Security and compatibility hurdles hold back smart home appliances in UAE, say retailers

Security concerns and compatibility of different platforms are obstacles to the mass take-up of connected devices in the home, UAE retailers said.

Currently, the success of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been limited to applications in the health and defence sectors even as Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and other large tech companies develop new uses and applications for connected devices.

In the US, the online retailer Amazon has teamed up with appliance makers to launch an electronic “button” called Dash, hoping to get consumers excited about their Whirlpool washing machine’s ability to independently buy more detergent when running low.

At the Gitex shopper event in Dubai last month, vendors displayed lifestyle products for the first time, hoping to tap into the potential retail trend.

Makook, a smart living platform, held its global launch at the event, hoping to spark consumer interest in the technology.


“We have launched a box that can talk to most other devices in your home regardless of the platform they run on,” said John Larson, product director of content for Makook.

At a cost of about Dh99 per month depending on the package, the service offers movies, music and entertainment, he said. Cameras hooked up throughout the home can be accessed from mobile devices.

“That may be a baby monitor while the babysitter is there, or you can alter the lights or the AC when you need to. The fridge will order the milk through our box as soon as they invent that fridge,” said Mr Larson.

According to Megha Kumar, senior research manager, IDC MEA, security will be the most critical issue regarding connected devices in the home.

“However, there are other issues that organisations and governments will need to deal with such as the amount of data being generated,” said Ms Kumar. “Imagine the data growth and the investments that will need to be made around data privacy. Will organisations have all the necessary infrastructure in place to deal with this kind of information and of course relevancy? What are you going to do with this data?”

Ashish Panjabi, chief operating officer at the retailer Jacky’s Electronics, said that it would be two years before the technology was ready for the mass consumer market.

“Open systems cannot be defended adequately yet. I think there will be a lot of upgrades needed to ensure the security of the devices,” he said. “The days when your fridge realises that you need milk and then orders it for you is still some way off.”

Culture is also an issue, according to Mr Panjabi.

“IoT requires openness from its users,” he said. “Millennials who are happy to live their life on Facebook and other social media may not even consider the information that will be in the public domain but other generations may not be so willing to have information out there.”

Compatibility is also a potential hurdle for consumers grappling with a wide number of brands on the market.

“The biggest problem is the single operating system against multiple gadgets,” said Neelesh Bhatnagar, chief executive of the retailer Emax. “We are closely monitoring the situation with IoT and it is part of our strategic planning to accommodate those trends as soon as they can become part of our eco-system. It is definitely not a gimmick, it will be here sooner than you think.”

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