5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying an IoT Device

How can we enjoy the benefits of this new technology while protecting our privacy? By asking the right questions.

Smart home
David Ferencik/stock.adobe.com

It can be easy to purchase the latest gadget hitting the shelves without much consideration. Some who bought Apple AirTags probably didn't envision their practicality far beyond the understanding that this device would somehow help keep track of their items. But consumers are slowly recognizing potential safety concerns in these new devices: News recently surfaced of Apple having to defend the safeguards for these products after numerous instances of them being utilized in the course of stalking.

In addition to privacy issues, there are many other potential complications in the use of IoT devices, especially in setting them up. But on the other hand, these new products do offer great solutions for many of our daily problems and could significantly improve our lives.

How can we enjoy the benefits of this new technology while protecting our privacy? By asking the right questions.

1. Will the device work where you need it to?

The internet is not the same everywhere. I travel extensively, and on one particular trip, I realized that culture and infrastructure strongly determine the use of technology. In this particular case, I struggled to even get a decent internet connection. How strange, too, that when visiting some other parts of the world, I'm easily able to keep in touch with friends and family with incredible cell service — yet in my home in Santa Monica, I sometimes struggle to get a signal.

The circles of use of an IoT device need to overlap with where it works. If you want a fitness tracker to wear when hiking or biking in the woods, will you even be able to find a signal? If you fall in your house, will your Apple Watch have the ability to reach 911? Before you buy an IoT device, you need to consider what you would like to do with the device and make sure you'll be able to use it when and where you need to.

2. What are your preferences and levels of patience?

Do you have the time, patience and skill to set up your IoT device suited to your needs? Besides a simple internet connection, countless preferences need to be selected and adjusted to ensure everything runs smoothly. If you want your personal preferences to be loaded onto new devices, unfortunately, there isn't (yet!)an app for that. Each IoT device will need to be set up individually to match all of your unique settings.

My wife is someone who has all the skills needed to fine-tune the settings on a new device, but she does not want to deal with the inconvenience. For her, a viable solution has been to delegate that work to the available support teams. Tech support teams like Best Buy's Geek Squad might become your best friend if you spend the money. Is that something you are willing to invest in?

3. Will the frustrations outweigh the benefits?

Frustrations are a natural byproduct of technology and IoT devices in particular. Annoyances will surely arise between setting up connections, adjusting preferences and configuring multiple devices. Take some time to weigh the amount of frustration you are willing to handle with the convenience and quality of life that IoT can bring.

The type of devices you choose also factors into this consideration. A simple Bluetooth speaker will be far simpler to manage than setting up a new Amazon Fire TV. Having the patience to wait for updated, even more streamlined devices to be released may help mitigate some of the headaches you have to endure.

4. How do you weigh concerns of privacy and convenience?

A smart home constantly monitors what you say and improves its algorithms to better suit your needs. Tracking also from the moment you leave your front door, new security systems enable you to check what is happening at your home in real time. To experience all that IoT devices have to offer, we are forced to sacrifice our privacy to a certain extent.

Would you rather have the freedom to have seamless control of the devices in your house, running everything with your voice? Or do you want to make sure your private life is secured? Personally, I am more inclined to favor the freedom offered than the worry about potential invasiveness. I may choose to focus on the benefits of such technology, but what about you?

5. Are you ready for IoT integration?

Evaluate your own IoT environment. How will a new device fit into it? Companies tend to monopolize your experience across devices. So if you buy digital locks for your front door, they will come with a hub to control the device through Bluetooth. If you have an Alexa, itwill be inclined to become the hub for those locks instead.

I have a device for the gate at my house called MyQ — which Amazon does not produce — but since updating my home with more IoT, I have received messages on MyQ software asking if I would like to let Ring from Amazon take over the function. To what extent do you want one particular company — be it Amazon, Google, Microsoft or Apple — to control the function of the IoT devices in your house?

Take your time.

When I first became interested in IoT devices, I didn't take the time to ask these crucial questions. Being a techie, I jumped right in, bought some devices and assumed I could learn about them through experimentation. But I discovered there is a vast difference between learning about the device itself and successfully creating an IoT environment.

Purchasing an IoT device can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Keep in mind these devices will likely be with you for the next five to 10 years before they become obsolete. Doing research and even talking with vendors that sell the devices can help you find the right fit. The only one who can evaluate how IoT devices can fit into your life is you—so make sure to take the time to answer these important questions before purchasing.

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