At CES this year, one of the hottest topics of discussion and presentation was the “Internet of Things.” For anyone that doesn’t firmly understand that concept, the Internet of Things is essentially the interconnectedness of digital devices that live offline. So, instead of thinking about your computer connecting to the internet through an ethernet cable, think about fitness monitors on your wrist, sleep monitoring apps, home automation systems and the like that are all connected to the cloud — or each other — in some way. In it’s most extreme form, many, many things would have some sort of identifier and would be connected to a cataloguing system so that computers could track patterns and anticipate needs of individuals accurately. While this might sound somewhat 1984ish, consumers’ demand for interconnectivity and personal customization is inexorably pushing modern technology in this direction.
Google’s recent purchase of Nest is a step in this direction from one of the largest technology companies in the world. Google is not in the business of searching the Internet; they’re in the business of selling advertising. To do that, Google has built some of the most useful tools in existence: Android, search, maps, drive, mail, scholar — the list goes on. They invent tools that make life easier. I have no problem admitting that. However, these tools exist to deliver advertising to consumers. And not only that, by aggregating as much data on each personal consumer as possible, Google can serve ads that are more personalized and more relevant. This is great for both consumers and advertisers on certain levels, but Google is not an altruistic foundation — it’s a multinational advertising hegemony.
The reason I bring this up, is that some groups recoiled at this purchase; what does Google want with a smart thermostat company? Our bet is on the first paragraph of this post — the Internet of Things.
Today, there are multiple vendors offering home automation systems (think ADT Security, Comcast, etc.). Nest is either the undisputed leader in this field or in the conversation as being one of the dominant companies within it . Their learning thermostat is the most elegant and effective piece of tech within the home automation field. To shift to a different industry, there are countless wearable pieces of technology gaining traction: Nike Fuel band, Fitbit, Jawbone Up, the Atlas Fitness Tracker, Samsung Galaxy Gear, Google Glass… I could keep going. These all interact with apps on your smartphone that connect to a central database to track and log your performance or daily activities.
Imagine if one company could link your daily activities, your home automation, your driving habits, your working habits — essentially all your offline habits and all your online habits — together. On many levels, this would be amazing. Your home would shut off every light, turn off the AC or heat depending on the season, lock the doors, turn off the appliances, run the dishwasher, all on their own. Your phone and wrist band would tell you when to work out and how hard to do so based on the food your fridge and pantry knows you consumed today. These things could remind you to pick up milk on the way home because that same fridge knows you’re low and require milk in a recipe you’re making tonight.
This would be an amazing advance in how we live our day to day lives. On the flip side, though, this could lead to massive breaches of privacy. By definition, individuals would almost certainly be terrified of their lives and identities being hacked from a wider and wider array of possible access points. I won’t go too far into details about why this will or will not be great or terrible for consumers, except to say there’s almost no denying that Google does not care about regulating your home’s temperature. Google is in the business of delivering advertisers to consumers, and the deeper entrenched into the Internet of things they can delve, the better positioned they will be when connected devices begin talking to one another and suggesting courses of action for the devices’ owners.
How does this impact enterprises you might ask? Other than this being a big announcement in the business world, it holds serious implications for enterprises far and wide. I would challenge companies looking to enter the mobile space or expand their presence therein to begin thinking outside of the phone. Of course it is still the dominant piece of smart, connected technology people use on a daily basis. However, wearable, connected technology is exploding. Home automation is expanding. Automobile connectedness is growing.
As a company, anything you do to move into the mobile space needs to take developments like these into account. You’re not just operating in people’s pockets or online anymore — your solutions needs to be part of a much larger framework of digital living. Whether you’re in the consumer-facing market or strictly looking for internal productivity/utility tools, be aware of the new avenues available to you. There are innovative and engaging solutions that are no longer confined to a computer or phone. You need to start thinking differently in order to embrace and benefit from these changes, because the earlier you evolve and adapt to these new technologies, the more gains from them you can reap.