What If…Every Device Became Smart?

CES 2016 will likely be remembered as the year the Internet of Things (IoT) grew from concept to reality…almost. From the Apple watch and Microsoft Kinect to refrigerators in the the Connected Home section at Best Buy, the range of smart devices has increased exponentially. By 2020, the number of Internet connected devices is expected to exceed 40 billion (with a “b”). Whether there is legitimate reason to make a specific device smart or not, many IoT companies were showing off their hopes and dreams to the 170,00+ attendees.  As someone who has long embraced the entrepreneurial spirit, it’s hard to be overly judgemental about these wannabe trailblazers. However, this entire space comes with an increasing number of pros and cons. Here are a few thoughts to ponder:

The Pros

  • Collaboration: IoT brings all sorts of collaborative potential – within families, inside companies, between clients and agencies not to mention new parameters between consumers and advertisers.
  • Automation: An oven that knows you have placed a sheet of cookies inside, then automatically sets the temperature and cooking time can make bakers out of dessert buyers.
  • Monitoring: A refrigerator that knows you are out of milk and orders it from your local delivery service will be a big deal to some people. Others, not so much.
  • Money & Efficiency: Remotely controlling devices in your house that in turn talk to each other (turning on lights, heating, A/C, not watering lawn based on actual weather, etc) can lead to material $$ savings as well as better use of natural resources.
  • 5G Networks: The next generation of cellular networks is starting to take shape. Trials will begin this year towards an anticipated commercial introduction in 2020. This will bring massive improvements in speed such that an HD movie could be downloaded in seconds, not minutes. At the recent Mobile World Congress, companies like Intel, Ericsson and Cisco focused on 5G’s ability to support the Internet of Things.

The Cons

  • Data Gathering: How is it done? Who does it? Who owns it? How will the data be used? How much control will the owner have over its use now and in the future?
  • Security: Questions come in all shapes and sizes covering data, devices, infrastructure, ecosystem, network, software, identity, employee and the consumer. There are far more questions than answers at this time. In a May 2015 study, IBM found that the average cost of a data breach was $3.8M, which equates to $154 per compromised record. Jessica Groopman, Research Director of Harbor Research, wrote an insightful article about why more IoT conferences are not focused on security & privacy.
  • Privacy: Our expectations around privacy (or lack therein) have materially changed. According to a new Pew Research Center study, “while many Americans are willing to share personal information in exchange for tangible benefits, they are often cautious about disclosing their information and frequently unhappy about what happens to that information once companies have collected it.” How IoT companies access and manage our personal data — seeking express consent and providing access to collected data — will be an immensely important issue.
  • Standardization: Tech giants are getting into the game in a BIG way, yet hundreds of new IoT platform innovators continue to enter the market. Read CRN’s CES 2016 report covering 10 Products That Brought IoT To The Next Level.
  • IoT, Service or Product Based?: What are we buying, a device or services? Both bring different business models to the market. Do we need to subscribe to services or is the cost built into the initial purchase price? At CES, there were numerous technology integration announcements including a Ford tie-in to the Amazon Echo providing control of home lighting while driving and eventually the ability to start your car by voice activation, a $49 P&G Internet-connected air freshener that links via smartphone to the Nest thermostat system, optimally spraying air freshener when your air conditioner is on and, a Whirlpool/Amazon partnership incorporating the Amazon Dash button so consumers can automatically re-order laundry detergent when their washing machine believes the supply is running low. And then there is Under Armour who showcased HealthBox, a collection of connected fitness devices including a wristband, scale and heart-rate monitor for $400. Not included in the box are their activity-tracking sneakers and wireless JBL-partnered headphones.

This is but the tip of the iceberg. As with all technology innovations, stay tuned…and comment below.