Surprise, surprise: Smart Appliances are a stupid idea


Really, who could have imagined it?

Surprise, surprise: Smart Appliances are a stupid idea /img/dumb-appliances.jpg

The least unexpected news of the year (so far) is the warning, from a UK consumer group, that Smart appliances may not be worth money in long run, because:

  • “If software is not kept up-to-date, items can lose functionality and become a security risk”
  • Expensive smart fridges, dishwashers, dryers (together with every other kind of “smart” consumer product, of course!!!) could, in some cases, “be rendered obsolete after as little as two years”

How can this possibly be “news”?

Which guarantees have you ever had, since the advent of software, that your home computer, smartphone, email software, gaming console… would continue to work for five or ten years? Why would appliances be different? How could they possibly be?

Everybody should have realized years ago that every consumer product for the masses of any kind has those same issues, as long as it runs software. Especially if it is secret, proprietary software that nobody can legally study, modify and redistribute except the original manufacturer.

Please learn to recognize meaningless guarantees

The consumer group that issued that really (theoretically, of course) superfluous warning points out that “a new sales of goods directive from the EU would force manufacturers to state upfront how long products would be updated for”.

But the truth is that directives like those would give very little real protection to consumers. Because if a manufacturer went out of business:

  • before that “guaranteed update period”, but
  • without having already reorganized all its internal processes and legal obligations in ways that would guarantee immediate, total, unrestricted publication and reuse of all the software of those products…

… the purchasers of the same products would still find themselves with a very dumb, very expensive paperweight in their homes, and no legal, realistic way to get software updates from any other provider. They may, therefore, still find themselves forced to throw away many pounds of perfectly working metal, and highly polluting plastics or other chemical substances, only because they cannot load the right bits of software instructions anymore.

And please only buy REALLY “smart” appliances

“Smart” appliances cost their “smart” purchasers hundreds of Euros, pounds or dollars more than “non-smart” ones. But they are everything but smart, and often for no concrete reason at all. Many “smart” appliances should not be manufactured at all. Sometimes, they would be way smarter if they returned to not run any software at all. In any case, take inspiration from this open appliance project, or really modern tractors.

(This post was drafted in June 2020, but only put online in August, because… my coronavirus reports, of course)

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