There is so much talk about the Internet of Everything, but how much of it is a futuristic pipe dream? After all, for nearly two decades, companies have tried to sell consumers Internet-connected fridges and microwaves, automated home lighting and heating systems, and smart entertainment devices, yet these devices have never caught on in a big way.
Clearly, the IoE is colossal, and growing. According to a January 2014 research report from Raymond James & Associates, there were 12.5 billion devices connected to the Internet in 2011, including nearly every computer in the world and over a billion smartphones. By 2020, that number will grow to 50 billion. To put this into perspective, today 80 "things" – including consumer electronics, machine tools, industrial equipment, cars, and appliances – connect to the Internet for the first time every second. By 2020 this will expand to 250 new devices every second.
Many of those devices will be "invisible" to consumers – sensors in cars, automated factory equipment, and streetlights, for example. But there are also many consumer IoE devices already on the market that are quickly gaining traction. What are the four IoE technologies that will be an integral part of our lives within three years?
Georgios Kyriakopoulos, communications infrastructure analyst at Raymond James, thinks home automation, internet-enabled cars, health care and fitness devices, and connected entertainment consoles will be the most widespread IoE devices in the near future.
"Consumers want increased efficiency, safety, and intelligence," and any device that offers one or more of these attributes will likely see the fastest uptake, says Kyriakopoulos. Some of the devices he sees catching on quickly include thermostats controlled via smartphones, such as those from Nest; sports monitoring and fitness bands from the likes of Nike and Fitbit; home security systems controlled via smartphones, such as those from SmartThings, ADT, and Oplink, and connected TVs.
"We often forget, there are a number of internet-of-things technologies already in mainstream use, such as IP set-top-boxes, video game consoles, IP security cameras, ATM machines, and point of sale terminals," said Peter Middleton, a market research analyst at Gartner Group. "Within three to five years, fitness bands, connected LED light bulbs, connected cars, smart thermostats, parking meters, and a great variety of consumer devices also become mainstream."
In a sense, the most popular IoE device has already sold in the billions: the smartphone. "The average smartphone is brimming with sensors—an accelerometer, a compass, GPS, light, sound, altimeter," read a recent article in Quartz. "It's the prototypical Internet-connected listening station, equally adept at monitoring our health, the velocity of our car, the magnitude of earthquakes and countless other things that its creators never envisioned."
Using mobile apps connected to ‘smart' home automation systems, consumers already regularly use their smartphones to remotely check if they locked their front doors, or turn on the lights and thermostat before coming home. Smartphones are a soft ‘gateway' into a wider acceptance of IoE consumer devices, say observers. Because people have seen how useful an Internet-connected smartphone can be, they may finally be ready to accept standalone IoE devices as part of their daily lives.
But that doesn't mean consumers are ready to shell out for any-and-all connected devices. A $4000 smart fridge with an embedded touch-tablet on its door may find few takers, for example. But some IoE applications do have the potential to become mass market products by 2017; here are four product categories that are catching on quickly.
Small Internet-connected motion sensors can let users know if someone has entered their house or a room, or if unusual activity is taking place. Security devices will catch on quickly because they offer a cheaper take on an old service – home security systems administered by companies like ADT. In the security space, "connectivity helps assure owners that their home is safe and secure; at a minimum, consumers can find out about what's going on at home when they're away," says Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research, in a December 2013 report titled The Internet Of Things Comes Home, Bit By Bit. Internet-connected door locks let consumers see who is at their door and use their smartphones to unlock it when a delivery person arrives, for example.
Products: Goji Smart Lock, August Smart Lock, Kevo Lock, SmartSense Motion Sensor, Dropcam, Piper, Canary
We've been talking about the ‘smart home' for decades, but advances in connectivity and lower hardware costs have finally brought the concept into primetime. Only 2 percent of American consumers surveyed by Forrester Research in mid-2013 were using at least one of five widely touted home-automation offerings, but some 28 percent of respondents said they were interested in controlling appliances and home systems with their smartphones. Consumers are looking for "peace of mind" and "convenience" with these apps, says Forrester's Gillet. For example, most consumers would love to be alerted if a fire alarm beeps while they are out of the house, or have the lights turn on automatically when they cross the threshold in the evening.
Products: Nest, Philips Hue, Belkin WeMo, SmartThings, Revolv
Internet-connected wristbands that let you track steps taken, miles run, pulse, calories burned and other fitness goals are already the most popular consumer IoE devices. ABI Research forecasts there will be 43 million connected fitness bands in use globally by the end of this year. In addition, ABI predicts 23 million personal health-and-safety monitoring devices, such as Lively and BeClose monitors for seniors living alone, will be in use by the end of the year. Aside from just using a Fitbit to track your runs, these personal devices have healthcare applications, says Forrester's Gillet: "Body sensors can also deliver vital signs to caregivers that provide reassurance of the patient's health."
Products: FitBit, Nike FuelBand, Jawbone Up, Lively, BeClose
Connected entertainment devices, such as connected TVs, DVRs, and Internet-enabled gaming devices have made their way quickly into people's homes, and several apps allow users to control all their connected devices from a single smartphone app. "Consumers want more flexibility and control over their media, such as time-shifting TV and creating shared experiences," says Forrester's Gillet. "Game consoles, especially the new Microsoft Xbox One and the Sony Playstation 4, have become software and service delivery platforms, while smart TVs have become viable alternatives to traditional pay TV providers." Meanwhile, ‘connected stereo' company Sonos is gaining ground with its multi-room connected audio devices – and has raised $324M in venture funding from investors convinced it will soon be a mass-market product. BioBeats combines a wristband with a speaker system to play tunes based on your mood and activity level.
Products: Sonos, BioBeats, Microsoft Xbox One, Apple TV, Sony Playstation 4
The Internet of Everything is not just a pipe dream; it's already a reality. Though a $4000 Internet-enabled fridge may seem far-fetched, smaller and less expensive IoE devices are already in widespread use. Plus, one day soon, a fridge that knows what items you need to replenish, tracks how many calories you're eating, and displays recipes based on the available ingredients inside will be on the market. And that does sound like a fridge worth buying.
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