“I think the internet of things (IoT) means many different things to many people. Much of the time it’s no different to what we used to call machine-to-machine; it’s largely rebranding for something that never quite achieved its potential,” claims technology evangelist, serial entrepreneur and developer, Nick Hunn.
Hunn is Chief Technology Officer at, wireless consulting firm, WiFore, but he has been “connecting things” for as long as he can remember. “I like to think I’ve helped people add wireless connectivity to everything from snow ploughs to sex toys,” he said, during a Memoori webinar last week.
Hunn believes we are just at the beginning of the story of IoT for consumer products and that the technology is vastly over hyped at the moment. Recently however, he has seen some real applications starting to emerge in commercial areas, where people are using connected data in much more promising and meaningful ways. Ways that move us on from machine-to-machine to something new.
“We’re realizing that the difference between machine-to-machine and IoT is the quantity of data and what you do with the data. You’re no longer just reporting, you’re actively trying to develop insight and generate value from the data,” Hunn told listeners.
Hunn reinforced the fact that this is not a new concept though, recalling an automated home pilot project in Arizona, in 1951, that he once read about. “It was expected then, that every home in America would be automated within five years,” he said, and that was almost 70 years ago. The IoT, it seems, is just an evolution of the concept enabled by far superior technology.
“Companies like the concept of trying to place automation in the home,” Hunn said. “We’ve had automated homes, connected homes, robotic homes, internet homes, broadband homes, and we now have smart homes. Every 10 years, when the industry finds it does work, they change the name.”
According to Hunn, we just don’t like the idea that our home needs an instruction manual. While our homes become increasingly filled with more and more technology, it is still generally stand alone devices, the home itself shouldn’t malfunction or be confusing to use. He points out that the majority of home automation projects today involve one technology enthusiast and a very frustrated spouse. “Connected home projects are causing more divorces than the Ashley Madison leaks!”
So the problem, he set out, at least for smart homes is that the technology is just not usable enough yet, for people to bring it into their homes. For that to happen it all needs to work, and it all needs to work seamlessly. “My light switches have worked perfectly 100% of the time for the last 30 years, I don’t expect to ever see an IoT device that is as efficient,” Hunn points out.
Last month we explored the theory behind Apple’s design methodology, putting forward that regardless of all the features you may pack into a system, what really matters is that it works and is usable. Until the iPod, the best music players were generally the ones with the most buttons, therefore the most options. The iPod conquered and significantly expanded the personal music market with just one button and a scrolling wheel.
Hunn suggests that, “if you look at something simple like HVAC control devices for the home, none out there today work particularly well. We need to start by designing products that work well autonomously, because we can’t rely on connectivity.” Then adding connectivity will likely add complexity, especially with the number of vendors involved. “I think there’s a real mismatch in the way products are designed, the distribution channels they’re sold through, and the expectations of the customer,” he said.
Something needs to change if the IoT is going to take hold this time round and Hunn believes it may come from voice recognition. Which, according to Hunn, has come out of the blue, from a surprising player, as far as most of the industry is concerned.
“When we look at what Amazon has done with Alexa, I think it really has serious implications for the way the consumer can interact with the IoT and also raises some questions on how long people will continue to stay in love with their smartphones. Once we start to talk to things rather than touch things, you start to change a lot of the interaction paradigms,” he suggests.
Once we are able to speak to our devices, things suddenly get much easier for the user, and a usable technology is the first step to a successful technology. Voice recognition, however, also needs to work, but the improvement of voice recognition systems is a function of quantity of collected data. For the biggest companies, collecting the most data, it is simply a matter of time before voice starts to function better and eventually take over the interface.
“The thing I like about the internet of voice is that it’s easy as a consumer experience. It’s the ability to just ask something to do something, rather than get out a phone, open an app, and type something on an interface never designed for typing,” said Hunn. “Just being able to ask the question is such a more sensible interface for a consumer environment. If we can make it work.”
To listen to the recording of the entire webinar with Nick Hunn, including questions from the interactive audience, click on this link.