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Connecting Consumer Things to the Internet: The Next Big ‘Thing’?

‘Connectivity’ for consumer devices was a much bigger story at this year’s CES than in previous years.  The one that particularly caught my attention was the connected fork, part of the line-up featured in this article. Why would you want to connect a fork to the Internet? In this case, the reason is to detect how fast you’re eating and maybe encourage you to slow down. That way you might discover you don’t need to eat as much as you thought – an aid to reducing weight.

This just goes to show that, if you look hard enough, you can find a service opportunity from connecting virtually any thing to the Internet. It’s all about looking at devices and objects from a different perspective: what could you do with data provided by the thing? Of course, the service dreamed up may not be compelling enough to make a fortune, but that’s a different matter.

I have been talking and writing about connecting things to the Internet in order to create new services for a long time. Up to now, though, these have been mainly business-related things, from CCTV cameras, combine harvesters, digital displays and jet engines to MRI scanners, point of sale terminals, trucks, vending machines, even clams to get an early warning of pollution in sea water and many more.  What is really beginning to capture the imagination now, though, is connecting everyday things to help improve our lives. We already have the connected pillbox that glows to remind you to take your medicine at the right time. Now we have the connected fork and a whole host of other new ideas coming up.

Another developing theme at CES was wearability.  The idea that we will make better use of technology and generally improve our lifestyles by wearing it, either as easily-worn devices or integrated into our clothing in some way. This picks up on a developing trend, where technology moves from functional to usable to wearable. One can draw an analogy here with mobile phones. In the beginning, we had those “bricks on sticks”. Functional yes, but not particularly usable beyond the precise purpose it was designed for – making phone calls while moving. This evolved through several generations of mobile handsets, until we had the next breakthrough which was the iPhone. This introduced a next stage of evolution – a highly usable, portable device with a virtually unlimited number of applications. So what is the next stage of this evolution? Perhaps when the parts of the device are split up and you wear them. The human interface might then change again, no longer relying on hard or soft buttons to make them work.

The point about all this is that the time for connecting everyday things to the Internet has truly started to arrive. There will still be lots of new ideas for connecting business-related things, but there is now a clearly developing momentum for connecting consumer-related things as well.

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