CES 2015: No "iPhone moment" yet for IoT devices - Embedded.com

CES 2015: No “iPhone moment” yet for IoT devices

LAS VEGAS — The International CES exposed how far its aspirational promoters still are from the reality of the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

As one executive in the electronics industry, who asked for anonymity, put it, “We don’t have the iPhone moment yet for IoT.”

Ian Drew, chief marketing officer at ARM, observed, “There is a lot of [IoT] hardware on the show floor. They’re everywhere. And obviously, they connect. But we haven’t had that ‘oh, that’s really easy’” surprise when it comes to using any of those connected devices.

While a “low-level” foundation for connectivity is coming together, as seen in Thread, “we are far from seeing the emergence of high-level software” that makes IoT easy. Drew explained. “Today, everyone’s IoT devices are talking within his own ‘open’ ecosystem.”

A consensus already exists on how the business community can profit from business-to-business IoT applications. In theory, lots of data generated by users will help sharpen their data analytics. That, in turn, will make their businesses run more effectively and smoothly, thus generating more revenue.

But seriously, what’s in it for consumers? Isn’t this trade show, after all, called the “Consumer Electronics Show”? Nobody, not even the CEO of the world’s largest consumer electronics company, appears to have the consumer angle figured it out yet.

Samsung CEO on stage

Samsung CEO on stage

A case in point is Samsung CEO B.K. Yoon’s  keynote speech Monday night. He blew it.

In a speech entitled “Unlocking the infinite possibilities of IoT,” Samsung presented the “connected wine cellar” as the first example of IoT’s infinite possibility.  Wine cellar management? Seriously?  Yoon clearly didn’t know how to frame the hot IoT conversation in a way that reaches the average consumer. When you’re talking fine wine, you’re talking, as one observer mordantly put it, “IoT for the 1 percent.”

John Curran, managing director of Accenture, told us that in a global survey Accenture carried out among 24,000 consumers in 24 countries, “83 percent of people said that they have difficulty in using their intelligent devices.”  These are the sort of number that send industries “back to the drawing board,” he said.

After all, early adopters are “ambassadors” in the connected world, said Curran. “It is an absolute pre-requisite” for the industry to get it right before IoT devices can hope for mainstream acceptance.

As we observe how new consumer product categories are embraced by consumers, Accenture’s Curran explained that there are different phases. To create product awareness, the industry must demonstrate its relevance and inspire consumers (by developing “previously unanticipated moments” in the user experience). This leads to “purchase intent,” the impulse for the consumer to actually lay down a credit card.

On the other hand, Samsung’s IoT wine cellar example spectaculary failed to plant the seeds of “purchase intent.”

Replacing what we already do easily with IoT devices (by setting up a system controlled by smartphones and tablets) is the wrong way to pitch IoT to consumers who take at least a smidgeon of pride in their hands, brains and personal ingenuity.

Sure, locking all the doors and turning off the lights all at once to send the house into “night mode” seems kind of cool. But most of us living in small homes, with some family members staying up and others in “night mode,” home automation can seem more of a hassle than a thrill.

Even if you have a PhD in computer science, you can sense that there are too many steps involved in creating the connected home. ARM’s Drew said, “What I really want is a connected device that already knows where it is when I bought it in a store and brought it home. It knows the network system at home, it knows which apps to be uploaded. It may even know that I am married, so it needs to be controlled not only by me but by another person at home.”

The ARM executive reiterated the problem of an “Internet of silos.” Everyone is playing with his own “open” ecosystem, he said. Perhaps some industry standard group will save the day. Currently, 150 consortia already exist for the IoT industry, he explained. “I expect someone to come up with software that makes everyone say, ‘ah, that’s easy,’” said Drew, “maybe within the next five years.”

Another important issue is the ownership of data. “We need to sort that out,” said Drew.

Making connected devices smarter involves adding more intelligence to those products.

Eran Briman, vice president of marketing at Ceva, told EE Times at CES that some of his customers are interested in developing a new generation of “always on” smartphones. “They are always listening. They know where they are, they know who are present in a room,” and they are ready to be activated at the user’s beck and call.

Explaining the range of sensors now integrated into smart devices, one of the image sensors, for example, can be used for “constantly watching and surveying” outside, sending low-resolution information at one frame per second, Briman said.  For example, while you walk and talk on the phone in a shopping mall, your phone senses where you are, collecting information and letting you know what stores are nearby, etc.    

But who’s actually asking for this?

And, when devices are always on and sensors keep collecting data, won’t consumers want to know who owns the data, how it will be used and if the data is being cookied off to third parties?

Both privacy and security have come to the forefront of IoT discussions at CES, observed Accenture’s Curran. “Transparency becomes absolutely important” for companies who sell IoT devices, he noted.

This article has also been published on EETimes News and Analysis.

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