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The Internet of Things will be more of the same in 2016

Everything still needs an app.

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Despite analyst expectations that the so-called Internet of Things will generate as much as $1.2 billion in 2016, the Internet of Things appears to be continuing the same shark-jumping trajectory that we saw at last year's CES. Sure, there have been some rather unique and innovative IoT inventions over the past year, but most manufacturers seem to be content with simply slapping a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radio onto existing products and calling it a mobile revolution. When it comes to crafting a connected home, IoT remains mired in smart light bulbs, net-connected cameras and wireless speakers. You know, the same sorts of bland, iterative use cases we've been seeing since the term was first coined.

Now, that's not to say that bland is inherently bad -- more that it's just rather lazy. For example, when the Philips Hue first debuted a few years ago, it generated a well-deserved stir because of its unique approach to home lighting. This year at CES, everyone and his brother was hawking color-changing WiFi lights. The South Hall was chock-full of them. The same can be said for most any smart appliance, be it a Bluetooth deadbolt for your front door, a WiFi-enabled refrigerator or a remotely controlled coffee maker. It's like manufacturers are more concerned with getting a piece of the existing IoT pie by smashing two existing products together and slapping a WiFi radio onto the result than they are with baking a new one.

Take the Netatmo Presence outdoor security camera. Granted, its ability to distinguish among animals, cars and burglars certainly earned it a spot as an Engadget Best of CES contender. But at its heart, the Presence is still just a motion-activated security camera with an attached flood light. There's nothing revolutionary about that. And revolutionary is what I keep hoping for. The same goes for the Ring door security camera. There are already tons of wireless outdoor cameras on the market. Why invent yet another one?

That said, iterative improvements aren't a bad thing. Samsung's announcement that it is partnering with Microsoft to develop an IoT platform compatible with Windows 10 is great news for anyone using that operating system. LG's and Samsung's efforts to finally improve upon the current laughably weak security of IoT network hubs is similarly commendable. Then you also have the Samsung flat screen that does away with hubs altogether or the Amazon Echo's newest trick: talking to your car. They're all good, necessary advancements to be sure, but great googly moogly it's uninspiring.

Unfortunately, novel IoT devices remain excruciatingly few and far between. We've seen a few recently, including the Droppler water monitor that not only listens for running taps and toilets but also can be reassembled into a home security camera or wireless speaker. There's also the Owlet smart baby monitor, which lets already sleep-deprived and frazzled parents check on their infants without disturbing them.

Then there are some IoT products that probably shouldn't even exist in the first place. Yes, I'm looking at you, "smart" home pregnancy test. Justify your existence. Go ahead, we'll wait. There's also the 4Mom's self-installing child car seat. It's not as offensive as the home pregnancy test, but, c'mon, you've already schlepped the seat out of the garage, placed it on the seat and anchored it. Do you really need to then pull out your phone and launch an app to level and tension it? I mean, you're already right there.

Really, that's my main issue with a lot of these devices. Manufacturers will digitize a physical process simply for the sake of digitizing it, not to make the process easier or faster for the user. Yeah, it's cool that I can turn on the Hue lights in my San Francisco apartment from Las Vegas, but I still spend an inordinate amount of time troubleshooting the system when all I genuinely need is a light switch. I need a fridge to keep my food cold, not tell me whether I'm out of milk when I'm at the office. That's what personal responsibility is for.

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