Michelle Hespe catches up with Mike Wolf — a leading U.S. expert on the Internet of Things (IoT) and the evolution of the Smart Home — for a chat about what the future holds, and what is happening in the smart world, right now.
It’s hard to comprehend that the first iPhone was released in 2007, and today over 2 billion people are using them. It all happened so quickly. What most people don’t know is back in 1999, another tsunami of technology was gaining momentum. That’s the year that Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer, supposedly coined the phrase “Internet of Things” while working for Procter & Gamble.
As reported by Forbes in late 2015, around 87 percent of people hadn’t heard of the term: “Internet of Things.” Fast-forward 18 months to 2017 and IoT is now a commonly used term, and everyone with a home most likely has a smart object within it. And while IoT may not have been a familiar term in 2015, most of us have used the IoT much earlier than we think as the ATM was one of the first IoT objects used by the public—way back in 1974.
As IoT approaches the point of being as gigantic as the smart phone phenomena, retailers should be aware of the more commonly used IoT objects in the Smart Home, and more importantly, understand how consumers relate to them. Take note of the emerging trends in the IoT arena, consider some common misconceptions about IoT, and explore the ideas, concepts and resulting products that continue to evolve until they become a part of everyday life.
Soon consumers will want to develop a smart home to make their lives easier, not to mention cheaper. “Can my fridge tell me when my food is almost gone and put in an order to my local supermarket?” “Can my oven teach me how to make my cookies come out perfect?” “Can someone call emergency services if my mother takes a fall in her home while by herself?”
The answer to these questions is yes; some are already a reality and others are in the pipeline.
With so much change afoot, and data being king, consumers also want to maintain a comfortable, safe environment for their loved ones. Questions retailers may soon hear: “How smart should my home be?” and “Am I in danger of losing my privacy?”
Enter Michael Wolf, owner of NextMarket Insights, a boutique research and strategy firm that helps companies better understand the smart home and the IoT consumer. His advice and ideas have helped retailers (and ultimately consumers) understand what IoT means in the changing face of smart homes. In his own words, “Over my career, I’ve helped do two main things: build million-dollar content/ advisory services and help companies better understand and navigate consumer technology markets.”
Mike is about as passionate as a person can be when it comes to discussing the IoT. His enthusiasm is contagious, and listening to one of his talks brings clarity to the entire IoT concept.
“I’ve been following the future and the way we live with technology since the late 1990s; in particular connectivity — the way devices talk to one another and change the way we live, and in turn, how businesses are shifting their business models,” he says. “Today, the Smart Home is no longer a futurists’ idea — it is actually happening across tens of millions of households. We’ve crossed the chasm to this era – and many of us are now living in a ‘connected’ household.”
Two new trends allow consumers to manage their own smart home experiences, Mike explains. For the technologically experienced consumer, the DIY smart home is a self-installable smart home and is not connected to any home service provider. For those who aren’t sure about which smart or connected products are right for them, Amazon offers a free in-home consultation service where consumers can try smart home products and how to voice control their home with Alexa.
“Today, a lot more products that people need are easy to install, whereas before, you had to buy an entire system,” Mike explains. “There is a movement toward more focused products — products that do one thing really well. And Amazon came in and had a rethink about the market.”
Hence the popularity of the Amazon Echo — a connected speaker that helps you interact with your home. If you have a question about how to cook something or where to buy a product, simply ask Echo and it provides an answer.
The new technology is also helping the average consumer become an expert at tasks or activities that normally require hours and hours of training. “As technology advances, it compresses the time it takes to become an expert,” Mike says. “For example, I have a connected beer brewery in my home. Before smart technology, I shied away from brewing beer on my own as it didn’t taste good and I didn’t want to serve up bad beer. But now I can make a great brew as the products do a lot of the hard work for me.”
Mike also believes that the Smart Home will help the growing elderly population. “Smart Homes will be able to assist with extending the time that elderly people can spend in their own homes,” he says. “As safety technology develops, there are more ways to assist them. For instance, if your elderly mother living alone fell, the smart home would register that and call 911. You could be notified if she didn’t come down for breakfast.”
The Smart Home will also add convenience to our increasingly busy schedules. As Smart Home systems become more integrated one day the sensor that knows you have arrived home from work will alert the smart cooking system, which will begin cooking the meal and then let you know when dinner is ready. That’s heaven for busy executives or those with kids and babies to feed before they get to sit down.
The promise on the horizon is that the IoT can save consumers a lot of money because the products purchased today are not static. Rather, they are shells to a product inside that can change with the times and advance alongside technology.
“Smart products that you buy now can be improved,” Mike says. “Connected products can be improved without the consumer having to buy a new one. For instance, you buy a washing machine from a manufacturer and you pay a small fee. That manufacturer then becomes your service provider. It’s more than just gaining a product — you’re gaining an ongoing service.”
As the creator of the Smart Kitchen Summit, Mike is fascinated with the advancement of Smart Home kitchen spaces. From ovens that help you cook to benches that adjust to your height as you approach, and from surfaces that talk to you to cameras built into appliances, designers and manufacturers today must change the way they make things as people are changing the way that they interact with the very fabric of their homes.
“Appliances, countertops and the furniture of a home all interact,” says Mike. “It’s a bigger idea, and it’s still early days. It’s about putting all of this into the fabric of the home, to improve lives.”
Smart Home advancements also raise the question of privacy. Essentially, a home can be filled with smart products gathering data from the people living there and that data is used by companies to communicate with them, and ultimately sell them more things and services.
“We’re coming up out of this Wild West now,” Mike says assuredly. “There is a greater understanding of security, but when the first smart products were being developed, security wasn’t a top priority. Today, manufacturers and businesses should understand that it’s a privilege, not a right, to have someone’s data.”
So, is there reason to be concerned? As with any new trend or wave in technology, it’s a matter of education. Mike recommends listening to regular podcasts and visiting sites such as http://thespoon.tech (a site that his company developed) to read stories, watch videos and join a community of others who are on the learning curve as well. Another great resource for those interested in the IoT is http://iotpodcast.com.
“We’re not slowing down,” Mike says. “Things are only about to get a whole lot more interesting.”
And no doubt, smarter.
The Internet of Things is on display at the International Home + Housewares Show. The IHA Smart Home pavilion features innovative product suppliers and developers showcasing products that demonstrate fresh ideas and designs. In addition, a strong educational program further showcases trends and technologies surrounding this movement.