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CES 2013: The 'internet of things' opens up huge possibilities for retailers

By Stewart Easterbrook

January 10, 2013 | 5 min read

In his second dispatch from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Starcom MediaVest's group CEO Stewart Easterbrook gets to grips with the much-vaunted 'internet of things'

Stewart Easterbrook checks out Intel's Intelligent Systems

There is much talk at the Consumer Electronics Show about the 'internet of things'. This seems slightly at odds with the innovative spirit of CES given this phrase has been used for over 10 years. But there has clearly been much development recently which allows technology to be used and controlled by consumers for a broad spectrum of very tangible benefits. This shift is very visible at CES where there are many examples of apps and devices that let people wirelessly control many everyday objects, often via links to smartphones and tablets, as well as smart devices with intelligence built in. I'll highlight some here.

A little less sexy than the latest smart TVs perhaps, but drawing significant crowds at CES, were displays of kitchens and kitchen appliances. It is now a very realistic possibility that we will soon (after years of hype) be using fridges that assess when we are running low on certain food items and automatically reorder through our regular online retailer of choice. Given coverage of retail results over the last week and the development of this sort of technology, Morrisons may have even more reason to regret its slow progress in online retail when compared to the likes of Tesco. Another interesting appliance was a dishwasher from LG that liaises with your energy supplier to ensure that it only switches itself on at a time of day when electricity is cheap.

There are a very large number of stands exhibiting smaller scale, wearable computing such as health and fitness monitors and smartwatches (often combined). One of the most interesting of these is the Pebble smartwatch which was the subject of much excitement at CES today. This hotly-anticipated smartwatch was created thanks to $15m of crowdsourced funding (Kickstarter's most successful project to date) and is being made available this month. The Pebble has an e-ink display similar to those found on e-readers and lasts seven days on one battery charge. The screen is able to display a multitude of apps as well as tell the time. Third-party developers will be able to create apps for the watch which can pair up with smartphones running Google's Android software or Apple's iOS. Perhaps of more importance longer term are the devices that will help us monitor our health; not only heartbeat, blood pressure and so on but food intake and amount of exercise.

A huge number of acres of exhibition space was taken by car manufacturers. It feels to me that much of the focus in recent years has been around using technology to improve the quality of the drive as opposed to the in-car experience. But that is clearly about to change. Many manufacturers were displaying technology that can seamlessly link car, smartphone and location data to deliver an enhanced experience. For example, Ford were showing a car that would read your text messages to you as you are driving. Others demonstrated how by synching car and smartphone, the music being played in your car could automatically adapt to driving conditions. One soundtrack for driving faster on an open road, another for city driving.

The 'internet of things' also opens up huge possibilities for retailers. Clearly the demarcation between in-store and e-commerce experiences is going to become increasingly blurred as technology allows consumers an increasingly seamless experience. Expect to see more, and more sophisticated, screens in stores and for portability of retail experience from store to online through smartphones and tablets.

However, as I walked around the show seeing these devices, it was apparent that they are mostly being developed independent of one another. Whatever the benefits to us as individuals, this would hugely slow adoption. So it seems to me, the biggest winners will be those companies that can join up some of the best of these applications - those who make out lives simpler, easier and better.

Tomorrow I'll share a few thoughts on the reinvention of TV.


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