Connected Consumer Devices Are Likely to Benefit the Consumer….Indirectly and Last

I was intrigued by a recent article in Bloomberg Business Week that asks in its headline: Do You Really Want to Talk to Your Kitchen?  This article takes a brief look at the home automation industry and how it might finally be on the verge of rapid growth.  Start-ups like SmartThings are making the design and use of connected devices easier, which may in turn result in wider production and adoption.  

But as with much of today’s expanding coverage of connected devices in the mainstream press, the article misses a number of major points and creates some misconceptions.  First, it implies that connecting devices will exclusively benefit the consumer.  Yes, the ability to remotely operate appliances and control them from your iPad may have some consumer benefit, but we see bigger benefits with the adoption of connected devices.  The consumer benefits – while still real – will become indirectly derived.

Take the lowly washing machine.  As implied by the Bloomberg article, there may indeed be someone who wants to start a load of laundry from the office or wants to know that it’s time to put the clothes in the dryer.  That said, we think these people are few and far between.  Instead, consider the advantage of having your washing machine continuously track and report usage data to Whirlpool.  If that were the case, the local service technician would know in advance – even before you know - when your machine wasn’t functioning properly, or when cumulative use had been sufficient to predict failure of a key part.  Over time, reporting like this will shift the entire appliance repair industry from emergency repair calls to scheduled-maintenance calls.  It is also likely to enable a variety of new business models for the appliance industry.  For example, manufacturers will sell or bundle low priced maintenance contracts along with the sale of each new machine. In-turn they will sell the data generated by the machine to local technicians who actually perform the work and get paid for their service.  Is there a consumer benefit in all of this?  Yes, your washing machine is likely to last longer, be repaired less often and in some cases, never have to be replaced.

The same reporting will also provide the washing machine manufacturer with unprecedented insight into how its products are used, greatly aiding and accelerating the product development process.  Focus groups and expensive surveys of consumer usage, which try to approximate what consumers are doing at home, are going to be replaced with real data. This information is going to be continuously fed back into the product development organization, enabling innovation to occur at a faster pace and with a higher degree of certainty than ever before.  There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the area of washing machines that we’re aware of, but that will change when the connected washing machine becomes the industry standard.  Again, consumers will benefit because washing machines will be improved and last longer, a benefit that makes the ability to monitor the spin cycle on your iPhone seem frivolous.

Whirlpool might even be able to take a cue from GE, who has begun selling jet engines based on how much they are actually used, instead of a large up-front charge.  You will still own the washing machine, but you will have the option of paying for it by the washer load.  Perhaps you will even buy it from a company that specializes in the delivery, usage reporting, and maintenance of washing machines.  If it sounds like washing machines as a “managed service,” a concept very popular in IT, it should.  New, more flexible pricing models will be a true benefit that results from connected appliances.

Our point is simple: yes, connected appliances will benefit consumers.  But the remote operation of items in your home is a very small part of the story.







Memjet – A License to Print…Money

We speak with the leaders of many incredibly interesting technology companies and innovative start-ups during the course of our work, but one company we recently encountered – Memjet – really stands out.  We encourage you to check out the video on the homepage of their website (one of the best product videos we’ve ever seen).

If you think that color ink jet printing is a big snooze, this company is like a giant brass alarm clock clanging next to your sleepy head.  It’s hard to know what aspect of their business is the one that is creating the most buzz. And you don’t need to be a printer industry executive to get excited  when you see what these folks in San Diego are up to (I had people crowded around my PC when I showed them the demo).

 It could be their breakthrough technology, which uses millions of MEMS-based printing nozzles to spit out 70 color pages per minute. Or it may be the fact that they are turning the entire office and commercial color printing industry on its head. Or it could be the fact that they have their own processor IP, giving them a unique technical advantage over everyone else in the printing industry. Or it may be the implicit knowledge that they’re going to make millions selling proprietary printers and inks.  Or is it their killer marketing video that brings to life what might otherwise be a bunch of printer technobabble?  Actually, it’s all of the above, and more.  We can’t wait to watch this unfold.



Is Drywall-As-A-Service A Killer App for M2M? Why Not?

We’ve been working on developing use cases to help illustrate our vision for how deeply M2M technology and connectivity are going to infiltrate our world in the coming years.  Sure, we’ve all heard plenty about the connected car, the connected factory, the connected shopper.  A while back we encountered Brother’s new connected sewing machine which we thought was a pretty compelling example of the spread of connectivity into products of yesteryear.  We’re also quite sure that the connected grand piano is coming.  Shouldn’t your sheet music be on a screen instead of in the bench?  And shouldn’t the piano automatically call the technician when it needs to be tuned?  Looks like Steinway could have a nice subscription and service business….and is going to need a datacenter.)  But our new favorite is this: connected drywall.  We can’t say that we’ve seen any news or announcements related to this, but couldn’t drywall be sold with a wide range of embedded sensors – temperature sensors, humidity sensors, motion sensors - that are increasingly being incorporated into smart building?  USG is one of the world’s largest drywall manufacturers, and why couldn’t they get a nickel per drywall sheet per month for access to the data generated by all the connected drywall that gets installed in new buildings around the world?  It’s difficult to predict exactly how far connectivity and services will extend into the connected world of the future, and we acknowledge that drywall-as-a service is an idea of our own creation.  But if connected drywall is within the realm of possibility – and why shouldn’t it be? – the possibilities for M2M are almost as boundless as the imagination.


Consumerization of Security – The Next Big Thing

The day is coming when our cars, shoes, bicycles, and even the floor are all going to be streaming, pinging, uploading, downloading and otherwise communicating with networks and servers to enable all types of cool things.  You’re going to love having the ability to customize the look and feel of your car’s dashboard, to use Google earth to track every bike ride you have ever taken, and know that your elderly parents are safe because of the pattern they walked in their house today.  You’re also going to be concerned that all of these devices are secure.  There’s a lot of buzz around the Internet of Things, but only a handful of forward-thinking companies are paying attention to ensuring that it is secure.  These companies are on the forefront of an emerging trend: the consumerization of security.  While consumers pay very little attention to the security of their devices today, they’re going to get very interested in security in the future, once they understand the risk associated with having their car, their garbage can, and their home security systems all connected to the Internet.  Unfortunately, it’s going to take one highly publicized incident before consumers jump on the security band wagon.  First, hackers will go to great lengths to do bad things- like steal or crash cars, set printers on fire remotely, and reprogram alarm system before breaking in – all by exploiting security weaknesses in next-generation consumer devices and systems.   The media call widespread attention to this issue.  And then consumers are going to start paying attention.  When they shop for their next car, oven, vacuum cleaner, pair of running shoes, or any one of hundreds of other soon-to-be connected products, security will be part of their decision.  Established PC security solution providers are envisioning the building wave of security needs created by The Internet of Things and are moving to cash in.  McAfee or Symantec inside that toaster?  The day is coming when you’re going hope that they are.

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