Any of us who attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this past January can attest – sometimes Things shouldn’t be Interneted. For examples of poorly conceived devices, check out Globe and Mail tech editor Shane Dingman’s article, CES is a Real Life Island of Misfit Toys. They are slick, they are expensive, and they are totally unnecessary.
So when are IoT devices worth it? In short, when they do more and cost less. To me, IoT devices should follow 2 key principles:
- They should create significant value for users because of their connectivity. So much so that their “connected value” becomes a core benefit to the user.
- They should cost less than their non-Interneted contemporaries due to a “symbiotic connection” with the smartphones and mobile devices we carry with us.
The connected lighting industry provides a great example of the first principle. Philips, LIFX, Misfit (with its beautiful new Bulb product) and other creators of connected lightbulbs are using light—and connectivity—as a way to alert users to important events or changes in their environment. According to Philips, their Hue lightbulbs can be programmed from your phone to communicate the receipt of an important email, when the weather changes, or even if there is an intruder in the house and the alarm goes off.
Of course, the example I know best is the product I helped create – the Kinsa Smart Thermometer. Kinsa provides the basic functionality of any thermometer your mother or doctor has stuck in your mouth since you were a child. But by connecting it to the Internet, it provides far more value.
I believe that healthcare products in the home should comfort the user and provide them with guidance about what to do next. Kinsa uses connectivity and its accompanying app to do both. In fact, connectivity makes it possible to turn this basic medical product from an isolated experience into a network, where each user's experience becomes better the more users join the network. We provide users with the ability to track and monitor their family’s symptoms, and by aggregating data from all users on the network, give them information about “what’s going around” their specified community (e.g., their child’s school), which can help them react intelligently. For example, knowing strep is going around may prompt a doctor visit right away, rather than waiting to see if a scratchy throat will go away on its own.
The Symbiotic IoT Device
Square has created a simple, low-cost credit card reader with limited electronics and no display. Merchants no longer need to buy expensive devices; they get their Square reader for free and are ready to start processing. Similarly, Kinsa is a stripped down digital thermometer without so much as a display screen or battery. Square and Kinsa are examples of what I call “symbiotic devices.” By utilizing basic services from our smartphones and tablets —a power source, display, processing capabilities and Internet connectivity — the actual hardware part of IoT products can be stripped down to a bare minimum. In some cases, they don't need to be more than a dumb piece of plastic or metal with some wires. What makes them so powerful is the smartphone itself, and the app that accompanies it.
By building symbiotic devices, developers can create a world of IoT products that are available to consumers at a fraction of the cost of their traditional, non-connected versions. These less expensive products will also improve accessibility and adoption – they’ll no longer just be for gadget lovers with extra disposable income but for the global masses. And if adopted on a wide enough scale, such lower-cost-and-higher-value IoT devices hold promise in enabling new business models that will add significant value, and not only to the company’s bottom line.
We are firm believers in this vision at Kinsa. By connecting the just-fallen-ill with the services they need to get better faster, and by helping the healthcare system track the spread of illness, we’ve identified potentially large alternative revenue streams that one day, may make it possible for us to give our thermometers away to the public for free.
IoT developers: I challenge you. Enabling everyday objects with Internet connectivity is simply not enough (and in the case of the smart belt buckles I saw at CES, I might add, may have gone too far). Build for a higher “connected value.” Design symbiotic devices that lower cost and enable wider access. Aim for high adoption rather than niche novelty. I know that Kinsa, Square, and many others are just the tip of the iceberg. The general public is ready – maybe not for CES’s smart yoga mat, but for the Interneting of much, much more. And built right, with symbiotic, connected value in mind, they may just change the world as we know it.