You can normally expect CES to set the technobabble agenda for the first few months of any year, but this year, despite the hubbub about Wearable Devices, Home Automation and the Internet of Things, CES played second fiddle to the much bigger announcement of Google paying $3.2bn for Nest. On the face of it, it’s an outrageous amount to pay for a hardware company. The announcement a few weeks later that they were selling off Motorola Mobility for around the same amount made it look like some giant game of cards.
The initial reaction to the Nest acquisition from many commentators was that this just validated their view that CES was heralding the start of the Home Automation market. Long term players, like Control4, saw their share price rocket overnight. Most start-ups in this space have been complaining that their VCs dedicated their next board to persuading the CEO to redesign their business plan in the hope of emulating the Nest sale. On the other side, doomsayers predicted the demise of anyone else in the field as the Mountain View leviathan would take over Home Automation.
Most of what has been written feels like a knee-jerk reaction. What surprised me most was the speed with which Google rushed to say that it would not be using the data from Nest’s thermostats. That announcement came too quickly to be a reaction to media speculation about the data behemoth’s new-found ability to learn even more about users. It made no sense given Nest’s purchase value. It was like a top restaurant hiring Heston Blumenthal and then saying they were only employing him to go out and collect their lunchtime sandwiches. Google is about data. Why pay $3.2bn and then throw the associated data opportunity away? It implies that there’s a lot more behind this acquisition.
Or so it appears if you look at where the funding’s going. This week Jawbone, maker of the Bluetooth headset and more recently of the UP wristband, managed to raise $93 million in debt financing based on sales of its new products, with the rumour of a further $20 million in VC funding to come. It’s not alone. Earlier this year Fitbit, founded on clip-on devices, but now another player in wrist real estate had VCs falling over themselves to give it an additional $43 million.
In contrast, the smart home market has begun to look decidedly unexciting. After the Nest love-in, which raised them $80 million at the start of the year, their German rival tado only managed a measly $2.6 million from its previous investors. I’d always tended to discount the Nest fundraise, not because of the product, but because of their heritage. Ex-Apple staffed start-ups in California with slick products seem to get VCs wetting themselves in much the same way as followers of the cult of Apple do at the launch of a new iPhone.
If you take a look at the media coverage, it’s also pretty obvious where everyone considers the action to be. It not what we live in – it’s what we wear on our wrist. Investing in Smart Home looks rather dumb.
Over the past few years I’ve been working in the mHealth and smart energy sectors. Both have a common belief, which is that consumers will do things that are in their own interest – namely spend time and effort in order to save themselves money and keep themselves fit.
That mantra has seen a raft of new companies appear in each sector, directly targeting the public with products that attempt to change consumer behaviour or lock them into a brand. In the mHealth sector most have realised that medical or clinical approaches are too difficult, so have euphemistically renamed exercise and dieting as health and fitness. Meanwhile, energy utilities are attempting to improve their image by rolling out customer engagement programs, whether that’s in the form of green button apps in the US, or in home energy displays in the UK. Both hope that this will result in customer loyalty for their brand, attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.
In recent months both sectors have latched onto gamification, often as a result of hiring strategic marketing people from web and mobile phone companies. They’ve taken to gamification like enthusiastic bricks to water, hoping it will change the way consumers value their products and buy from them. I think they’re sadly mistaken. As proof, I’d cite the success of Viggle, which illustrates exactly what the average consumer wants from gamification. Viggle let’s you win points by watching TV. It’s nothing to do with better health or savings on your energy bill – it’s the couch potato dream of free pizza for mindless inactivity.
Over the last year I’ve been watching the rise of 3D printing projects on Kickstarter, as they’ve progressed from fairly simple ones to the more recent, high profiles successes, such as the Formlabs Form 1 3D printer, which is a project to commercialise a printer, software and compounds. That one project alone has attracted just under $3 million in funding from over 2,000 backers, over 1,000 of whom will end up with 3D printers by next May.
Which made me wonder what the TSB is going to use my tax-payer’s money for in this competition, as it looks as if there is already a perfectly workable funding model to develop 3D printers. Or do they think that 3D stands for Dead Duck Donations?
Now that the networks are growing out of their teens, is it time for them to think about a market they’ve largely ignored? Given the current pain that they are suffering from the youth segment’s bandwidth-obese usage of their “eat all you can consume” data plans, you’d think that they might want attract a target audience that offers the prospect of a more reliable revenue stream.
There’s an important conference coming up in London on 26th October that promises to address the issues that have limited success so far – Mobile Phones for the Senior Market. It’s important because there are some fundamental lessons to be learned and things that need to be changed if the networks are to approach the older generation with the same degree of attention that they currently lavishing on their twenty-something users. The resulting challenges need to be addressed, not just by the networks, but also by product designers and retailers.
The mobile phone business is now the largest volume segment of the consumer goods industry. Despite that achievement, it is an industry that is still remarkably young. It’s debatable whether it is actually mature enough to have addressed real segmentation yet – instead it’s still at the stage of development where it tends to concentrate most on customers of its own age – late teens. That could be a costly mistake. By ignoring the specific needs of older users, the mobile industry is missing a major market.
To coincide with the Medica exhibition I wrote a White Paper called “Trust me – I’m not a Doctor” to explore some of the changes that I think are necessary for the development of usable consumer health devices.One reader came back to me with a very pertinent question – “It’s one thing to say what needs to change, but what steps can manufacturers take in order to keep up with the latest developments in technology?”
It’s a very good question.Much of the medical industry concentrates on gradual evolution.It’s not an industry that is either particularly fast moving, or prone to disruptive influences.Certainly Medica was very much about more of the same and not doing anything new.
That poses a real problem, and to address it I think you have to take a deliberatively disruptive approach by thinking outside the box.Rather than asking how to keep abreast of technology, which is only likely to increase the pace of the current linear evolution, I’d suggest the more heretical view of thinking about what happens to the market when the clinician is excluded from it.