Internet of Things Strategy – how businesses are using it already

Trillion fold rise in computing powerThere’s much talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), from wearables to connected devices. We’re seeing lots of shiny new gadgets, but what are the implications for business? Should everyone have a strategy? Without wanting to create a sense of panic, businesses will be surprised by the speed and impact that a rapidly connected world will have.

Moore’s Law, is a good way to understand the growth of tech – it’s not actually a law, but a suggestion that computing power will double every 18 months. In fact, things have developed faster than that and we’ve seen a trillion-fold rise in speed/power since the 1970s. It’s what makes wearables, cloud computing and the Raspberry Pi all possible. It’s not just the growth of computing power either. We’ve also seen the development of new sensors, interactions, big data and AI, along with rapid prototyping tools such as Arduino or 3D printing (often financed by crowd funding). The trouble is, humans aren’t great at understanding the concept of exponential growth, and the academic Larry Downs has pointed out that society, business and governments all develop at different linear rates. In other words, we are responding much slower than the technology is developing.

The concept of the Internet of Things is not simply that devices can connect to the internet, but whole ecosystems that make relevant connections between objects and people (or even cows). Connected homes and cars are obvious examples, but the IoT is also impacting on health, industry (especially with robotics) and agriculture (through sensors). This creates a wealth of data that is increasingly being analysed by intelligent machines.

Why is any of that relevant to businesses and brand marketing in particular? The development of mobile devices is a good parallel. Consumers were ahead of brands in using the devices. They also had an expectation that there would be mobile compatible services. Many businesses were slow to get on board, but are finally getting there. The growth of the IoT means that consumers will also expect businesses, even service-focused brands, to be more efficient and more integrated. That doesn’t mean producing pointless apps or gadgets, but rather, providing a better customer experience by leaveraging the benefits of the IoT. An example of how this integration works is the way that health insurers are using fitness and health monitoring products as part of their customer offering.

There are a few companies have already understood how they can leverage the IoT:

– Nike’s Fuel Band (now discontinued) was an example of a brand utility that took their running up into a technology product

– Nivea used beacon technology to deliver a cheap, paper wrist-based tracker to parents

– Disney has made a $1bn investment in their Magic Band, which makes every element of their parks into a frictionless experience

Then we have an increasing number of businesses where the IoT is core:

– Home control devices such as Nest or Hive are fundamentally IoT companies

Tesla cars are all connected devices. When there was a problem with their software, rather than having an expensive recall, the company was able to make an over the air update and avoid a potential PR disaster

– Withings, the French health tech company only create connected products such as their blood pressure monitor or scales

– Then there’s Uber. They are the world’s biggest cab company but they don’t own a single vehicle. The app is classic IoT by contextually connecting passengers to taxis and their drivers. ‘The Uber for X’ is now the current shorthand for this type of connected business

These examples show how most brands can include the IoT as part of their customer strategy. So what can you do about it? I’ve been looking at IoT strategy for a while now, and come up with a few simple ways in which brands can see how to implement it:

– Connect your existing channels and devices – from Twitter to the excellent IFTTT there are many ways in which to connect your existing activities across a range of devices. There are many good examples – Twitter was how Louis Vuitton connected their ‘Hello Cube’ project, extending it from The Tate Modern to a global audience

Apps as a service layer – it’s not just Uber. Smartphones are the core devices for the IoT. We need to move beyond apps as a goal and instead think, of them as the service tool that makes relevant connections to create ecosystems. Air BnB (who book more rooms than The Hilton Group), Waze, Lyft (transport), Depop (vintage clothing) or Yplan (events) are all superb examples of how to create a connected, frictionless service

Smart watches are not small smartphones – the initial raft of Apple Watch apps have focused on two main areas – notifications and scaled down apps. Notifications make sense, but don’t recognize the full potential. Many brands (I won’t name them) have simply scaled down their iPhone efforts into slightly pointless Watch apps. The solution? It’s about creating the service layer (I mentioned above) that has been successful on smartphones

What’s the real problem? Many brands allow the tech to drive their marketing campaigns (think QR codes, iBeacons or drone deliveries) and with more of it about the challenge is even greater. Many of the current smartwatch apps address a phantom problem – that taking your smartphone out of your pocket is a major challenge in your life. Ditch the technology, think like a user and address a real problem

