Both Honeywell and Amazon, two of the largest companies dominating the smart home space, experienced outages last week.
Honeywell’s smart thermostats faced a server shut down on September 25th. The device was still operable physically, but was unable to be controlled remotely from Honeywell’s mobile app—the key benefit of connected home devices.
One day later, on September 26th, Amazon Alexa was down across Europe in several countries including Germany, Spain and parts of the United Kingdom. The devices were unresponsive for at least six hours with Alexa’s only message being “Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding right now. Please try again later.”
The recent events highlight the unavoidable vulnerability of internet-connected devices: their dependence on a functional internet connection. If a server drops out, their usability is compromised along with other potential problems and even health risks. Customers with a smart thermostat, for instance, could run into issues with elderly residents or pets who are sensitive to temperature changes. Additionally, customers with mobility restrictions who rely on voice commands face higher dependence on remote features.
Both disruptions come just weeks after Google Assistant endured some operating shortfalls earlier this month. Unprompted, the device would switch languages and stopped responding to the command “Ok Google.” Although Google’s problem seems to have been more of a software issue rather than a connectivity issue, the incident flags another window for inconsistency that even the major players are unable to avoid.
In all three cases, users were offended by the lack of communication from the companies during the disruptions. Many customers expressed frustration, pointing out that the issues were the responsibility of the company. The risks are only going to elevate as these companies expand the breadth of their connected home devices. Amazon for example, recently rolled out a number of other Alexa-enabled gadgets including plugs and a microwave.
Consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on these products to manage aspects of their personal lifestyle and household, so it’s not surprising that they turn to the companies for answers when problems arise. The prevalence of smart-home devices may be paralleled with the expectation that corporations share some social responsibility and ownership when the underperformance of their products bring real consequences for consumers.
Featured image courtesy of Amazon