images) less
LAS VEGAS, NV – JANUARY 11: Let’s look at the Yamaha Motobot, an autonomous motorcycle-riding humanoid robot, at the Yamaha booth during CES 2018 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 11, 2018 in … more
Photo: Ethan Miller, Staff

LAS VEGAS – A sad cycle has overtaken the gadget business. It started this week at CES, the biggest annual convention, where inventors compete to connect the most random things to the internet. This year’s “smart” stuff includes pillows, air fresheners and even toilets.

A few months from now we’ll see different headlines: That smart thing you’re buying is actually spying on you. (You can learn a lot about your body.) Sooner or later, the story gets worse: Your smart thing has been hacked.

That will inevitably be followed by: Your smart thing is getting dust in the attic.

Gadgets are broken. That’s the chorus I heard on repeat of exhibitors and longtime tech followers who also went on a dreary hunt for big ideas at this year’s CES. There’s little reason to be jealous of the 2018 crop of TVs, self-driving cars are a way off and artificial intelligence still has to mature. The best moment at CES came Wednesday when the power went out for two hours and folks had to go sit in the sun.

Silicon Valley’s distrust

The Consumer Technology Association estimates Americans will buy 715 million connected tech products in 2018. Too many of them create more problems than they solve. A tide of distrust for Silicon Valley is sweeping over a lot of us who have a smartphone near it’s worry it’s ruining our lives.

Exploring the CES floor and listening to the keynote presentations, I noticed some patterns for where gadget makers get off track – and a few ideas that I think could make their products better.

Here are four ways to make gadgets great again:

Respect our time

There are still just 24 hours in a day, but you would not think so much about the effects of your life with additional stimulation. Talking glasses? How about a giant touchscreen fridge? Samsung, one of the world’s largest makers of screens, shows a video of its keynote to a child in front of a camera. He goes unstimulated for less than a second.

Here’s a rule of thumb: Before making a product, ask yourself: What would the “Black Mirror” episode about this tech be?

Apple is not immune. Two of its largest investors published an unpublished public plea to Apple’s board this month to the “addictive” effects of the iPhone on children. That’s a huge issue, but I’d like to say that: How do we have experienced the phenomenon of picking up a message and finding ourselves sucked into a vortex of distraction? Before you realize it, you’re reading the Wikipedia page on Gal Gadot and can not remember why you picked up the phone in the first place.

We will be happy to help you find your way to marketers. But I’m going to hear from you, but rather help you spend your time better. Automakers are developing the software to not only shut down our phones while we’re driving, but intelligently respond to the incoming messages and calls. And Samsung has come soon to a new “Thrive” app, developed with Ariana Huffington, which helps people disconnect from their phones.

Security is not our job

When I buy a car, I do not have to buy my belts and bumpers on my own – I trust the automaker took care of making it safe. But the electronics industry puts the responsibility for security largely on us, selling it too many smart products that are the equivalent of zero-star safety ratings. The past few years have brought you nightmare after nightmare about hacked gadgets, such as toys and television.

Connecting anything to the Internet comes with risk. But there are some things that can be done by hacker hacking, such as offering over-the-air software updates, ethical hacking tests and requiring strong passwords. Do not worry about this: Do you have a connected toilet, why do you need to log in every time I flush? And who are you sharing that data with?

America lags Europe in regulations protecting consumer data, but some companies are starting to wise up. Samsung said it would be its next generation of connected appliances. And there’s a glimmer of hope in a small but growing business. These products, such as Bitdefender Box, Dojo by Bullguard, Cujo and the Norton Core look for unusual patterns in your home network. I hope we’ll see these kinds of capabilities built into more home Wi-Fi routers.

Service, not things

Putting a refrigerator on the Internet is not useful – it’s just more expensive. What is useful: a fridge that’s always fresh, because it’s more when you’re low. Tech companies are focused on adding “Internet of Things” (aka IoT) to more things, to more people in the world. For that we need an “Internet of Services.”

Smart door locks are headed in this direction. One brand called August Delivered Deliv. It would be possible to participate in retailers to drop the products right inside your door.

Home security is an even better example. The company ADT recently opened up its home-monitoring service to DIY products from smart things instead of just the ones it sells itself. So, what do you have to know about smoke alarms, where do you get paid? Of course, this one must be able to talk to one another – or at least, to ADT. Why can not we get connected?

Do not lock us in

Amazon and Google had an outsider presence at CES even though they introduced few products of their own. They were here working on persuading gadget makers to build their talking tech. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.) It’s land grab for even more valuable data about how we live in our homes.

It’s also an effort to force us to be loyal. You might be fond of Alexa, but do you really want to build her into your house? (Amazon took a wrong turn on this road with Amazon Key in-home delivery service that locks you into a relationship with the retailer.) And what happens if another product that only works with Siri? I’ve got four different talking assistants on various devices in my house, but unfortunately my virtual staff does not communicate well with each other.

I was happy to see some gadgets at CES trying to stay neutral. The connected toilet from Kohler? It will work with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. That’s progress.

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