Five years ago, the only smart wireless devices in most homes were routers and computers — other wireless devices, like baby monitors or garage-door openers, remained dumb. Today, there are mobile phones, smart TVs and emerging connected devices like thermostats and locks also sipping away at Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections.
The number will continue to grow as more internet of things-compatible devices hit the market. At an event hosted by Broadcom Tuesday in San Francisco, a panel of industry business leaders agreed the most important mission is to ensure devices connect flawlessly: The user experience must be totally seamless.
“It took, they say, a 1,000 years to connect a billion places. Then it took another 10 years to connect 5 billion people, and then they’re saying another 10 years to connect 50 billion things,” Broadcom senior vice president and general manager Scott Pomerantz said. “The opportunity here is staggering.”
iDevices CEO and founder Chris Allen utilized the event to announce My Virtual Closet, an app that communicates with chip-equipped clothing items to help users shop and organize their closet. Manufacturers can insert a button-sized metallic disk into the tag of, say, a shirt. When shoppers encounter it at the store, they scan the shirt with their phone to view information like whether it is available in the store or online in their size.
If they buy the shirt and take it home, it’s stored in their virtual closet on the app. They can build outfits within the app and view statistics, such as when a shirt was last worn.
It’s a good example of an app that would need to work without requiring the user to do a lot of work. Virtual closet apps already exist, but the user needs to input all of the information manually. A shirt following you virtually from the store to your home should be as easy as carrying the physical object itself. Otherwise it becomes another chore instead of a way to make your life simpler.
It also raises the question of how saturated we’ll need to be with connected objects before they become truly useful. If 10 percent of your closet contains an app-connected chip, are you still likely to use a virtual closet app? You still need to consider the world outside the app to incorporate the other 90 percent of your closet. The app’s seamlessness diminishes.
Luckily, we already have a couple connected devices that are fairly ubiquitous: the mobile phone and the laptop. They’re our lifeline as the internet of things is built up piecemeal.
NextNav CEO Gary Parsons, of satellite radio fame, presented connectivity as a literal lifeline. The FCC approved NextNav’s request in June to begin commercializing its location technology. When a 911 call comes from a cell phone inside a building, operators can generally only trace it to the cell tower. NextNav’s technology helps them trace a smartphone to a specific building and floor — an especially important ability in cities where buildings stretch many stories tall.
There is already technology that can locate people to within a few meters in a building, both horizontally and vertically. But NextNav can spot someone on the scale of an entire city to within 18 meters.
“Anyone can do more accurate than that within a given building. But they can do across a whole city, which is what matters to 911,” Parsons said.