CES, the biggest technology show of the year, brings brands, startups, analysts, celebrities and marketers together in an attempt to understand the technology trends that will shape the next 12-16 months. If this year’s CES indicates what consumers can expect to see in stores, then I would bet that almost every single product or item will be smart, connected to the Internet in some way and tapping into people’s personal cloud of data—what people are calling “the Internet of things.” Nearly every single product at CES was connected, whether it’s the expected—car, phone, TV, home security system, appliances—to the odd—hammers, baby pacifiers, toilet seats, doorknobs. Beyond the obvious issue of companies attempting to fix something that isn’t broken by overdigitizing everything, there appears to be a bigger issue at hand.
Many companies invest in product-centric innovations versus consumer-centric innovations, creating concepts that are extensions of existing products. This includes unnecessarily attempting to improve everything by making it “smart” (i.e. toilet seats). They are starting with the product first, as the technology is already here, but the consumer need and value comes secondary. This seems counterintuitive because ultimately you need to convince the consumer that a product will improve their life in order to influence them to purchase it. Brands need to consider how smart products can actually add value and simplify consumers’ lives without overwhelming them with data and information.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t a technology issue, seeing that the capabilities and infrastructures already exist. The issue is the vision of how it all works together. In theory, my LG refrigerator should be able to talk to my Whirlpool cooking range, and should be connected to my health and fitness tracking app. In the world of connected devices, there should and has to be an expectation that tomorrow’s products will be interconnected and work collectively together, joining a growing ecosystem of shared value. Once you make a product smart, it should be smart enough to provide value beyond the device/product itself. But right now, it is typically a collection of one-off products that don’t necessarily work together, providing quantified data by myopic product use. And if they do talk and work together, chances are consumers are unaware.
But by operating in this way, how can we expect people to pay a premium for digitized products and drive real behavior change? Is there a real value to people? Will consumers even visualize the transformational use cases to justify making a purchase? What is going to drive someone to Home Depot, for example, to replace existing products with smart enhanced devices?
No one has really cracked the code, at least not yet in a meaningful way. Companies such as Microsoft, Samsung, LG and Google have the vision and potential, but have yet to come to market with an integrated or open solution. The key question is whether there is a need for regulation, or at least a meeting of the minds amongst the competitive ecosystems to discuss standardization if we are ever going to move the Internet of things forward.