Victoria and her team are true entrepreneurs! After many successful years, their current market weakened and through serious discussions with their customers they found the “next big thing” – printing active light. Sounds crazy but that’s what they do to respond to serious needs for people to be seen when falling into the ocean, running in the evenings, skiing, working in dangerous environments or simply to look fantastic. The material they have developed is connected to a battery and can be washed and applied on wearables, helmets and so on. When they won 2015 Outside Gear of the Show together with POC at Interbike 2015 in Las Vegas, their journey really took off.
Smart Homes is a much talked about opportunity for IoT. It has what it takes to attract a lot of companies and people including those owning, managing, visiting and living or working in them. And beyond that also companies selling products and services for them. And the concept of smart homes is fluffy enough to include the three big deliverables of IoT: sustainability, safety and efficiency, as well as things like economy, comfort, fashion and entertainment.
We all know that a specific solution for every single task or device isn’t good enough. So the approach to make a remote controller for the toaster, one for the fridge and one for the kitchen fan (I actually saw a dedicated remote controller for the fan in Italy and I’m still thinking about the use-case) will not make the job. And we also know that “this is THE network for the SmartHome” approach isn’t taking us there since we already have a lot of different infrastructure and networks in houses and we have a number of different more or less technical requirements on them.
The combination of these two insights makes it hard to come up with Smart Home solutions that will capture large parts of the market, especially if we leave aside new buildings where one can start from scratch. I suggest something like a cluster approach to the challenge where we try to combine infrastructure, applications and tools to provide attractive solutions for larger parts of the Smart Home challenges. Let me give you a couple of examples what that could look like:
- The ultimate Media solution which uses IP networks to stream content easily and flexibly to and from devices and services (bring the best from Sonos, AirPlay, Spotify, Netflix, etc). Once installed you could add, change and remove hardware and software components easily.
- A really secure managed infrastructure with a tough SLA for applications and services that require an infrastructure to really trust. Applications could be alarms, door locking systems, smoke detectors and other things you are ready to pay extra for if the service is guaranteed.
- A kitchen app that interact with all your favourite Internet services for cooking and shopping, your kitchen appliances regardless of brand (or not?) and maybe energy monitoring and advice relating to the kitchen.
I have concluded that we will have at least three networks in our homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi network which is already there, a managed very secure network with top-notch quality of service and a more generic but still managed network for things like home appliances. WAN solutions will generally speaking be too expensive and will just complement the LANs the way they always had. But some devices connected directly to a mobile network and/or narrow band WAN infrastructure like Sigfox will most certainly be part of the solutions.
One of the most interesting projects I’m currently involved in is a joint effort between a number of Swedish real estate owners and members of our alliance for Swedish IoT entrepreneurs (SMSE) with real estate focus. The request from the real estate owners was “a secure, robust and open service platform for multi-dwelling buildings” which they can install now, keep for years and have app developers to start bringing innovation to tenants, owners and maintenance staff.
We’re working with several technologies and one of the most interesting one is the well established Internet chat protocol XMPP since it provides a promising open architecture to deal with data integrity and privacy issues. We have already pulled together the bits and pieces required to run our first hackathon creating mobile apps on building automation systems talking XMPP. I’m looking forward to the next few months of this project which hopefully include a major hackathon demonstrating the power of this approach.
Mergers and acquisitions indicate rapidly growing markets ahead. Google made a 3.2B$ acquisition of Nest in January. Now they just followed on with an acquisition of the Wi-Fi surveillance camera maker Dropcam for 555M$. Thermostats, smoke alarms and cameras – what is Googles plan? I think it is the homes and maybe offices they are after. There are many thermostats, smoke alarms and smart cameras available but Nest and Dropcam definitely comes with a cool design which should at least bring home healthier margins. People love nice products! Google has always been interested in Wi-Fi and it’s not a wild bet that there will be Wi-Fi in homes and offices. But this can’t be enough, they must be going after a service model with recurring revenues and collecting data from these devices to store, manage, analyze and sell. I have always claimed that “data is the gold of M2M” and I am confident that Google shares that view.
