Why People Misunderstand the Internet of Things (IoT)

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Most people can probably give you some form of definition of the Internet of Things (IoT). But it is far more interesting - and complex - than people think. From the first ever device (a Coca Cola vending machine), to the millions of invisible devices around us today, there is plenty to unpack.

When a new term makes it to the limelight, especially in tech, chances are that it will be bandied about by experts, enthusiasts, and consumers more frequently and, in many cases, become a subject of varied interpretations and definitions.

For the Internet of Things (IoT), the case is not different. Although not a new concept, IoT has gained immense traction in recent years, and its potential to transform industries and daily life is widely acknowledged.

However, despite the buzz it generates, there is still a web of misunderstanding around its perception, use case, and the technologies used in IoT.

To some people, any internet-facing object can be classified as an IoT, and to others, not all internet-facing objects can be classified as IoT. There is also a chance that some people see IoT as something limited to smart home gadgets and smart cities, as they are the most visible aspect for many users.

This misunderstanding can lead to unrealistic expectations and missed opportunities in the way people adopt and use the IoT, and that is why, in this article, we will try to explore some of the key reasons people often misunderstand IoT.

From a History of Rarity to Ubiquity

There are more accounts of the history of IoT than you can possibly read, so we’ll try to keep it brief while focusing on how IoT moved from a tech innovation confined to big machines to an area of tech that’s about as ubiquitous as the air and how that contributes to a misconception of IoT.


While the history stretches back to the early 19th century when the telegraph was invented, it was not until the mid and late 1990s that the idea of enhancing everyday objects with sensors and advanced capabilities gained momentum. Many accounts, including IBM, agree that the first real IoT machine was a Connected Coke Machine that enabled students at Carnegie Mellon University to check, from remote locations, if drinks were available and whether they were cold or not.

After this came a Sunbean Toaster Machine that could be turned on and off over the internet. As reported by the BBC, the machine was an “unsightly tangle of wire,” meaning it could not be moved about easily.

During this period, there were a few other projects. Still, the overall progress of machine-internet connectivity was sluggish primarily due to technological limitations. The chips used for embedding intelligence and connectivity into these machines were too large. There were no efficient methods for these objects to communicate with each other or with networks. So, the relevance of IoT in that era was markedly limited to business and manufacturing ecosystems, limiting its initial interpretation to the machine-to-machine communication frame.

Fast forward to the present day, where IoT use cases can be found in small, movable devices like thermostats, security cameras, home lighting, wearables, and more, the term radiates some aura of ubiquity. This ubiquitousness of IoT, while theorizing how IoT makes technology more accessible and easier to use, also makes it easy for IoT to be misunderstood and interpreted.

Despite the awareness and exposure IoT has gained in the past couple of years, Rhonda Dibachi, Co-Founder and CEO of HeyScottie, still believes that due to its ubiquity, users still perceive the technology along personal lines.

“More people now recognize the term and understand that it involves connecting objects and devices to the internet and can associate IoT with smart refrigerators and toasters. But IoT also refers to wearable tech and connected cars – among other things.


But I don’t think these are widely seen as IoT. They are just seen as iPhones and Teslas that have the necessary and obvious features people have come to expect. IoT is not perceived as an added feature; any IoT functionality that EVs and health monitors (say) have are just additional features for EVs and health monitors.”

Complexity Behind the Simplicity

While the core idea of IoT is simple – connecting everyday objects to the internet – it’s essential to understand the layers of complexity involved.

“The landscape of IoT is indeed complex, with a wide variety of competing standards, protocols, and interconnected devices which can be daunting for consumers to navigate,” says Fabian Kochem, Head of Global Product Strategy at 1NCE, in a statement made available to Techopedia.

IoT ecosystems are intricate and comprise various components that must fuse together seamlessly. These components include hardware (sensors, actuators, and devices), communication protocols MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport), Bluetooth, CoAP (Constrained Application Protocol) etc., cloud platforms, data analytics, and user interfaces. Each of these layers can present its own challenges.

For instance, the choice of hardware is critical as it determines the quality and functionality of IoT devices. Likewise, selecting the right communication protocols and network technologies is vital for reliable data transmission. Furthermore, managing and analyzing the data generated can be a hard nut to crack, which sometimes requires powerful cloud infrastructure and sophisticated algorithms to achieve.

When you consider the depth of complexities required for everything to work, it becomes too cumbersome for many people to wrap their heads around what IoT is and how it works.

