not just the cool kids club

IoT has finally hit the mainstream. Now what?

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The internet of things (IoT) was officially anointed the next big thing at this year’s CES. No more ghost town in the South Hall: Now it’s standing-room only keynotes, celebrity endorsements, nearly a thousand exhibitors and almost enough coverage to break the internet.

Congrats, IoT! You’ve finally received the attention you deserve for technologies that will fundamentally change consumer electronics. But now we’ve reached the hard part of the technology hype cycle. How do we build the products and services that can deliver on these lofty “keynote promises”? How can we make sure IoT is not an industry punchline in five years? In short, how do we make consumer IoT real?

Continue to make hero products

Hero products inspire the industry and delight consumers. They make a lasting, intuitive, emotional connection between man (or woman) and machine and a customer who becomes a dedicated evangelist. Tesla, Lululemon, Vitamix, Sonos — they all raise their respective industries and help deliver the promise of technology. For IoT we need to continue to build amazing category-defining products that consumers crave. From Nest’s thermostats to August’s smartlocks, hero products will lift the industry and deliver the promise.

Master the art of storytelling

Whether you love Hollywood or not, “creatives” clearly know how to tell (and sell) a story. Game of Thrones, Forrest Gump, Breaking Bad, even the Upworthy posts in my Facebook feed can trigger a tear or elicit a deep emotional reaction. While product design has come a long way in IoT, we still need an Apple 1984 storytelling moment. Without breakthroughs in storytelling, IoT adoption may be similar to that of TiVo — a company that has loyal enthusiasts but took years and a secondary channel to ultimately bring its technology to the mass market. Although many worry about the influx of outsiders from Madison Avenue or Hollywood coming into the smallish club of home automation, I see this as a great opportunity for new insights and approaches.

Make mass-market economics work

Early adopters are not generally price-sensitive, but the majority of today’s consumers are. Companies that provide IoT devices and services still need significant innovation to make the economics work. They can do more than just reduce average selling prices. Creating more refined demand funnels to reduce customer acquisition costs or reducing total cost of operation can help, too. I also believe that developing more effective business development and partnership frameworks will allow for opportunities to subsidize IoT. In early research, consumers have expressed a willingness to engage in advertising on smart products if it helps to lower their cost. Nationwide, Geico, Farmers and other stakeholders not willing to build their own products or roll trucks should consider partnering to accelerate customer adoption.

Security from the start

“It’s not about will these devices get hacked, it’s about what happens when they do,” an Erricsson exec said on one CES panel. Numerous data security breaches and failures will occur with IoT devices, elevating the importance of data privacy in working groups, companies and governments around the world. A recent survey sponsored by Greenwave (disclosure: I work at Greenwave), NXP, GK Digital Media and August found that more than 66 percent of consumers may sit on the sidelines of IoT due to lack of security. As a product executive, I’m aware of the trade-offs between designing for security vs. usability, but we need to think about the nefarious effects of hacking before it happens.

Forget about who wins (for now)

Tons of effort is being spent dissecting industry standards and trying to predict which major consumer technology franchise (Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon, Sony, etc.) can win, or what flavor of mesh wireless to use. While those conversations and articles may be important to technologists, they mean little to consumers. We need to embrace the fact that multiple standards and (sometimes competing) brands will enable the consumer IoT opportunity. I’m quite positive there will be several market leaders So let’s plan for it and make sure we can make IoT equal Interoperable Things.

That’s my personal list of suggestions to make IoT real for consumers. What about you? How can we deliver on the promise of connectivity? Who do you consider to be the influencers, technologists and companies that can make it happen?

Nate Williams is the chief marketing officer and head of business development at Greenwave Systems, a leading software & services platform in the internet of things (IoT) market. In 2011, he was named one of “Top 40 under 40” by The Silicon Valley Business Journal. Follow him on Twitter @naywilliams.

5 Responses to “IoT has finally hit the mainstream. Now what?”

  1. Nate Williams

    Good points Wayne but I believe you are actually agreeing with my thesis from the article (although not the title!). As we both know having been in the sector before it was “cool” clearly not a black and white issue. What was the cost of an MCU in 1957? What was the cost of MB/sec bandwidth 15 years ago? Some of the puzzle pieces (reliability, component cost, etc.) are coming together but my article poses that without some innovation in storytelling, privacy, etc. “Smart Home” could throw away an opportunity to cross the chasm next 18-24. Here’s to more discussion and debate on the issue!

  2. Wayne Caswell

    How long does it take for a NEXT BIG THING to cross the chasm separating early adopters from the mass market? In the case of the Smart Home, it has already been over 50 years, and the mass market is still a pipe dream. This year, the news media is sooooo filled with marketing hype about the elusive Smart Home market, which is nearly as misdirected today as it was in 1957, and I see IoT following that same track. See

  3. Frederick Buhr

    More than pricing, addressing privacy concerns early will go a long way with making consumers IoT real. There is an insane amount of data collected on a constant basis and most people fear if it will eventually land on some NSA servers or be handed to shady marketers at the drop of a hat…

    • Nate Williams

      Thanks for the comment Frederick. There are no easy answers but yes privacy is a major concern for the consumer and as an industry we need to make sure there is transparency and accountability. BTW – I believe working these issues in tandem will give IoT a fighting chance not to fall too deep into the “trough of disillusionment”; you could solve for privacy but have $1000+ systems and 99% of consumers will not buy them.