On top of all I believe their will have to be at least three separate wireless networks in homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi with good performance but only best effort services, a really secure fully managed network for security related applications like door locks, surveillance and medical monitoring, and maybe even a third managed low bandwidth network for connecting things like fridges, coffee machines, etc. And even worse, we will see a mix of WAN and LAN technologies being used as well. I simply don’t see how one can deliver sensible services like surveillance or smoke detection over an unmanaged best effort Wi-Fi network. Successful companies with such services like Verisure today typically manage their own network.
So I am probably wrong. Goggle sees something I don’t. And they also understand the down-side of connected hardware since Nest just had to recall 440.000 smoke alarms due to a potential risk that they didn’t alarm immediately. But I am happy for their acquisitions since it stimulates entrepreneurs, customers and other companies who consider playing a sincere role in building the Internet of Everything.
M2M or Internet of Things is not an industry. It’s more of a process describing that we are continuously connecting more things to the Internet. And it is a way to segment markets like how many dishwashers are connected and how many SIM cards are used in other things than phones and pads. Connecting things is not a big deal by itself but the data collected over the connection can make a huge difference when it shows up in systems for decision-making, process management, document management, monitoring and alarms, security and so on. It is when the data becomes information in relevant systems that the value appears. This is why I believe the IT industry must play the key role in pulling together the complete applications delivering the value thus enabling the investment decisions. A complete application always include the collection of data (sensors, networks, gateways, etc), management of data (i.e. making useful information for the application) and distribution (i.e. integration, app development, etc). Three distinct parts and at least three different industries.
This is well understood in the enterprise world which also explains why it takes some time to get going. But make no mistake – it will happen in all industries, it will bring massive effects and will redefine many businesses. GE is probably the best possible example of a large enterprise who identified this early on and got going with massive investments and rapid results. The future of the Internet of Everything is created by doers not politicians, thinkers, analysts, researchers, etc. The best approach is to keep eyes open for interesting examples from real life. Not only from your own industry. Identify and select problems and challenges relevant for this technology and start prototype and test. An agile approach with rapid prototyping and real-time testing with users is the way forward.
Up until now we have seen a lot of early successes by companies doing it all. There are companies like that in every single country. This is the obvious winning approach to overcome severe complexity in a new market. But this will change rapidly and new partnerships and value chains will be created to bring solutions to customers in different industries. This is how the IT industry solved issues before and this is why they are needed to participate in building the Internet of Everything. One area where we will see this change very fast is connected accessories like watches, wristbands, etc. A couple of years ago companies started to launched their wristbands and connected watches with an application or service attached. Good start to get to market but obviously not the right way moving forward. We want services where you can connect your devices of choice which allows you to also manage your data properly and distribute the information as you like.
Nobody expected the wristbands to become the new smart phone or pad, but sometimes I meet people who believe smart watches or Google Glasses is the next big thing. I think that is way off. These things are accessories and play in the same league as keyboards and mice. I think we will see the brands focus more on the services maybe with a branded device to show the way. The devices will be more standardized to fit all major services and we all will have to look for the next big thing somewhere else. I just received a 50$ quote for 500 units of a no-brand connected watch which looked quite nice and sophisticated and had decent features and specs. These accessories are about to become commodities and will soon show up in the weekly flow of deals in your inbasket. Data is the gold of M2M – that’s where the value is and that’s where the brands will want to be.
Companies have moved manufacturing of things to developing countries since many years. The reasons have primarily been competitiveness and profitability and the results of this are well-known and documented. Focus on software and the Internet made knowledge of making and marketing touchable products, things, scarce in countries like Sweden. It’s not that we are lacking ideas or can’t make a nice design but manufacturing, service and communication of products need to be closely integrated for superb results. Great ideas and designs are gradually taken down towards “normal” for every consultant, advisor, middle-man, controller and purchaser that gets involved. Huge cost-efficient factories only manufacture huge quantities and cost consciousness efficiently replace odd designs and components to those easier to manufacture and cheaper to buy. Most of this is obviously very good since we don’t want a world with only guordiously designed and incredibly expensive things! But take a look at things around you and you will see a lot of “global look and feel” in neutral colors and with rounded corners. Smartphones are really good examples – a huge, growing, rapidly changing and innovative market with youngsters showing the way should produce some sexy products but they all look more or less the same.
But the pendulum is swinging back again! There are many reasons why we will start to see much more things being designed and built “at home” onwards. Let me give you a couple: