The Internet of Things will be Invisible

The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it. Mark Weiser

In my previous post I wrote about how the IoT will be for the most part invisible, acting as an airbag for our lives, ready to step in when we need it, freeing us from the internet and not constantly competing for our attention. Invisibility means not having a user interface (UI). Successful IoT solutions will be those that remove complexity from our lives rather than add to it with another UI that demands our attention. Two technologies will be key to delivering the invisibility of the IoT: voice recognition and process automation.

Voice Recognition

invisible_manIf the internet of things is to be invisible we need some method to interact with it. That’s were voice recognition comes in. Despite having an iPhone, apart from asking Siri a few stupid questions when I’m bored, I seldom use Siri. So if like me you were wondering why two of the largest IT companies on the planet, Google and Apple, have been focusing on speech recognition the recent launch of iOS8 will have provided some clarity.

At iOS 8 Siri has become completely hands free with the “Hey Siri” command replacing initiation of Siri via the home button. In addition from iOS 8 Siri begins to integrate with the apple home kit features and Apple have stated that Siri users will soon be able to issue a single command “and have the lights turn on in specific rooms, the thermostat adjust the temperature and the garage door open.” So here we have Apple confirming that voice recognition will drive the internet of things.

“Hey Siri” follows on from the introduction of Google’s “OK Google” search command on Google Now earlier this year. While both the “OK Google” and “Hey Siri” commands may seem trivial or frivolous features, voice initiation of our interactions with smart devices will be a critical component of personal IoT solutions.

Process Automation

Invisibility not only relates to how we engage or interact with the IoT but also to the processes that will be triggered from the smart devices on our behalf. We are still in the foothills when it comes to the IoT. To date discussion of the personal IoT has focused heavily on smart homes and wearables. Many of these basic early sense and respond IoT solutions will turn out to be simply gimmicks or at most niche applications. Most of us regularly only use 4 or 5 apps on our mobile phones. Are we really going to spend significant sums replacing the locks on our doors to make them smart? My mum and dad never worked out how to program their video recorder and have managed perfectly fine. This is simple cost benefit analysis. The cost of many smart home devices and the time required to configure them will outweigh the benefits they’ll provide.

But what if we could go “Hey Siri can you put this coat up for sale on ebay?” or “Hey Siri can you book me a flight to London on March 17th?”. What if we could say “OK google can you get me a house insurance quote?” or “OK google can you transfer my credit card balance to the lowest possible interest rate?”. What if we could make these voice commands anywhere in our homes or while we are on the move? These are mundane yet sometimes essential activities and processes we’d all love to be able to outsource. These solutions will require a mix of voice recognition, smart devices and process automation. The data generated by IoT devices is only of use if it is connected to processes. Process automation can put the data generated by smart devices to work and deliver significant value to the end user.siri

Following acquisition by Google, Nest CEO Tony Fadell told WIRED “Both companies believe in letting the technology do the hard work behind the scenes so that people can get on with their lives”. This statement along with Apple’s iOS8 Siri enhancements confirm an understanding among the leading tech organizations that IoT solutions will be mostly invisible and that both voice recognition and process automation will be crucial components.

The Purpose of the Internet of Things is to free us from the Internet

I already spend too much time on the web so what’s it going to be like in 2025 when another 26Bn smart devices are connected to the web?
The recent, excellent, research by Pew looking like at digital life in 2025 gives some pointers to what life might be like once all these smart devices come on-stream. The Pew report reflects that this is a market in the very earliest stages of its evolution with little overall consensus and concerns being expressed around the social (privacy, exclusion) as well as technical implications of IoT (integration). One word however that pops up frequently in the Pew report is “invisible”. The Internet of Things will be notable for being invisible.
As humans we pretty much mastered our ability to generate data and the emergence of the IoT will take our ability to create data to another dimension. What we haven’t mastered however is our ability to increase time. Human attention is a scarce resource. As a result most of us will be happy to outsource our attention for important yet mundane processes that enable us to focus on more important or enjoyable activities. Health monitoring, driving, service scheduling, insurance renewals, ensuring your finance products are on the best rate of interest, product research and price comparisons, all of these are important yet mundane processes we perform on a daily basis that most for us would be happy to outsource.
Wearables like Google glass and smart watches fail the invisibility test that will be one of the key attributes of successful IoT solutions. Wearables draw users further into the web rather than freeing users from it. Having milk bottles, toothbrushes or trainers sending you alerts and competing for your attention is just ludicrous.

The IoT = A Personal Airbag

The IoT = A Personal Airbag

The IoT will act as an airbag for our lives, ready to step in when you need it, not constantly competing for our attention. By freeing us from the mundane activities that today we would have to do manually on the web we are being freed from the internet itself. IoT solutions will make us less dependent on our current web interfaces. We will use the screen and keyboard interface to the web less and less as voice and gesture become more a more appropriate method of interacting with IoT devices. BPM and workflow technologies will orchestrate automatic processes triggered by smart devices, freeing users from mundane processes, interrupting our daily lives only when a decision is required.
Initial successful IoT solutions for example smart meters, inventory management, insurance telematics are for the most part invisible to users and eliminate mundane yet important processes. With IoT the internet will become more and more a part of our daily lives but less and less obtrusive, wrapped around us ready to assist rather than competing for our attention.

The Internet of Things … that don’t need connected to the internet

How often does your house burn down? Pretty frequently it appears if you are a Google exec. As I’m sure most of you are aware Google have just bought Nest, the “unloved home products” manufacturer (not the “unloved, home products manufacturer”) known for their thermostats and smoke detectors.

To excuse the pun but is this a case of Google having money to burn or a pointer towards something more significant for the emerging IoT industry? In my opinion it’s probably a bit of both. First of all current Nest products are niche and will only appeal to gadget freaks or maybe people with OCD who need to regularly check if their house is on fire. A $150 price point for a smoke alarm when I can get one for less than $10 will strangle adoption.

In a previous post I stated that all of the data generated by IoT devices is only of use if it is connected to business processes. Successful IoT companies will produce solutions for essential business or consumer problems not just smart devices.

It has been said elsewhere that there are two IoTs, one for industry and one for consumers. The industrial IoT is alive and well providing things like monitoring and control of for example essential and dangerous business processes. When it comes to consumer IoT successful products will be those that also trigger essential but mundane processes and services for the end user (e.g. car repairs and essential home maintenance) or provide important personal and environment monitoring services (e.g. health, weather and traffic monitoring). Getting back to Nest it’s not the thermostat that needs web enabled it’s the boiler/furnace. Being able remotely adjust my thermostat is not an essential service however I’d really like a call out to be automatically triggered if my boiler/furnace breaks down. Knowing my house is one or two degrees warmer than it should be isn’t critical. I need to know quickly if an elderly relative has remembered to take prescribed medicine or had an accident in their home. $200 fridges, kettles or toasters are non-essential items and don’t need internet connectivity.  The core objective of a domestic smoke alarm is to get people out of a house before a fire takes hold, it doesn’t need to be web enabled.

Nest CEO Tony Fadell told WIRED “Both companies believe in letting the technology do the hard work behind the scenes so that people can get on with their lives,” This statement I think implies an understanding of the key role business process automation will have on the successful adoption of IoT. At the moment Nest products provide the Internet of Things for devices that don’t need to be connected to the internet. However I think Google are buying the technology, patents and potential roadmap rather than the current product suite?

Successful IoT companies won’t simply supply devices, they’ll provide business and customer process solutions.

Nest