Lack of Standardization

The lack of standardization in IoT is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows for flexibility and innovation as diverse devices and technologies can be used to address specific needs. However, this fragmentation also presents significant challenges. Different IoT devices and systems often use incompatible communication protocols and network technologies, making it difficult to ensure seamless interoperability.

While many users might assume that all IoT devices can communicate effortlessly, in practice, integration can be complicated. This leads to issues with device compatibility, data exchange, and integration with other systems. It also raises concerns about long-term support and upgradability, as devices and technologies that lack standardization may become obsolete quickly.

Kochem agrees that lack of standardization also contributes to public misunderstanding and offers a way to clear the confusion. “The future course of IoT is anchored in what can be termed as the ‘Triple S’: Standardization, Security, Synergy.

“As solutions become more standardized and commoditized, they will be easier for the public to understand and adopt. In parallel, governments worldwide will release regulatory frameworks to enforce security measures and safeguard privacy, leading to enhanced trust in IoT ecosystems.”

Data Privacy and Ownership in IoT

IoT devices collect a wealth of data, and users may not always be fully aware of how their data is being handled. Many IoT devices and services collect personal information, location data, and other sensitive details.

Data privacy and ownership issues contribute to misunderstandings about IoT as users often underestimate the extent to which their personal data is collected, analyzed, and shared by IoT devices and services.

This lack of awareness can lead to concerns about the misuse of sensitive information and a sense of loss of control over personal data. Without a clear understanding of how data privacy and ownership are managed within ecosystems, users may never know where to draw the line between what constitutes privacy breaches and the ethical use of data in the technology.

Reliability and Quality of IoT

The quality and reliability of IoT devices vary significantly. Some IoT devices are well-designed, durable, and capable of providing accurate data over extended periods. In contrast, cheaper, low-quality devices may not function correctly or have a short lifespan. Users often underestimate the importance of investing in quality IoT devices.

Low-quality devices can lead to unreliable data, frequent maintenance issues, and premature replacement costs. Unaware of the direct link between the quality of IoT devices and the accuracy of data and service performance, users may be left disappointed by the underwhelming results, contributing to the misunderstanding that IoT as a whole is not dependable or effective.

Recognizing the role of quality in ensuring the success of IoT implementations is essential for managing these expectations and promoting more accurate perceptions of the technology’s potential.

Hype as a Vehicle of Misunderstanding

The hype surrounding IoT often sets unrealistic expectations. People may expect it to revolutionize their lives or businesses with minimal effort. However, these overblown expectations can lead to disappointment when real-world outcomes fall short of these lofty predictions.

While the hype train may not directly lead to a flawed perception, it contributes to a context in which unrealistic expectations and impatience can lead to misconceptions about IoT’s capabilities and limitations. When the media, marketing campaigns, or even enthusiastic proponents of IoT technology exaggerate its capabilities and potential, it can create a gap between what people expect and what IoT can realistically deliver.

The Bottom Line

When next you hear about the IoT, know that reference is being made to a network of physical objects or “things” equipped with sensors, software, and other technologies to enable them to connect and share data with other devices and systems via the internet independent of human action.

So, while some devices like your laptop or mobile phone come with sensors and can communicate via the internet, they are not typically considered IoT devices because they are generally categorized as personal computing devices that rely on user interaction, while IoT devices are designed for automated, internet-enabled functionality in various applications.

From the abovementioned factors, one can easily deduce that people’s misconceptions primarily revolves around the inability to limit where IoT application starts and ends.

Be that as it may, Kochem advises that to have a better understanding of IoT, we should focus on its huge influence in broader sectors and how we benefit from it in our daily lives.

“IoT underpins modern logistics, public infrastructure, and countless other conveniences, from the smooth tracking of parcels to the efficiency of airport luggage systems. Yet, these advancements are frequently credited to the service providers like DHL, etc., rather than acknowledged as triumphs of IoT evolution.”


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Franklin Okeke
Technology Journalist
Franklin Okeke
Technology Journalist

Franklin Okeke is an author and tech journalist with over seven years of IT experience. Coming from a software development background, his writing spans cybersecurity, AI, cloud computing, IoT, and software development. In addition to pursuing a Master's degree in Cybersecurity & Human Factors from Bournemouth University, Franklin has two published books and four academic papers to his name. His writing has been featured in tech publications such as TechRepublic, The Register, Computing, TechInformed, Moonlock and other top technology publications. When he is not reading or writing, Franklin trains at a boxing gym and plays the piano.