By Mike Farley
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder
Builders of the Internet of Things (IoT) have long promised consumers a more convenient future: We will all live in “smart homes” where surveillance cameras, thermostats and garage door openers will turn on and off automatically, our groceries will order and deliver themselves into our refrigerators, and our speakers will know our taste in music. In our “smart cities,” always-on surveillance systems will crack down on crime and sensor-driven roadways will put an end to traffic.
Yet this hyper-efficient, IoT-fueled future is years away and plenty of pundits and investors are talking about consumer IoT as a too-hyped trend that’s failing to take off. According to a recent survey, consumer demand for smartphones and IoT devices is stalling. So why aren’t consumers snapping up the new technology?
Industry insiders say the barrier is a lack of standards: connected devices can’t talk to each other, and each device comes with its own app, rather than being managed from a single point of control. Others think jargon-y marketing is to blame: Consumers still scratch their heads when they hear “Internet of Things.”
I think the problem runs deeper than standards or labels. People don’t think IoT will make a real difference in their lives.
Yes, interoperability and ease of use are essential goals that will unleash the long-term potential of the technology. Yet, I believe it’s more realistic and effective to grow the consumer IoT now by starting simply. Instead of convincing consumers that they need complex systems to serve needs they don’t know they have, we should fix real problems people struggle with every day. It might be less sexy than showing off the latest whiz-bang tech but it sure would help more people—and therefore sell a lot more.
Case in point: Uber has been growing exponentially not because people felt it was their natural-born right to have cars on-demand, but because everyone can relate to the red-hot fury of standing outside waiting for a taxi that never comes. The dramatic disruption of the taxi industry proves people are willing to pay for peace of mind.
So how can we start by addressing real pain points – and providing peace of mind – with IoT? Solve simple problems that strike an emotional nerve, like the following:
- Safety for Seniors. Product developers and innovators have a tremendous opportunity to use the IoT to help older Americans live safely at home, and even save lives. An AARP survey found that 87 percent of people over 65 want to remain at home or in their community. Those of us with aging parents know the tension between supporting your mother or father’s choice to live at home and fearing a possible fall, slip or medical incident that could change everything in an instant. I was inspired by a recent application from Temboo that showed how a microphone, a motion sensor, a paging service and streaming data can work together to establish a baseline for independent seniors’ activity at home and then alert adult children or caretakers if something has gone wrong. With the older population expected to double by 2060, this is a perfect example of how the IoT can be deployed to solve problems that matter.
- Security. If your home has ever been burglarized, you know that feeling of violation is something you would do almost anything to prevent. Home security products like Ring, DropCam, SimpliSafe and Canary can do just that. Those companies aren’t using IoT for the sake of engineering bragging rights; they take advantage of the Internet because it makes it easier to keep tabs on your house from your smartphone. Keeping families and homes safe isn’t a futurist convenience – it’s a priority that strikes an emotional nerve, right now.
- Loss. Location tracking connects any individually “dumb” object to the IoT so it can be easily located, integrating location-aware sensors, mapping software, Bluetooth wireless, GPS, smartphone apps and network effects to give people the ability to always know where their belongings are. But, more importantly, it solves a problem we can all relate to: the sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you’ve lost your wallet or bike. As manufacturers begin to integrate location-aware capabilities into their products as a way to deliver added value and peace of mind, the technology will drive significant growth in the number of objects that become part of the consumer Internet of Things. Ensuring people can find their stuff and lowering anxiety may seem like relatively small problems compared to running cities more efficiently, but they’re universal issues.
WiFi reliability is a fundamental threat to consumer IoT growth. At home, I’m the IT guy. When Netflix is rudely interrupted by buffering, I do what everyone else does: I get up, mutter under my breath and restart the router. As the number of connected devices in a home grows, so too does competition for valuable WiFi. That’s why new cloud-based, mesh networking WiFi products like Eero have a role to play in fueling the consumer IoT. Seamless interoperability is the long game, but reliable WiFi and consistent performance of networked devices is what consumers demand now.
The potential power of IoT is truly awe-inspiring, but in order to boost sales and drive demand beyond the early adopter set, we need to stop making toys no one cares about and instead work on building simple solutions to real, everyday problems for real people.
Michael Farley is a pioneer of the Location of Things and Co-founder and CEO of Tile, a technology company in Silicon Valley that is giving everything the power of smart location. Farley started Tile to help his wife find the many things she lost. Tile’s first product is a small square that fits on your keychain, in your purse or on almost anything else, and uses Bluetooth technology to help you locate the things that matter to you most. The company launched with a crowdfunding campaign and has gone on to sell millions of Tiles online and in retail stores such as Apple, Best Buy and Target. The Tile community helps people find items around the world and locates more than half a million items every day.
Prior to starting Tile, Mike spent eight years at Green Hills Software developing real-time operating systems for products such as flight control systems and networking hardware and was recently awarded EY Entrepreneur of The Year award.