I’m old enough to remember being sent to play with other children who had measles and chickenpox. That was before we had vaccines for either. We’d have a happy time picking off each other’s chickenpox scabs, leaving our generation marginally scarred for life. It was an understandable practice – neither disease had a high child mortality rate – it was far more dangerous in adults, so keeping up herd immunity this way had pretty good odds.
We’re about to come out of lockdown and enter the “New Normal”, whatever that may be. It means that as far as Covid-19 is concerned, we’re back in the pre-vaccination world. Throwing technology at the problem appears to be the first choice of most Governments, but we should think about whether there are some pre-vaccination strategies which are worth revisiting.
A few months ago I wrote a report about the wearables market. At the time I was sceptical about the future of the smart watch. That was before the Apple Watch announcement. I didn’t think I’d find it very interesting. Now I’ve seen it, I’ve changed my mind – I think they’ve redefined the market by turning the concept of the smart watch on its head.
The prospect of Apple owning the wrist galvanised many other manufacturers into pre-empting them, of which the most notable contenders were Pebble, Motorola, Asus and Samsung. All want to seize the wrist, in what might be described as a case of carpus diem. Many in the industry want to believe in these products, predicting massive sales volumes and revenue. Few have bothered to ask customers what they want. Two who did were Kantor and Apple Insider. Kantor’s panel suggested up to 60% of iPhone owners would buy one, Apple Insider found “as many as 4%” of iPhone users would be early adopters, translating that finding into an estimate of sales between 5 and 10 million units in the first twelve months”. So what’s the truth?
When the Apple Watch announcement came, it only generated a muted whimper of excitement. It wasn’t what most commentators had expected. That was hardly surprising given the level of hysteria which had been whipped up prior to its unveiling. Whilst a lot of subsequent reviews have complained about its lack of functionality I found that I warmed to it, or at least its potential. It’s not just clever packaging of technology, which is what exemplifies the Asus, Motorola and Samsung watches – it’s a redefinition of the purpose of the wrist. I think it may be more of a game-changer than has been reported, but not necessarily in a positive way for the rest of the smart watch industry.
Today Google and Nest launched the Thread Group – a new wireless network for home automation. It’s not the first and it won’t be the last, but it has some important names behind it. The big two are Google and Nest, not least because Nest’s products may already be using it. But others in the consortium are interesting. ARM is there. Today they power most of our mobile phones, providing the IP behind the processors in billions of chips. But they have a vision of being the microprocessor architecture of choice for the Internet of Things. They processors will be smaller, cheaper and lower powered, but will provide the first opportunity for chip vendors to think about trillions. ARM’s inclusion in the group is an obvious step in their process of acquisition and investment in IoT companies.
Samsung are there (aren’t they always), but so are some very large names in home automation, such as Big Ass Fans and Chubb. And what must be worrying the ZigBee community is that Freescale and Silicon Labs complete the list of founder members.
The important point here is that Thread is not ZigBee. It works in the same spectrum and can use the same chips. It is also a mesh network. But it is not compatible. As the Thread technology backgrounder says, they looked at other radio standards and found them lacking, so they started working on a new wireless mesh protocol. To put it more crudely, it’s Google and Nest saying “ZigBee doesn’t work”.
There’s a new bubble in technology – the wristband. Fuelled by Nike’s success, Jawbone’s on the Up, Polar’s in the Loop, Sony’s trying to Force its way into the game, while Fitbit’s aiming to stay as number One. (If you’ve ever wondered how branding executives choose their product names, that’s how.) Analysts are falling over each other to estimate how large the market will be by 2018. They’re wetting themselves at the prospect of smart watches, seeing the wrist as the saviour of the high tech industry now that smartphones have lost their Shine. (Which has nothing to do with the wrist, but that’s another story.) Currently Credit Suisse holds the prize for unwarranted optimism with a prediction of a market value of up to $50 billion for wearables in 2018. I think they’ve all missed the largest potential market for wearables – a category I’m going to call Hearables. The ear is the new wrist.
Analysts making these predictions almost invariably assume the wearable market is intrinsically linked with the smartphone market – currently around a billion units per year and worth over $250bn. To them, wearable seems to be mostly about smart watches and phones which extend small parts of the phone experience to something we wear. They ignore the fact that we still purchase smartphones to make calls. All of those calls send audio to our ears. As well as voice, hundreds of millions of people use their phones for music, as evidenced by the ubiquitous cables trailing from ears. Sound drives the bulk of our technology use and earbuds are the only piece of wearable tech to have gained ubiquity and social acceptance. These devices are about to undergo a revolution in capability, getting rid of their cables and giving them the opportunity to be the standard bearer for wearable technology.
I’m currently writing a new market forecast report for connected consumer wearable technology. It argues that the biggest potential market for connected wearables will not be for devices we put on our wrists, but the ones we put in our ears. By 2018 it suggests that we’ll be spending over $5billion on Hearables. Let me know if you’d like a copy of the report when it’s complete.
Most people have never heard of Appcessories, but they’re set to become one of the biggest growth areas of the decade, with a potential market value of over $130 billion by 2020, as shown in the new report “To Ubiquity and Beyond”. Most analysts have missed them, as they’re made possible by the convergence of a set of disparate elements coming together, most notably the incorporation of Bluetooth Smart in mobile phones and tablets, low cost and easy to use silicon for hardware developers, and published APIs which allows developers of phone Apps to talk to connected devices. Throw in the innovation that is arising out of crowd-funding initiatives like Kickstarter and indiegogo and you have the ingredients for a new revolution in connected consumer goods.
What is an Appcessory? Think of a cuddly toy for your three year old which interacts with the story on her tablet. Think of the stylus you use for sketching on your iPad, where squeezing it changes the thickness or colour of the lines you’re painting. Or a motor and rudder you clip on a paper plane which lets you control its flight by tipping your smartphone from side to side. LED lights that come on when you enter the room, which you can program the colour of, or which even sense your mood from the way you’re walking. Armbands that know you’re about to point at the TV and tell it to change channel before you even move your finger. Clothes that tell you they need washing. Many things that until recently were the preserve of science fiction, but are about to become possible and eminently affordable.
There are certain products that I’ve always wanted to see appear on the market. Not necessarily because I want to have one, but because they appeal to the imagination and the concept of what it’s possible to do. One of these is the Bluetooth toilet. It’s a product I’ve suggested should exist in various presentations I’ve given over the years as an example of something that may initially sound silly, but could be quite useful. My argument is that amongst other things it could be a valid way of checking how often a toilet is used, which could be an early indicator for prostate cancer. Normally you can count on the Consumer Electronics Show – CES, which kicked off in Las Vegas this week, for some fairly off-the wall, wacky products, but as far as the Bluetooth toilet is concerned, someone else got in first.
The first company that I’m aware of to wirelessly enable a toilet was Greengoose, who have a sensor that you can fit to the toilet seat to determine whether or not it’s been left up by the most recent male user. They see it as a fun application, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, just before CES got going I came across a far more serious Bluetooth toilet from Lixil in Japan. There’s even a promotional video of it.