This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) gives us a fascinating sneak peak into what a ‘connected’ modern life will soon look like, with exhibitors spanning every sector from next generation cars to homes to fitness devices to drones.
What is most striking is how passé our current lives will soon seem when the internet of things (IoT) truly permeates the fabric of our lives.
That pesky problem of arriving home to find you’ve run out of milk, for example, will shortly be consigned to the history books in light of new inventions like the Samsung smart fridge.
This clever kit connects directly to Fresh Direct, My Web Grocer and MasterCard, to ensure you never run out of these essential perishables. You don’t even have to bother to add them to a grocery list, or order from your PC or phone – you just order more immediately, directly from the fridge screen. Not only that, its new practical webcam feature allows remote checking of the fridge’s contents while you’re out buying groceries.
Similarly, you will no longer need to press that pesky pause button in the middle of your favourite soap either because, in a connected economy, these smart fridges don’t just store food – they also replicate what’s taking place on other monitors throughout the house on their door-mounted screens, so you can flow from one room to the next without missing a moment.
In future, consumers will increasingly experience and expect this kind of seamless digital life, switching harmoniously from one platform or activity to the next without any glitches. The only ones who will still endure these types of 2015 problems are those technophobes who fail to embrace new technology.
As well as connectivity, these transformative ideas in digital commerce on display at CES have another important ‘c-word’ in common: collaboration. Taking the smart fridge as an example again, it proves that working together – Samsung alongside Fresh Direct, My Web Grocer and Mastercard in this case – is what smart competing in the 21st century is all about.
The Samsung TVs at CES, as another good example of this, have a hub that allows control of all IoT devices, meaning the tech brand has to collaborate optimally with the likes of vacuum cleaner brands and light bulb manufacturers. These types of forward-looking partnerships offer far more than individual tech companies can – real innovation and frictionless contextual commerce for the consumer.
The message is clear: without collaborating fully, you can’t compete effectively, or deliver that nirvana of connective bliss to the consumer.
But, as CES illustrates, the real pioneer in connectivity is the automotive industry. When cars connect with their surroundings, the result is much more than merely accurate directions. New developments add hugely valuable benefits like less accidents, avoiding congestion, better road utilisation, finding prime parking spots and reduced fuel consumption. That’s why all major automotive manufacturers are stepping up investments in their connected, self-driving cars like this one from Ford.
It’s also why we’re seeing collaboration here at an unprecedented level, as brands seek to connect our homes with our cars. For instance, Ford is integrating both iOS and Android into its own propriety Sync system and Toyota is leveraging the foundations of this platform to build its own infotainment system. Other automotive giants are reportedly considering similar collaborations.
In a connected economy, even the human body assumes a role as transmitter of information. For example, an FDA-approved blood pressure monitor from Omron Healthcare takes regular readings from its user, offering much more useful insight than ad hoc or infrequent visits to the GP ever could.
This type of sensor also facilitates continual monitoring of blood sugar levels for diabetics, showing that wearable health devices have made the leap from non-essential accessories to vital tools which can deliver huge healthcare budget savings. As for the patient, this type of technology is no longer just about offering convenience; it’s life-changing.
Connected technology is disrupting other sectors too, like retail, where innovations like Intel's RealSense 3D scanner enables accurate mapping of individual body shapes, helping consumers make the perfect garment choices the first time. Given that currently 30 per cent of clothes are returned due to imperfect fit, the impact is drastic.
RealSense is also being prototyped with gaming, allowing every gamer to create their own personal avatar, something that used to be the privilege of the few due to it high cost.
Connectivity also underlies remotely controlled, miniature unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones (which Amazon is testing for shipping). Drones also provide aerial surveying, which can be put to use in any number of industries, particularly insurance where they will collect and transmit large datasets from accident sites for real time analysis.
Drones will also help adjusters quickly survey and assess risks or damage to large buildings, structure or plots to evaluate the fallout from large catastrophic events, or assess damage to structures and flood damaged crops that have become inaccessible due to impassable roads.
Overall, this year’s CES overwhelmingly shows things that transit, exchange and share data with other things will make life easier, more efficient and more green. When our ‘things’ are better informed, they can help us make better decisions about how they are used, meaning we will replace them with far less frequency.
Collaboration is the key to successful connectivity and when things connect, the resultant data truly becomes this century’s currency.
Jim Mason is executive director strategy and insight for Razorfish UK