From health to transport to industry, the IoT has the opportunity to make the world a better place. However, even when the tech is there, the applications won’t keep up. Microsoft’s Bill Buxton talked about The Long Nose of Innovation. He took the (computer) mouse as an example, which went from a wooden block in the 60s, to Xerox Parc in the 70s, the Apple Mac in the 80s and finally to all PCs. When it comes to the IoT  we are at the early stages of that long nose. For brands and marketing, the best thing to do is to experiment, innovate and see what you can do. Just don’t make a pointless Apple Watch app.

Why Google Needs Brillo, Their OS for the IoT

With Google’s I/O announcement of Brillo, things are hotting up for operating systems to run the Internet of Things (IoT). We are witnessing a considerable growth of connected objects – from watches to cars to homes. Some of these are from established manufacturers but low-cost, rapid development means that there are an increasing number of startups delivering new devices. With such a broad range of smart objects the real challenge of the IoT is how to make them a fragmented landscape work together.

Google believes that Brillo is the answer (the irony of the similarity to my name is not lost on me). They announced an operating system that is largely Android based with an additional communications layer called Weave. The over arching premise is a consistent experience. Senior VP, Sundar Pichai said in his announcement that with “any Android device [connected to] a device based on Brillo or Weave, a user will see the same thing no matter what.”

The company is already busy in the connected world – they own Android, which powers a majority of the world’s smartphones and has built Android Gear for wearable devices. Google purchased Nest, the connected home system, last year and for the future, their driverless car development will naturally connect to the IoT. The development of complete operating system makes sense for Google.

However, what underpins most of their strategy is their search engine, and with it, paid advertising. Android, for example, puts their search at the heart of mobile. Although smartphones will be the core device for the IoT, the proliferation of connected objects means Google need to ensure their search giant status is future proof.

The success is not guaranteed for Google. Look at the challenges they’ve had in other developments such as social media to see that the power of Google does not always result in uptake. And there are many challengers in connecting the IoT. Major players including Samsung, Microsoft, Cisco and mobile chip manufacturer, ARM have all made moves in this area. There are also a growing number of start-ups and open source projects such as Contiki, Riot and Perhaps most interesting project is IFTTT (‘if this then that’). Many people will know it as a tool for cross posting on social media, but IFTTT offers much more than that. It uses ‘recipes’ to create a codeless method of connecting across channels and devices such as Nest, Phillips Hue or Fitbit. With millions of recipes already running on their apps, the company has a head start on Google supported by a $35m VC funding round in 2014.

Brillo was just one of a number of interesting announcements at Google I/O, there is no question that the operating system has added to the increased interest (and possibly hype) around our rapidly developing world of connected objects.

The Internet of (useless) Things

In his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang, suggests that the invention of the washing machine has brought about major social change.  In the US,  it allowed women to enter the world of work much more easily, thus driving significant changes in the social structure. Clearly, the invention of the washing machine addressed an important problem. On the other hand, LG’s texting washing machine does not (Charles Arthur explained the problem very well, in last week’s Observer). The washing machine is just one of a number of objects that connect through LGs system, HomeChat.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show the talk in the tech world lately has been around connecteds and wearables. The low cost of computing and ease of development is seeing a plethora of products from both major electronic companies and start-up businesses. CES was packed with them … as someone pointed out, there were more wearables than wrists available.

 ‘Who buys an internet fridge and doesn’t already own a tablet? Who goes “I’ve got an iPad but I’d rather listen to music on my fridge”?’
Tom Coates, Mind the Product 2012

The problem that many of these products have is that they don’t address any real problems, nor make my life better. Of course if the machine could dry, fold and put the clothes away, then that would be interesting to me. Or better still, invent self cleaning fabrics that required no washing and no water or power usage. CES has therefore demonstrated the problem with the next generation of computing (or the Internet of Things or Connecteds and Wearables, or whatever you’d like to call them). There are many possibilities for the technology, but very few uses. It looks like we’re in for a phase of slightly useless ‘enhancements’ that we just don’t need.

This Tumblr probably explains the problem best: