The Internet Of Things Is Cool, But Cool Doesn’t Count


If there’s one thing that the CES has shown us so far, it’s that the idea of staying connected is no longer limited to our smartphones, tablets and computers.

The Internet of Things has become all the rage in 2013, and as a result we’re seeing technology seep into every single facet of our lives, with new cool innovations like connected fridges, intelligent forks and cars that can drive themselves or talk to their owners – it’s as if everything in our home will be, sooner or later, connected to some sort of wireless standard.

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The prospect of the Internet of Things ushering in some kind of futuristic lifestyle, where every aspect of our lives becomes fully automated (if we so desire) is an exciting one, but it’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot more to it than just the ‘cool factor’.

For all the connected forks, cars, fridges and ovens designers can throw at us, these gadgets are worthless without the software and services that back them up.

The intelligent fork for example, as weird and wonderful a concept it is, is unlikely to capture the public’s imagination for too long, simply because it offers nothing but gimmick value. It might make the manufacturer a few quick bucks, but unless someone figures out a way in which it can truly benefit people’s lives, it’s ultimately destined for the scrapheap.

As GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham correctly points out in an article last week, many new smart gadgets will ultimately prove to be worthless without the benefit of services and/or apps that can extend their usefulness beyond the basic ‘cool’ concept. Why have a connected fridge if it cannot help you put together a shopping list? Why use a connected pedometer that tells you how many calories you’ve burned if it cannot also see how many you’ve consumed?

Services will become more necessary as the Internet of Things evolves, and not just from the perspective of a consumer, for they will also become viable sources of revenue for those that create them.

For instance, if someone were to create a connected calorie tracking/pedometer product that could sync with a connected fridge, and if that fridge can also plan your meals, put together your grocery shopping list and then order these items directly, suddenly all of your health, diet and shopping concerns would be taken care of – now that’s a service that people would be willing to pay for.

A further example of how important services are is provided by Delphi’s Car Connect, a small wireless device that plugs into your car’s OBD2 port and brings tools such as car tracking and ‘status updates’ about our vehicle’s health. The potential of car connect goes way beyond this too. Currently its features are nice to have but not exactly ‘essential’, and neither do they seem to be that profitable. But imagine the difference if it could also talk to car parks or interact with parking meters in order to locate a parking place during rush hour? Should this kind of service appear, many consumers would be more than willing to pay for convenience it provides.

The point of all this is that while all the attention is being focused on the hardware and gizmos being touted, few are focusing on the business opportunities that the Internet of Things will provide.  And as with everything else, ultimately it will be how ‘profitable’ these things are, rather than how ‘cool’ these things are, that drives innovation further.