Friday, January 9, 2015

The Internet of Things Explained

It's one of the hottest growing trends in consumer tech, and yet the term used to describe it is confusing yet equally all-encompassing. It's been a major topic at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it's becoming a device category that will become more and more talked about in the coming months. What does it really mean to understand the Internet of Things? What exactly is the Internet of Things?
Whenever a tech news site refers to the Internet of Things, or IoT, they are referring to devices that are connected to the Internet and controlled by the homeowner for a variety of purposes. Usually, the most common IoT devices will include security cameras or motion detectors, though IoT devices have expanded to include refrigerators, A/C systems, and lightbulbs. More oft than not, these devices will be connected via a home Wi-Fi network and have the capability to talk to each other in many cases. But they don't always just talk aimlessly over the network; they usually require a hub that talks using codecs like Zigbee or Z-Wave. In short, the hub connects everything in the home and acts as a unified front to viewing and controlling the connected devices.

A variety of manufacturers are in the IoT category already, like Samsung, Belkin, and Dropcam. All manufacturers have their pros and cons: a camera downfall here or a streaming strength there, maybe it doesn't look that great or isn't discrete enough...I could go on.

IoT devices do, however, have one thing in common: the goal of making the automated home more affordable and user-friendly and, thus, more mainstream.

This is an example of an IoT camera from Foscam (photo cred:

Take, for example, this home security system from The Home Depot that costs $1500. How many people are going to be able to afford this or understand how to set it up? The answer is going to be not many. Compare that to this camera at $74. This is more affordable and more ideal for lower- or middle-class households who want to secure their home, and while it doesn't quite have that "wow factor" of the more expensive one, it's just as practical for not even a tenth of the cost.

There is, however, the other side of IoT devices. Unsecured home networks can be easily hacked. Without the proper protections, like firewalls and even a strong password, the network can be hacked. Your coffeepot could explode from overheating, your washing machine bricked and flooding, all from a few malicious strings of computer code. Even worse, your location could be determined and even more serious crimes could be committed against you or your family. If you want the home to be connected, you need the proper protection.

In all, IoT devices are a great thing, but like all things with the Internet, be careful and have proper protections!


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