As our world becomes increasingly connected more devices are becoming “smart.” We have 5G smartphones and LTE-enabled tablets, but also smart refrigerators, smart toasters, and smart lightbulbs. That’s fine, but the issue some people have is that these connected offerings are becoming the only option available.
Case In Point
Today, in 2021, try to buy an 4K non-smart television. You are going to have a lot of trouble doing this because they essentially don’t exist.
What is logically two separate categories of products — high-end 4K televisions and smart televisions with built-in Amazon Alexa, and an app ecosystem — have become a single product.
What if you don’t want a smart TV? Then you simply can’t have a high-end television. Sure you can try to buy a commercial display or use a computer monitor or do something like that as a work around, but essentially no one makes a television to fit your needs.
Is It Really A Problem?
This lack of choice might seem like an edge case and harmless enough in totality. It’s just a television, right? But let’s dig into a few points.
First of all, the lack of choice is troubling. What if you want a Samsung TV but don’t want Samsung’s app ecosystem? This is relatively minor. You can’t buy an iPhone with Android OS after all.
Next, what if you don’t want apps on your TV at all? Sure, some people say you can just not connect the TV your WiFi, but it’s not this simple. How long until the TV won’t work without an internet connection? Also, some televisions have been known to automatically connect to open WiFi networks. And Amazon Sidewalk will have internet-connected devices share their WiFi with each other, in a sort of Amazon-specific mesh network that will let your Amazon products become connected simply by being in proximity to other people’s products.
So that lack of choice is actually more problematic than it may initially seem.
Lastly, past the lack of choice, is the lack of privacy and transparency. Connected devices do lots of great things, but they also send tracking and “telemetry” data back to their creators. Do you want Samsung knowing what shows you watch? Maybe you don’t care. How about what shows your kids watch?
Again, it might seem like a minor issue but the data leakage inevitably leads to targeted ads and tailored, algorithm-derived behavior that you might simply not want from your television.
Also, what if the manufacturer inserts ads with a firmware update a few months after you buy the TV? Do you have any recourse? You can try to block the ads, but this will prevent some devices from working, as we’ve seen with Roku in the past.
Televisions Are Just The Start
While televisions are a good example, and the one that caused this site to be created, they are only a start. Smart lighting, refrigerators, coffeemakers, home security systems, automobiles and all sorts of other product types are taking over their respective categories.
On one hand many consumers clearly have a preference for smart, connected devices. No one will argue that it’s useful to ask Alexa to set a timer while you have your hands full cooking dinner. But the tradeoffs for that convenience are not worth it for everyone and the problems really start when buyers have no options.
We should keep in mind that while there is a consumer preference for connected devices, this preference is coerced by manufacturer’s own agendas. Here are some examples of how this happens…
- If a company can build a smart ecosystem into a widget maybe you will buy an app. If you invest in apps, your next widget will have to use that ecosystem in order for you to use those apps.
- If a product is connected, features can be added or removed with a firmware update. Why not have the option to insert advertisements or self-promotional awareness campaigns in the future?
- The building of an ecosystem is a strong defensive moat for a company. Why not underprice connected products in order to build an ecosystem up? The stickiness of your smart products will increase as people buy the apps, learn the commands, so forth. If all goes well your ecosystem will be ubiquitous and it can be used to promote your company’s core products.
It’s Not All Bad
None of this is inherently bad. Companies invest in building great technology and people want to buy and use that technology. That’s perfectly normal. And consumers aren’t buying garbage products just to help support Amazon Alexa — they genuinely like the service and see value in telling Alexa to close the garage door or turn the lights on.
This is all reasonable and isn’t something we’d launch a website to complain about.
The issue happens when you can’t buy a stereo that just plays music or a television without a third-party’s digital assistant (and their tracking tools).
Some people still want a television that is just a television and a dehumidifier that is, yes, just a dehumidifier.
We’ll explore the shades of grey as well. How connected do you want to be? Which services or companies do you want to avoid? Can products be smart enough, with some connected features but without anything concerning?
The goal of this site is to help people find non-smart, or even “dumb” products in a world that is increasingly connected. It’s not about being disconnected, retro, or anti-technology, it’s about choice, and simplicity.