Walk into any appliance or home store, and you are going to find that just about everything that can be plugged into an outlet can also be connected to the internet. IoT connected devices from refrigerators and stoves to slow cookers and toasters, everything has an app, and allows you to access or control it using a mobile device.

IoT Connected Devices

While there is a certain “wow factor” to connected appliances, there is still some question about “why factor” for many of them. In other words, just because you can connect your slow cooker to the internet, do you really need to — or should you even do it? For instance, the newest generation of stoves allows you to turn the appliance on right from your smartphone, theoretically allowing you to preheat the oven for dinner while you’re on the way home.

Connected devices

Yet many people actually have anxiety about accidentally leaving the oven on when they leave the house and causing a fire. So, while an internet-connected stove technically allows you to confirm that you didn’t leave it on when you left for work, it’s unlikely that many people will turn the appliance on when they aren’t home.

This isn’t to say that all connected appliances are not useful. Some devices, like internet-connected thermostats, have already saved homeowners and businesses millions of dollars in energy costs. However, for every useful device, there is another (or 10) that are perhaps not as well thought out.

What Makes an Internet of Things Device Useful?

Everyone has their own definition of useful. A feature that one family finds indispensable, another might wonder about why it was even included. However, based on reviews and discussions of IoT connected devices, the following are features that make a smart appliance appealing, and not just “cool.”

Limited interaction required.

Many IoT devices still require you to do something for it to work. For example, a smart washing machine might notify you that the load is done, but you still need to transfer the wet laundry to the dryer yourself. You might be able to remotely program your slow cooker to the “warm” setting if you are going to be late, but that doesn’t guarantee that your food is cooked — or not burned — since you need to visually check the food for doneness. Ideally, then, a smart device should be useful in the sense that it limits the need for interaction, and doesn’t simply replace a task that was easily done before.

The connectivity solves a problem.

One reason that smart refrigerators are so popular is that they help solve problems: You can check the inside the fridge from the grocery store to see what you need to buy, add items to a list that’s automatically sent to your phone, and even automatically notify you if you’re out of staples by using weight sensors. These are features that make life easier and solve a common problem. However, if a device doesn’t solve a problem, it may not be worth the investment.

The connection is simple.

A common complaint about IoT connected devices is that they tend to use different proprietary types of communication, which don’t necessarily communicate with each other. This usually means that users must download multiple apps. There are tools that developers can use to ease this problem, like unified communications platforms like ZigBee and the use of PIC maps to choose the right microcontrollers that will be compatible with IoT hubs, but not all devices use them.

Electric mug

The connection is secure.

IoT devices are constantly collecting information — a lot of information. And as recent cyberattacks have proven, unsecured IoT devices can lead to catastrophic results. While on the surface, an attack on your garage door opener seems unlikely — and not something to worry about — the fact is that device can serve as a portal for hackers to access larger targets or even as a conduit for a large-scale attack. Security has become a bigger priority for IoT developers, but the risks have many homeowners questioning whether the rewards are worthwhile.

The technology is cost effective.

Finally, adding connectivity to common devices increases the cost. In the case of some devices, like connected thermostats, that cost is easily made up through energy bill savings. But is it worth paying more for a connected device that doesn’t save time or money in the long run? That’s a big question on many consumers’ minds, and one that IoT developers need to consider.

At the end of the day, the IoT isn’t going anywhere. It’s likely that within a few years, technology will have progressed to the point where we don’t even question whether something needs to be connected or not. For now, though, while everything is still relatively new, it’s important to think about how useful, cost effective, and secure the technology is before making a major investment.