More Updates Everywhere

The less-obvious side of the IoT is about to bite everyone.


Being connected to everything has its pros and cons. On the plus side, you’ll probably have far fewer of those moments when you forget something, can’t get in touch with someone, or can’t find what you’re looking for. On the downside, you’ll be in an always-on world, and all the other people you’ve reached out to can also reach out back to you.

This extends well beyond just person-to-person interactions, as well. Cars will become safer because they’ll be able to sense movement or fixed objects around them, but insurance companies will know more about your driving habits. Crime will go up in the highly impersonal online world, but it probably will go down on the street. And lawyers will have a field day mining information rather than deposing people.

But one thing that isn’t so obvious is that the IoT has to stay in sync for it to work. In the course of a number of interviews over the past few weeks, engineers complained to Semiconductor Engineering that an update in the smart phone operating system meant that their car infotainment systems no longer recognized the automatic music and call lists on their phones. An update in the phone OS could be done anywhere there was a WiFi connection, but the car update required a visit to the dealer for a software upgrade in the infotainment system. Most of these cars were less than six months old, too, and most of them were pricey, high-performance luxury vehicles—the kind that engineers like to drive.

In the world of iOS and Android, you can do over-the-air updates the way your computer does, but even those require powering up and down the devices and logging back in. When you have one or two devices, that’s not so much of a problem. Imagine doing that for dozens of devices. And then imagine that one of the critical devices in your home network doesn’t update, which is what happened with the cars and phones.

This is a glimpse into a less obvious side of the IoT, and it’s a problem because companies tend to think in terms of updates of their own products. It allows them to be nimble and to quickly fix issues, such as poor performance or burning too much power. But as the IoT gets rolling, these updates are likely to affect other connected devices, which will require their own updates. And because companies don’t always have schedules for these updates—sometimes they won’t even admit they have problems and need updates—the whole interconnected system can easily fall out of sync.

For the IoT to function seamlessly, this kind of ecosystem approach to updates needs to be understood and managed flawlessly. If the frustration of expensive car buyers is any indication, it will have to be implemented quickly, too. New technology is cool, but if it doesn’t work properly the cool factor quickly evaporates and gets replaced by enraged consumers who will scream loudly first, then look for other alternatives. They might even take the bus and bring along a book.

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