It's amazing when you stop and think about it. Your mobile phone has instant access to the sum total of human knowledge ... and yet something important is missing: Contextual Awareness. Through sensors both stationary and wearable, the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to change all of that.
According to Wikipedia, "The Internet of Things (IoT) is the inclusion of electronics and software in any device not usually considered computerized in nature, to enable it to achieve greater value and service by giving it an ability to network and communicate with other devices. Each item is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing device but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure."
In a recent report, "Gartner forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020". As a point of reference, there are currently 2 billion smart phones in the world today and about 5 billion mobile phones according to eMarketer. That means Gartner is projecting 5x growth in IoT devices, but the real question is: Why should you care?
With all the investments companies are making in capturing, storing and analyzing big data, it's clear that a lot of emphasis has been made to turn big data into big insights. What has been less clear is why so many companies have been heavily investing in connecting everything from T-shirts and shoes to your home thermostat to the Internet.
Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Leigh Christie, lead innovation engineer at Isobar, and speak with him about the business impact of IoT. And I can tell you, after our meeting, I'm clear on the business impact that these wearables and connected devices will ultimately have on our business.
"We don't currently have the social intelligence to combine digital technology with the classic sensibilities of our grandparents", says Christie. "What's missing is an augmented version of the smile. When someone smiles at you, you smile back and it means something in real life. Wearable devices combined with the right apps will allow us to better express ourselves."
One example we spent time discussing was the idea of love in the digital age. Fitness tracking devices such as Fitbit and your smart watch, capture information such as your heart rate. Imagine instead of using Tinder to "swipe right" and notify a potential date that's nearby you, what if you could be prompted more subtly? What if two heart rate monitors noticed a natural increase in each of your heart rates and could simply prompt you that you're both into each other? This is just one example of contextual awareness using IoT.
"The industry is expecting the next big thing, but the reality is that there is much more likely to be many devices in many different categories rather than one clear winner such as the next iPhone", says Christie. "Wearables are as much a fashion statement as a technology. It's very personal, and it helps your personal brand. The mass customization of products is about the long-tail of smaller production runs that are profitable for the business."
It was at this point that the light bulb went on for me with respect to understanding the business impact of wearable devices and the IoT. While Apple and Samsung have had the benefit of being the large, dominant players in the mobile smart phone space, there are likely to be many successful entrepreneurial companies with many different IoT products that help drive the next wave of innovation.
In other words, it's not about solving one single problem; it's about solving a vast number of very niche problems. This is the greenfield opportunity for smaller businesses who don't need to mass-produce anything to be extremely profitable. "I have a friend at Velocitek", continued Christie, "that makes speedometers for windsurfers. He doesn't have to make more than a few hundred a year to be profitable."
I get it. My father used to tell me, "If you want to be successful, find a hole and fill it." This is what the next wave of internet connected devices are all about--solving the problems that are most important to a specific group of people. This is why fragmentation in the IoT space is not only likely, but is needed. Industry experts will quickly identify the specific contextual problem that off the shelf devices fail to address, then customize a short-run solution (maybe less than 1,000 products).
This is the physical manifestation of what we saw in the mobile app world. When the iPhone was first launched, everyone was scurrying to build the "all-in-one" app that did everything. Today, the most successful apps tend to solve a single problem really well. We don't need one app that does it all, we need the best app that solves a specific problem we care about. Replace the word "app" with "device" and we're not honing in on the true impact of IoT.
Thank you, Leigh Christie, I understand and fully appreciate why you are the lead innovation engineer at Isobar. I really appreciate it when someone takes the time to help shift my perspective and open up new possibilities. If you'd like to dive deeper into the future of the Internet of Things and other technology innovation that will likely impact your business, I highly recommend downloading and reading Isobar's 2015 CES Innovation Report.