Most people remember the lure of Duke Nukem Forever, one of the longest running examples of vaporware. The game was promised back in 1998 and then its release date was pushed back again and again until it finally was released in 2011, as a sequel to a game that was launched back in 1996. For folks supporting crowdfunded internet of things startups, this waiting for a hotly anticipated product is likely a familiar feeling.
But there’s more to the internet of things vaporware than the physical product. There are actually at least three different levels of potential angst awaiting a connected consumer. I figured I should list them, so you know what you’re in for as you pledge to support a product or click-through to that pre-order.
The missing product
Last May I wrote about the August smart lock that was expected to ship some time in December, but was later delayed until Spring. August CEO Jason Johnson has told me that he wants to get the lock right before he ships, a totally logical step, but August devotees are nagging him on Twitter for updates and their locks. August isn’t the only lock company in this position. Goji, which launched in June thought it would offer products in December as well, but has since moved its shipping date to June of this year.
Locks aren’t the only connected devices experiencing delays. There are waits for connected lights, toys and other promised products. And in many cases, these may not be actual delays, just a long wait between announcement and the actual product itself shipping. For example, Ringly, which I am really excited about, isn’t set to arrive until next February.
The missing integration
But once you bring your product home, the wait isn’t over. There’s the question of whether it will work with your existing devices. Does it have an Android app yet, or can you only use it on iOS (or vice versa)? If you’re trying to blend it with your home network, does that network support the device? For example, I purchased a thermostat last summer because I thought SmartThings would support it relatively soon. Every time I ask it seems integration is just a month away.
Depending on what you are expecting when you purchase a product, this can be the most painful vaporware, because you’ve shelled out money on the hope and promise of functionality that’s then denied. It’s also why I recommend people don’t buy a hub and pick products whose functionality still has a lot of value to them.
The missing features or quality
Check out the reviews for the Doorbot, a connected doorbell that includes a video camera — they are wretched. Or you could check out the early reviews of the Kevo locks which are full of complaints about the product’s glitches. You might think when a product doesn’t live up to its promise that’s the worst disappointment, but it’s actually not so bad. In most cases you can just pack it up and ship it back for a refund.
Missing features are a little tougher to work though. If it’s an obvious one, such as support for a certain radio protocol that didn’t make it into the product, you might be able to return it or just cut your losses. But in some cases it might just mean waiting for a software upgrade whose arrival is uncertain. That will feel at lot like the integration angst, as you work with what feels like a crippled product.
So there you have it. Thus far, the internet of things involves hardware, software and services. Plus the ever-present threat of vaporware.