Don’t Confuse “Smart” with “Connected”

The tech industry must do better; Consumers deserve it.

In my first day at CES this year, I lost track of the number of devices claiming to be “smart.”

There were smart locks, smart shoes, smart umbrellas, smart watches, and showers and rings and pants and on and on. Most of the time, the devices were controlled by a smartphone app or, in some cases, by a voice command.

Just to be clear, this should not be how we define “smart.” This is a connected device that only works or adds value if you fiddle with it.

For the past few years I’ve been on somewhat of a crusade to change what people think of as “smart” in the IoT space. At Stack, we define smart as a device that just works intuitively, without any work at all on your part. A device that does some of the thinking for you. A truly smart device disappears, not literally, but because you cease to notice it. It works in the background, like the electrical system does in your home or like the Internet does to enable you to watch your Uber approach.

What made CES 2016 stand out for me was how many devices, some even in their second or third iterations, still claim to be “smart” but aren’t anything more than connected. For example, some Bluetooth enabled “smart shoes” claim to keep your feet warm in the winter, but you’ll spend $400 and still have to control this feature through your smartphone.

Luckily, some companies are creating genuinely smarter products. As market researcher Parker Insights recently noted, August’s Smart Lock “automatically orders fresh batteries using Amazon’s Dash technology when it senses low battery power and P&G’s Febreze Home smart air freshener disburses scent when your Nest tells it that the air conditioner’s fan is on.”

Those are devices that automatically do what their owners want them to do. As a result, your smart lock won’t go dead and your air won’t get stale. You may not notice it every time, but you’ll enjoy the benefits of the technology. That is smart.

Nest clearly has a vision for what it means to have smart devices in what they call a “mindful” home. That’s why Stack is part of the Works with Nest program. With the sensors in our bulbs and Nest’s thermostat, your thermostat will actually be better at determining when someone is home, where they are in the home, and what temperature is right for that area, without you having to do anything.

As an industry, however, we have a long way to go. Rather than overhype devices as “smart,” we need to invest what’s needed to get them there. Consumers will demand that or, eventually, they’ll walk away, fatigued, and we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

Predictions abound for IoT to include billions of connected devices by 2020. Let’s aim to have most of those truly smart — and not just smartly packaged.

Neil Joseph is the Founder and CEO of Stack Lighting. Stack creates responsive light solutions like bulbs and fixtures that have embedded sensors. Each bulb responds automatically to its environment, maintaining the ideal level and color-temperature of light, promoting optimal health while maximizing energy savings.