Thursday, October 6, 2016

IoT Toys (Part 2)

Continuing from my first IoT Toys post, here are a few more products I've been playing around with:

amazonechoAmazon Echo

I have an Amazon Echo and Echo Dot and enjoy them both. I use the Echo more often because it's placed in my bedroom and I use it to check the weather and news in the morning. The Dot is connected to my living room A/V receiver, so I primarily use it to play music or adjust the thermostat when I'm too lazy to walk to my Nest or open the app. (Ah, the joys and sloth of modern convenience!)
As I indicated, in addition to being a voice-activated question-and-answer (like Siri or Google), the most interesting part about Echo is the fact that Amazon has built an IoT platform around it. I can control my Nest thermostat by talking to my Echo and you can also connect it to a host of other devices (partial list here).
Industry/Company Thoughts:
Part 1 introduced Google's upcoming competitor to Echo, so Amazon will have to keep innovating quickly and form more partnerships (or buy the companies) to further integrate users into their ecosystem and create more value for theirs instead of Google's, or even Apple's.
This will be difficult because both Google and Apple customers have significant brand loyalty and switching costs due to their smartphone dominance. However, Amazon has established itself with its Prime membership, integrating Amazon Music, Videos, and several other services to its platform. Also, because Amazon is more of a third party to the smartphone wars, it isn't as mutually exclusive to be a user as it is for Google vs. Apple.
What could really set Amazon ahead of Google and Apple in the IoT space would be for easy integration and tools for their Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers. The proliferation of connect devices will continue to increase exponentially over the next decade (Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion devices by 2020, approximately 6.6 devices per person), so it will be critical for any company providing enterprise infrastructure to easily integrate their products.
I loved Amazon's strategy introducing Echo. They simply introduced the product and responded to consumers on quantity and features; then they quickly followed up on Echo's success by introducing the Tap and Dot. (Interestingly, the Tap is no longer listed in the "Echo Family" and is now on sale. It was not a very compelling product, as it is not hands free, so I assume this is due to low demand and the first steps to phasing it out).
Being the first significant platform in the IoT/Connected Home space gives Amazon a significant head start, but Google and Apple have plans to enter in the near future. It will need to continuing leveraging its strong foothold to fend off competition, but it is in a very good position. Amazon is already a mainstay in people's homes (for both Echo and, of course, ecommerce) and I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't use Amazon to buy something. Google has a history of hardware flops, but its advantages in software and machine learning should make things interesting. Apple is on the decline in the home; I hear fewer and fewer instances of Siri being used and I'm not sure how many new customers it attracts for Apple TV. More than the sales of each new iPhone, I believe its voice-activated concierge will play a significant role in the future success (or decline) of the company.


I recently bought an Automatic and have been playing around with it for the past few months. You plug the device into the diagnostic port in your car and it tracks and summarizes a number of different driving metrics and gives you a score to encourage more fuel efficient driving habits.
For example, it will beep at you when you brake or accelerate too aggressively or drive over 70 miles per hour (a preset limit determined by the company) and provides a "dashboard" that summarizes and visualizes this data for you.
Automatic Dashboard. Sample from
I actually haven't adjusted my driving that much based on Automatic's input, nor am I overly concerned with my score, but I can see the value of those features. New drivers, in particular, could benefit from using it.
As it is tied in to the car's diagnostic port, another benefit of Automatic is that it can decipher error codes from your car. So rather than having to bring it to the shop every time a warning light flashes, you can more easily determine what's wrong and decide on what corrective action you want to take before they try to gouge you. Also, if it senses that you have been in a crash, it will automatically message whoever you set as your emergency contact(s).
In general, the product itself isn't too useful for everyday driving, but the data it gathers is interesting to look at and analyze. It's probably too much information for the average driver but, for stat geeks and the curious, tracking things like: battery charge/discharge history, driving habits compared to others, and seeing your entire driving history mapped out are really cool.
Industry/Company Thoughts:
I'm not sure what is next for Automatic, but if management is smart they're already planning long-term strategy. The company just released a 3G-connected version (the older model required a smartphone to sync data), but I hope that's not the end of development and they are coming out with additional products soon.
I agree with John Zimmer (Lyft) and Elon Musk (Tesla) that single-owner car ownership is fading quickly, so I don't think the current product line will sustain Automatic in the long-term. However, tracking metrics for shared vehicles could be useful and, in general, the more data that is collected the better to make good decisions. Perhaps Automatic could transform into a sensors and metrics analysis company targeting the automotive industry.

bluesmartBluesmart One

Bluesmart is one of the big success stories to come out of crowdfunding. The founders raised over $2.2 million on indiegogo back in 2014 and have actually delivered products to all their backers.
I was one of the many (over 10,000) backers and received my suitcase last year. I've taken it on a few trips and, in general, like the product. However, there are many things to improve upon and hopefully those changes will make it into the next version.
The Good: The feature I probably use the most is the internal battery which has two USB ports to charge your electronics and powers the suitcase itself. Not having to scrounge or fight for outlets when you're running low on power is a huge plus, especially on multi-leg trips with long layovers. product_slider_6_2x
Another part about the suitcase that I love is the outside pocket that can hold your phone, tablet, and laptop, and has enough room for several other quick access items. When the suitcase is unlocked, you access the pocket by lifting the top flap and peel it away. The flap is magnetic and will automatically close and seal itself back up so all your things will not be out in the open.
The Average: The company touts several other features that seem cool, but aren't all that useful in practice all of which are controlled by a smartphone app (which is mediocre in itself, but has improved since launch). These features are: GPS/location tracking, built-in scale, and remote locking.
As this is meant to be a carry-on, the location tracking and remote locking features aren't that useful unless someone steals your luggage or you simply forget it somewhere. On the plus side, if you enable the feature, you can have the bag automatically lock when it goes out of range of your bluetooth signal; but again, this is mostly useful if it is stolen.
Even if you were thinking about checking it, I would be hesitant to do so as I'm not sure how well it would fare being tossed around; and if you're buying one at full price, $449 (or $599 for the "Black Edition") is an expensive gamble.
The scale is a nice feature and is preferable to the weigh-yourself-then-weigh-yourself-carrying-you-bag method, but the bag is pretty small and with the electronics, it has even less volume for you things, which brings us to...
The Bad: As I was leading to above, the space inside the suitcase is pretty small. There should be enough room for most weekend trips, but would not be sufficient for anything longer. I will say, if you're not opposed to checking a bag, this is fine because you can pack enough in the Bluesmart for a couple days if you lose your checked luggage.
Industry/Company Thoughts:
Overall, Bluesmart made a great first pass at making "smart" luggage and showed there is a demand for it. However, the company will need to capitalize on what it has learned from the One and create its next product. The "Black Edition" improved the durability of the body and wheels, but that does little to further the electronic technologies.
With its existing technologies in mind, I think Bluesmart could produce a fantastic larger bag that is meant to be checked when flying. The scale, lock, and location tracker are all features I want in my larger bags. There may be a small concern if they use lithium-ion batteries ("hoverboards" and the Samsung Note 7 have show the dangers of poorly made ones), but I doubt it would give them much trouble.
It is still a time of trial-and-error (or "fail fast" is the favorite buzzword now) for the industry, so companies and customers are trying to find which products and what features they value most. I really enjoy having more data on all of my possessions, so the development of the IoT industry and the prospect of connecting more devices together is exciting to me.
Hopefully devices don't get too smart.

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