But when Google paid $3.2 billion in January for Fadell’s start-up, Nest – the maker of sensor-packed thermostats and smoke alarms – a new mantra swept around the manufacturing world. "Guys, we need to stuff internet-connected sensors into every household device imaginable," it said. "This Internet of Things thing is going to be huge."
So a new wave of product marketing is springing up to convince us that our non-internet-enabled toilet, or robustly disconnected coffee cup, are no longer what will satisfy us. In recent months, Oral-B has launched the SmartSeries electric toothbrush with Bluetooth connectivity so that you can share your brushing routine with your dental professional live from your bathroom. The Orange Chef Co is promoting a "smart Bluetooth-enabled kitchen scale" called the Prep Pad that gives you "real-time insight to your food". And, naturally, you can buy the £4,000 Satis internet-connected toilet, big in Japan, which, through its My Satis app, you can deodorise and flush at will simply by tapping your smartphone.
Never mind that the security company Trustwave issued an urgent alert in August last year that the toilet could be remotely accessed by dark-side hackers, who presumably could set your toilet flushing at will.
'Just because a device can be packed with sensors and put online, does it actually serve a consumer purpose?'
At no stage have any of these product marketers answered a simple question: just because a device can be packed with sensors and put online, does it actually serve a consumer purpose? The worst offender is an online community called Quirky, which solicits ideas for inventions from the crowd and then takes to market those inventions deemed suitably exciting. Thanks to Quirky, you can buy the Milkmaid, a "smart jug" that uses "pH sensors" to detect when the milk in your fridge is starting to sour and sends you an urgent iPhone message (presumably so you can dash home from meetings to urgently replenish it). Or, for $50, you can buy Quirky’s Egg Minder, a "smart egg tray" that "wirelessly connects to your mobile device to track the number of eggs you have", with in-tray LEDs to tell you when they are going bad. Or Quirky’s Porkfolio, a piggy bank whose nose lights up when coins are deposited and pings your phone so you can "wirelessly set financial goals from afar".
I call this trend the "Internet of Stupid Things". Still, I’m raising a funding round to be part of it. It’s for a sensor-packed version of Campaign that flushes your toilet each time you enjoy a column. Anyone investing?
David Rowan is the editor of Wired