OUR TAKE Mark Agar
Is There Room for Us in the Internet of Things?

Connected home devices, marking the embryonic beginning of the Internet of Things (IoT), are becoming common place. Amazon’s Alexa, Nest, Dash Buttons and Master Chief’s Cortana are bringing spontaneous purchasing opportunities into the home. However, at their core, they still require somebody to do something. Even if it’s just speaking commands, the onus is on the human to remember to ask for something.

This is just the start of the promise of where the IoT is going to take us. Bain predicts that by 2020 annual revenues could exceed $470 billion for the IoT vendors selling the hardware, software, and comprehensive solutions.[1] The future promises us that that our environment becomes so connected and intelligent that we can put our feet up and gradually forget just about everything we know, and we will still be looked after by the devices that we put in our personal spaces. What’s more, they will work as a network to communicate with each other to ensure that all our needs are fulfilled.

The premise is simple. Direct communication between devices within our home and the internet, to keep our homes running optimally. The overly used — but illustrative — example of this is a connected fridge (for good reason: connected-home device shipments will hit 1.8 billion units shipped in 2019[2]). It senses how often the milk is taken out of the fridge, and measures its weight when it returns. It captures how quickly it cools to measure density and keeps an eye on expiration dates. All with the purpose of automatically ordering more milk for you and ensuring that forevermore you have milk. Cold, fresh milk.

The extension of that is a pantry or laundry room watching spaghetti packets or detergent. Devices that track when your windows are dirty, cars that go and charge when they spot a free charging point, printers ordering ink when they need it, and even Alexa listening in for that ‘damn, my button has come off my jeans’. No need to get up – it’s all on the way in the next 2 hours. Relax…

Sound perfect?

There are many terrifying routes this could go. And most, probably, don’t end up with naked cyborgs going back in time, but they do pose the question ‘what does it do to a person’s relationship with a brand and perhaps their whole identity?’ At no point did the fridge take into account emotion, desire, loyalty, spontaneity: a personality.

Suddenly the relationship with your milk brand, your spaghetti brand, and even your tailor has changed. The relationship is now between your appliance and an api, probably owned by the appliance manufacturer. Your milk brand may well change when a new partnership is set up by “Fridges Corp.” The decision is no longer yours. You just get the milk you get.

Sure, the brand will sit in your fridge, but you didn’t chose it, or bring it home. It doesn’t reflect you or your views on excessive packaging or organic farming. A drone probably brought it to you. So why even put a logo on the container? What relationship do you have with the brand here?

In a parallel to the world of mobile phones, and the transformation of that world with app stores, suddenly your appliances are not passive one-off purchases, but provide ongoing micro-purchases. And similar to the pain of switching from one mobile OS to another, you are suddenly entrenched in a relationship with the manufacturer of the appliance.

The likelihood is that a similar marketplace will appear for IoT, just as it did for apps, but instead of apps, it’s a marketplace where ‘Things’ can go to purchase the items that they think you are in need of.

The challenge of a machine buying you something you need is hard enough. But buying something you want, on your behalf, is significantly more difficult.

How do you build in to the IoT real buying cycle? Where does that monthly treat go, that indulgent stress-buster, that bargain you have a coupon for? Just imagine your fridge asking you which brand of this and that you prefer every time you walk past it!

Suddenly it is the appliance with the relationship to the brand, which is quite a different dynamic from now. It is also a radical change in focus for manufacturers, but one that the likes of Samsung and Nestlé[3] are considering as they adjust to their new role in our day-to-day lives.

Attaching a fridge to the internet is easy. Attaching it to you, and having it make silent, informed buying decisions on your behalf, is really when IoT needs to deliver on its promise. This will take it from expensive gimmick to a routine part of your life — one you could genuinely benefit from.

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Mark Agar, VP/Group Director, Technology 



[1] Source: Bain & Company, How Providers Can Succeed in the Internet of Things

[2] Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/connected-home-forecasts-and-growth-2014-9

[3] https://news.samsung.com/global/samsung-and-nestle-collaborate-on-the-internet-of-things-and-nutrition-to-advance-digital-health