They Lied to Us

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They promised us the future, but it’s not there yet. Why won’t my devices work as I imagine they should?

Okay, fair enough.

But still you get the feeling that they promised the future to us, and then we got shortchanged.

I have these Philips Hue bulbs.

They change colour and they are connected to the internet and you can use Apple’s Siri to command them.

Except that fails in one of ten times and suddenly some bulbs are still burning, and Siri tells me that “Something went wrong” or sometimes says nothing at all.

So what’s the point

when you have to go and check for yourself everytime you pushed a button to see whether that button actually had any effect? They promised us the possibility to turn on and off the light from around the globe, no matter where you are, but can you do that when you have to visually check whether it worked?

You’re better off using a mechanical lightswitch – which have a failure rate of somewhere pretty close to 0%.

If Apple and Philips want to improve on that design, they need to get that failure rate, otherwise all I get with those bulbs are some difficult to handle LEDs.

I have this Hello Sense sleep tracking device.

It has sensors for brightness and temperature and humidity and noise and air purity and can tell me wether I snore or talk in my sleep or have too high a temperature in my room at night or too much light.

And it knows when I’m supposed to get up.

But what’s the point

when that device just knows it’s too hot in my room, but won’t do anything against it (like turning on a fan)?

What’s the point when that device knows when I have to get up, but isn’t able to turn on those fancy, internet-connected Philips Hue bulbs that promise to wake you gently by slowly getting brighter?

It’s nice, it tells me how well I slept (maybe I could decided that on my own, but … less mental load in the morning), but as long as it doesn’t do anything more, it’s like the one guy in the room not getting it and stating the obvious.

 I have this Atlas fitness wristband

It has tons of motion sensors and a heart rate sensor and it is supposed to be able to recognise the exercises and count the repetitions you do.

But what’s the point

when this recognition only works in 3 out of 5 cases? (And that’s being generous.)

What’s the point if you have to count the repetitions yourself in order to correct the device when you’re done? (You could just use paper and a pencil, that’s what.)

What’s the point when you can’t add the exercises it completely missed on your own?

What’s the point when Atlas claims that they built-in an ultra-precise heart rate sensor, but don’t provide this data to other apps (like Strava or Nike Running) to use, via the iOS Health app?

What’s the point when all that data this devices gathers is just siphoned into yet another stand-alone app and has to be duplicated manually into Fitocracy or Runkeeper or whatever else you use if you want to have the slightest chance to actually do something with this data?

You end up with a pretty expensive, but ultimately useless chunk of plastic, that’s what. Sustainability is something else.

The problem is that all these devices live in their very own, tiny slivers of reality.

Just because every company claims that they produce “connected” devices does not mean that they are actually connected. Connecting things to the internet is easy.

Grab a Raspberry Pi and you’re there.

Getting these devices to talk to each other, that’s the point.

Getting these devices to make things easier, that was the point.

Making these devices resilient to failures, that would be the point.

Making these devices not fail, as good as the mechanical-electrical devices we are used to, so that you don’t have to double-check and clean up after them, that should be the goal.

We’re not there yet.

They promised us the future, but it’s still a long way to go.

And sometimes I’m not sure that these companies actually want to go there. Because, clearly, just pretending to sell the future is a lot cheaper than actually delivering it.