For years, we’ve been waiting for the “Internet of Things”-revolution. So far, it’s been more like a slow evolution, but the pace seemed to change in 2015. Could 2016 be the year that the bigger perspectives start to take shape?
While it may not exactly be a revolution just yet, several trends point to an impending breakthrough with far more potential and impact than a few wearables and ‘smart’ home products such as light bulbs and thermostats. Major players like Cisco have long been talking about the Internet of Everything, and research by Gartner predicts as much as 25 billion connected “things” by 2020.
But what is it that has changed recently? And what does it mean for product development if everything is about to become connected?
New technologies and standards are paving the way
A lot of developments in technology are making smart, connected products more viable than ever. Along with improvements in battery technology, smaller and more efficient processors and transmitters are making it possible to connect still more different products to each other. And advances in material technology are creating new opportunities for integrating sensors, touch screens and other interfaces in completely new ways – not just in products, but also structures like roads and buildings.
Meanwhile, the Internet-part of the equation is also changing. While data processing has increasingly been moved to ‘the cloud’, billions of connected devices are creating huge data streams. Though data-bandwidth is constantly expanded, the recent move towards more local data-processing with dedicated devices serving as hubs (“fog” computing) plays an important role in accommodating the new connectivity between devices.
A crucial piece of the puzzle is enabling very different devices to communicate those data between each other. While there are still many protocols for that, 2015 showed a notable move towards fewer, open standards allowing for a more seamless communication between devices. We’ll definitely see new clashes between competing standards in the future; but the availability of shared standards is necessary to drive the development of new, connected products.
Rethinking products and value
The Internet of Everything is only coming alive as these new, connected products are introduced and adapted by users. That’s going to take time, the development will be incremental, and it’ll require companies to rethink their products and how the new connectedness can create value for the users.
While you may not want to abandon your un-connected products just yet, there’s good reason to at least start considering how they might connect and converge with other products and services in the future. Developing products for the Internet of Everything requires a much broader and abstract exploration of the context, and many products will potentially be redefined completely – or even become obsolete as other, connected devices replace their functionality.
If you’re not in the business of basic home appliances or fitness trackers, identifying how connectedness can create value for your customers is likely to be a journey in uncharted territory. But if you want to take part in defining the future of your product, now is the time to start that exploration.
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