Monday, October 3, 2016

IoT Toys (Part 1)

I figured my first "real" post would be a bit lighter and more fun, before diving more deeply, so I wanted to start with one of my favorite fast-growing industries and one that I believe will have profound, lasting effect on the way we live.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a broad category for the network of devices that are "connected" to the internet. IoT is closely associated with and populated by "smart" devices. I put both in quotations, because some devices are not directly connected to the web, nor are they smart on their own. Many rely on a connection to a smartphone (Bluetooth or other) to upload and process incoming data.
As someone who prefers to be an early-adopter, I try to obtain and have hands-on experience with IoT devices when I can.
Here are a few of the devices I own and my thoughts on the companies that produce them:
(Split into two posts, so they would not be too long).

6cb797ae-c570-4718-83f5-fdd6575613ec_1-459ca8fb52cfa59b609324aaadc20602Fitbit Charge HR

Fitbit is probably the most prolific smart device company with over 29 million units sold (as of January 2016 and millions more sold since then).
Because the industry is still developing, wearables are generally little more than worn sensors with little analysis or extrapolation of that data. Fitbit does calculate distance and calories burned off of the number of steps taken and your physical measurements, but its more of an estimation than personalized algorithm.
That said, I continue to wear mine simply because I enjoy tracking my personal metrics and the heart rate monitor is a good first indicator of overall health. I doubt that Fitbit has created the perfect formula for activity trackers, many people agree as can be seen by their recently falling stock price, but I think they are improving and helping to advance the industry.
Industry/Company Thoughts:
The arrival of mainstream wearable technology has been predicted for years (how long ago did we see Alan Alda play with the "wearable computer" on Scientific American?), but it's yet to truly mature and hit the mainstream. I doubt that the future is just activity trackers and the first company to find the best utility for users will make it big.
Fitbit needs to continue to evolve their products and experiment with features to see what consumers really value and want in their products. If it fails to do so and relies on their existing products, business will stagnate and I doubt the company will exist on its own in two years.


Nest Thermostat

I've had my Nest for several years and I love it.
Remote access and not having to remember to turn down my thermostat when I leave are probably the biggest benefits, but it also "learns" your preferences and adjusts accordingly.
For example, in the summer I like to cool the bedroom down before going to bed. Nest has learned this behavior and turns the temperature down around my bedtime each weeknight (weekends my schedule is more varied so there is less of a discernible pattern).
In addition to the Thermostat, Nest sells a Smoke + CO Alarm, Indoor camera, and, recently released, Outdoor camera. While I really enjoy having my Nest Thermostat, my thoughts on the rest of the company and its products are less optimistic.
The Smoke + CO Alarm ($99) is overpriced for its utility, as are the two cameras ($199), particularly because you have to pay a yearly fee if you want recorded video service (minimum $100/year for 10 days of video).
Industry/Company Thoughts:
Nest purchased Dropcam to obtain its camera product-line in 2014. It sold them branded as Dropcam until recently and just released the outdoor camera this year. The fact that it took so long to rebrand is confusing and should have been a quick and easy change.
There have been rumblings that Nest is being mismanaged by its executives and Google (purchased for $3.2 billion in early 2014) and the company is not doing well financially. This is disappointing to me because I have followed Nest closely from the start and thought it showed much promise.
I wrote a paper back in 2014 about the state of Nest and what I thought it needed to do to succeed. The focal point of my suggestion was to establish Nest as the platform for an IoT household. I believe it tried to do this through the "Works With Nest" program, in which it partnered with various other IoT companies to expand Nest functionality, and its purchase of Revolv, but integration and execution was underwhelming and recently shutdown Revolv.
Nest missed out on a huge opportunity that is being realized by Amazon and its line of Echo products. (Which I will cover in my next post!) Maybe it's just Google's hardware curse but, as I pointed out, management seems to be a part of the problem and that generally indicates poor strategy/roll-out.
Parent company Google has plans for an Echo competitor, Google Home. Hopefully this will establish a strong foothold in the IoT space for Google and, indirectly, refocus attention to Nest and its products. Currently, Amazon has a significant lead as the first mover and it looks like Home will be more limited in its integration than Echo, but I expect that list will grow. Also, Google's excellent machine-learning, software expertise, and omnipresence in all things tech (imagine full integration with your Google account and devices) should be enough to make Home a solid product and competitor to Echo.
As I mentioned, the Thermostat is a great product that I love, but Nest's other products are not as appealing. Unfortunately, it appears Nest's future lies in the hands of Google and its line of complementary products as Nest is not yet self-sustaining and its current trajectory looks shaky.

Thoughts on any of the products/companies I mentioned or IoT in general?
Stay tuned for Part 2!

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