A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 4, 2015

Apps Move From Smartphones to Connected Devices

The breathless hype surrounding the internet of things is reminiscent of that which accompanied the launch of social media and, for that matter, harkens back to the dotcom boom.

This is how we do it. Overpromise the benefits, underplay the risks and hope it all works out. And so far, by and large, it has.

The internet of things is being boosted for reasons that have something to do with cost savings and productivity enhancements (early reports claim that Google's Nest thermostat can reduce an energy bill by 10 percent). But it also offers an opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers to reframe their sales proposition: upgrade quality and save enough to offset the additional price increase.

It is reasonable to assume that this may happen - eventually - once the bugs have been worked out. The challenge will be delivering that sort of brand promise to a consumer whose household income has been stagnant for a decade and whose employment prospects remain uncertain. Certainly those at the high end of the market can be enticed, but then the cost effect for them is to insignificant to be worthy of consideration.

The larger issue is the impact this may have on how the data being generated is used. This goes beyond privacy to questions about whether it will be applied to rate-setting, insurance and even tax calculations, with the consumer at a distinct disadvantage to challenge let alone reverse whatever changes are mandated. Somehow those sorts of intangibles never make it into the cost-benefit calculations. JL

Mark Ghermezian comments in Venture Beat:

For consumers, there will have to be an effort to allow technology to meet our needs without letting it run our lives.
While initially apps were created with entertainment in mind, today, thousands of apps are designed to make our lives easier. Whether you’re looking to summon a taxi or control your home heating system, ideally these apps should grow increasingly sophisticated in their responses as they collect more data about our personal usage.
But while apps as we currently know them mainly focus on smartphones, external devices are becoming better integrated with wireless technologies that offer a whole new host of apps that will change our everyday life. As a result, the smartphone takes on a new role — the nerve center in an interconnected world.
Already popular are wristband activity trackers such as Fitbit and Jawbone Up, which send information about how many calories we burn, steps we take, or how vigorous our activity is on a given day. But now Apple has changed the game by announcing its Apple Watch, set to launch in April of this year. The watch moves beyond fitness, allowing users to communicate, check weather, and even share heartbeats. The Internet of Things, as technologists like to call it, has already begun and there are some fascinating applications out there ready to be deployed. Here are a few areas that present opportunities for investors, as well as brand marketers ready to access the consumer in a new way.

Fitness trackers morph into the “everything” watch. 

The watch will also integrate apps from other brands such as Nike, which will include its Nike+ fitness app as part of the device. Other big players such as LG, Samsung, and Motorola have already launched their own watches, featuring Google’s Android Wear software. The Moto360, can do things like take notes, play games and respond to voice-activated demands for driving or walking directions.

Cars that drive better than you

In the not too distant future, your phone will also automatically sync with your car, taking in data on frequency of use, average speed, or car maintenance. It could then for example, send you a text on your phone when it’s time to get the oil changed or bring the car in for a checkup. In fact, there are actually a few apps out there today — e.g., Automatic, Torque, and Mojio — that utilize a car’s OBD-II port to collect diagnostic data about your car and deliver the information to your smartphone via a bluetooth adapter. As we’ve seen with Google, self-driving cars are becoming a reality, we will soon be able to monitor data from our driving history to understand our driving style, the routes we usually take and apply that to current traffic conditions. Within a few years, all cars are expected to incorporate Wi-Fi as well.
Advancements are happening rapidly. More than half of the new cars being sold this year sport driver-assist features that help users park or alert them to a blind spot. The Lexus Enform can send an alert to parents on whether a teen driver is exceeding speed limits or a curfew. And all General Motors cars are now equipped with remote locking and starting, as well as fuel and tire pressure readings that drivers can control through a smartphone app. The Honda CRV can not only warn drivers when they stray from their lane, but also turn them back into the proper position. As for the Tesla Model S, it offers autopilot technology to drivers, monitoring lane traffic speeds and guiding the vehicle around turns on the open road. Furthermore, this feature is continuously being updated with new capabilities. The Tesla Model S also has an app that alerts car owners on the car’s charging status, allows them to remotely open or close the panoramic roof as well as locate the Model S with directions or track its movement across a map and more.

Home sweet home

Most people know about Nest, the home maintenance system that enables users to control their home thermostat or monitor danger from fire and CO2 via their smartphone. But companies are currently working to develop even more sophisticated apps for home security and maintenance. A company called Elgato, for example, has created a new line of home sensors that collect data on air pressure and quality, humidity, temperature, energy, and water consumption using Bluetooth technology. Others are looking at remote-controlled drones outfitted with cameras that will watch over our homes.
Samsung made a big bet on such devices with its purchase last year of SmartThings, an open platform for home devices. The way the company envisions it, people with the SmartThings app on their phone could wake up and say “good morning” to their home, after which the shades come up, the lights go on and the coffee machine activates. (Or perhaps these things are automatically triggered by the person’s movements.) The television may also be part of the morning ritual, offering information on the home’s energy use and activity around the home.
Already, Samsung has a refrigerator with Wi-Fi access and an eight-inch touchscreen that lets users browse the Web or leave notes for their family from the fridge door. The company has said that five years from now, 100 percent of its products will be IoT (Internet of Things) enabled.

The next frontier

This is only the tip of the iceberg. For marketers looking to reach consumers at the right moment, the landscape of apps embedded in Internet connected devices, with the smartphone at its center, is a definite opportunity. For consumers, the question will be whether there will be any pushback in the privacy arena. There will have to be an effort to allow technology to meet our needs without letting it run our lives.


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