Anyone with a stake in the Internet of Things (IoT) was likely gratified to see that the most-downloaded free app from the Apple App Store on Christmas Day 2015 was the sensor-laden fitness tracking device Fitbit. It was one more sign that the lumbering but potentially massive market for connected devices for consumers is gaining meaningful traction.
Certainly, the proliferation of smart-home devices on display a few weeks later at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show (International CES) underlined the rising number of options for connected technology in the home. With wired mats for pantry shelves that signal homeowners when the sugar is running low, smart robot vacuums, and the Samsung Family Hub refrigerator with its 21.5" touchscreen and interior cameras to monitor what's on its own shelves, companies are making it increasingly alluring for the average consumer to test the IoT water.
That's not to say that every house on the block has a wearable, a connected car, or a smart lightbulb just yet. The IoT-defined as a state in which everyday objects are networked wirelessly and imbued with the ability to communicate without human intervention-is still clipping along at a markedly faster pace on the enterprise side.
"It's still very early days for the consumer IoT," says Jessica Groopman, research director and principal analyst at Harbor Research. "Right now, it's less about consumer-driven adoption and more about consumer-facing retail applications," she says.
IoT Islands and Bridges
But all those new Fitbits that were unwrapped last December-not to mention the Apple Watches, Amazon Echo voice-command devices, and smart Barbie dolls-could be considered the scouting parties for wider adoption. "People will start off with individual sensors," says Frank Gillett, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, "and then expand into systems."
Therein lies the problem for now: While consumer-facing IoT products are proliferating, they're still not connected to each other. "We're really just coming off Generation One in IoT," says Tamara StClaire, chief innovation officer of commercial healthcare for Xerox, "and that's a network of two: the consumer, and the device." StClaire believes that the real power of the IoT will be unleashed through integration of multiple connected devices. "Gen One is about little islands of data. Generation Two is about ?bridging those islands," she says.
The payoff is that a truly connected device can create a level of engagement between companies and consumers that can improve customer experience, build loyalty, and improve product development in ways unimaginable for an analog world. Deployed properly, digital content can be a decisive factor that creates and sustains that engagement.