If you're looking for an injection of excitement about the future, look no further than the Internet of Things (IoT). Comprised of an ever-growing network of “connected” or “smart” devices, the Internet of Things has garnered more and more attention. Industrial applications are soaring, and the public's imagination has been captured by devices like Snapchat Spectacles and Amazon's Alexa.
Consumers should expect to see smart versions of devices coming out from now on. Just as the washing machine and the digital camera changed our lives, so too will connected devices of the future.
From recent trends to predictions about the future, here's what's going on for consumers in the IoT.
Today's biggest smart successes
It seems like there's been no shortage of viral smart devices lately, especially ones like smart watches that are easily incorporated into everyday use. Most of the successful smart devices on the market are simple upgrades to what you already own or use — but their impact is undeniable.
For personal use
Personal smart devices from the frivolous to the hyper-practical can be seen on store shelves, on wrists, and on crowdfunding websites.
- Key and wallet finders. Small devices that pair with an app now help the forgetful among us find our keys and wallets. There are a ton of options on the market, and their affordability has helped them take off. Some, like the extremely popular Tile, can also tell you where a paired device is — so your phone can find your keys, but your keys can also find your phone.
- Fitness trackers. Following in the footsteps of the heart rate monitor and pedometer, wearable “fitness trackers” with a range of functions — from sleep monitoring to GPS tracking — have exploded in the last few years. Fitbits are ubiquitous, but there are many versions of the product. Even designer brands have come out with their own versions of a tracker.
- Smart watches. Much like the fitness tracker, smart watches are extremely popular, and everyone, from clothing retailers, like Fossil, to tech companies, like Apple and LG, is making them. The market for smart watches is still growing, hitting a record 21.1 million dollars in sales in 2016.
Smaller devices like these are generally pretty easy to use and have a wide range of potential consumers. This helps account for their success here in the early days of the IoT.
For home use
Building a “smart home” is an idea that's been kicking around perhaps since HAL came along, but at least since the 90s. Upgrades for existing home systems are huge, and with each passing year, you will be able to replace more and more things in your home with connected devices.
- Smart sprinklers. A huge use case for the IoT is the smart sprinkler/irrigation system. In commercial agriculture, many connected devices, from flow meters to soil sensors, are controlled by farmers. For home use, this same technology has become extremely popular. Why? Because it saves people money.
- Smart lightbulbs. An easy way to get into the “smart home” trend, smart lightbulbs have come out in full force. Some bulbs have manual controls for brightness and type of light, some require a complex hub system to control, and others you can manipulate from your phone. They represent an affordable luxury for homeowners, and can also be energy and money saving.
- Speakers. Wireless speakers have been around for so long that they don't feel new or exciting anymore. But ubiquity is a sign of success and, with music streaming more accessible than ever, everything from waterproof shower speakers to high-end speakers with good sound quality are available for purchase.
- Thermostats. Both for business and home, smart thermostats are cropping up all over the place. They save money and help you regulate your energy use, so it's no surprise homeowners want to use them.
No, we're not quite at the robot “dream home” of Smart House — though that's probably a good thing — but households represent a huge market for connected devices.
Controllers, or hubs, are one day going to be central lynchpins in our smart device systems. There are versions of IoT controllers coming out today and, while popular, they are nowhere near done reaching their full potential. Success for today and tomorrow is on the menu here.
- Hubs (think: Echo/Alexa and GoogleHome). There is no one function for a hub. Today, they're part personal assistant, part controller for other devices, and part speaker. Though impressive as they stand today, these devices will have to become more nimble as more systems are connected to them.
- Smart routers. Now, you can manage internet-connected devices straight from the router. While connected routers may not be in every home today, they will become more standard. There is some overlap between hubs and smart routers, and it will be interesting to see how this space develops.
This will be a part of tech that continues to grow and change around the new IoT devices that crop up. Keep an eye on it!
The Future of IoT
So we know what's had success today, and that the IoT is only going to get bigger. What comes next? Glad you asked.
- Glasses. That's right — glasses, like Snapchat Spectacles or Google Glass. Snapchat created a huge stir with their limited release of Spectacles. This was a huge step forward from the much more contentious Google Glass prototype release, which gained negative traction. But since Google's 2013-14 shake-up, live video sharing and connected devices have only become more popular. There is an opening in the market for personal, wearable camera/connected devices and we'll be seeing more where this came from.
- Kitchen appliances. Although we're seeing the start of this trend with smart fridges, recent announcements of Tasty's smart cooktop and IKEA's concept kitchen prove that the future of home cooking is about to be radically different. Tasty is developing a cooktop system that will pair with an app to give your recipes and even tell you when you need to flip your meat. Looking a little further out, IKEA is pushing the envelope further, predicting smart counters that help you cook, measure, and visualize recipes. Kitchen tech will capitalize on the already booming market of smart home devices — and soon.
- Augmented reality. With augmented reality (AR) picking up, it's only a matter of time before IoT devices are blended into a commonplace AR experience. This is certainly going to be interesting — and fun! — for consumers, but expect it to show up in tech companies and science labs as well.
Just the beginning
This is the tip of the iceberg as far as the IoT is concerned. Battery life will get longer and connections will get faster. We'll become more comfortable integrating technology into the fabric of our lives. From there, smart devices are going to take off even more than they already have.