The Internet of Things was a hot topic in 2013, with engineers from all over the globe coming up with new ways to add connectivity to “things” that most of us never imagined could be made smarter. The trend is set to continue in 2014, with Google’s purchase of Nest.
It’s clear that Google thinks the smart home and Internet of Things will be areas that see a lot of growth in 2014, with competitors in the space only beginning to find their feet. Nest is one of the few companies that successfully made everyday devices — like the thermostat and smoke detectors — controllable through a wireless connection, but the key to the purchase may not lie in how the technology benefits the consumer. Instead, it concerns what exactly Google can learn about Nest users from their domestic data.
For Google, which garners most of its revenue from ads, there are two likely possibilities regarding how it will use the data. First, and most controversial, the company can use data gathered from devices like Nest to better target advertising to the end user. By being linked with your thermostat, Google could track the temperature of your house and offer advertising for a vacation when it’s cold. This can be in the user’s interest, since targeted advertising is obviously much more useful to people than ads that aren’t relatable.
Despite Google’s inclination to advertise, it’s probably not the main goal with its Nest purchase. Google wants to own the smart-home and smart-devices sector and eventually become the “one-stop shop” for all connected devices. Nest’s technology is only the beginning of sensors in the home that can measure and improve consumers’ lives. Google is likely to expand its lineup of devices, since there’s virtually no limit to what could be improved in your average household by adding connectivity to your devices.
One of the most logical expansions for Google and Nest would be home security. The Nest Protect smoke-alarm could build the foundation for a Google house alarm. Using the existing motion detection from the Protect, users could instantly get alerts about unauthorized access to their property via an app and quickly view a camera on the security device to see if they know the intruder or not.
A logical acquisition for Google in this space could be Canary, a company that raised $1.9 million on Indiegogo to build a smarter home-security system. The device contains a camera along with a motion sensor, learning over time how to distinguish those who live in the home from those who don’t and provide the owner with notifications of unexpected activity.
The possibilities go beyond security. The oven could be connected and gain the ability to know what’s being cooked and for how long so the consumer doesn’t even have to turn it off. Wall sockets could be connected to the Internet of Things to enable power control when nobody is home or to add a function that disables the socket automatically when nobody is around.
Speaking of, a recent Kickstarter project called the Smart Power Strip, allows homeowners to remotely turn certain devices on and off along with tracking how much energy they use. It recently raised over $100,000, a drop in the pond compared to how much Google paid for Nest. Another Kickstarter project, LIFX, raised a whopping $1.6 million for creating smarter LED light bulbs that can be controlled via an app on your iPhone. Either of these ideas would fit in well next to Google’s Nest purchase, bringing the company closer to owning every part of tomorrow’s smart home.
The Internet of Things is a valuable commodity because it not only improves the life of the user but also provides intricate data about the user’s activities, habits and skills. By giving users information about their lives that hasn’t been available to them before, they are able to make informed decisions about habits, techniques and the world around them.
An interesting example of this comes from a new area for the Internet of Things: sports. A startup named Zepp is working to build sensors for a range of sports such as baseball, golf and tennis that integrate with the bat, club or racquet to provide the player with detailed statistics on technique. Looking more closely at baseball as an example, the technology can measure the swing speed of the bat, the angle of impact and the amount of time that the bat spends in the batting zone. Eventually, with a certain amount of initial data, the tracker could provide feedback on the user’s technique and suggestions for improvement. Another company, Infomotion Sports Technologies, has created a sensor-equipped basketball that can provide the user with feedback based on its tracking of shot arc, speed, dribbling and other metrics.
It’s easy to imagine Google rounding out their portfolio of information probes with a few of these hobby-monitoring devices. A sensor-equipped piece of athletic equipment could provide easy access to our garages. And, knowing when and for how long users participate in sports could lead to all sorts of valuable data and advertising opportunities.
Imagine you’re shooting hoops in your driveway, when your phone suddenly buzzes with a special offer from Smoothie King, rewarding you for an outstanding field goal percentage. Or picture yourself laying on the couch, catching up on your favorite TV shows, when a reminder suddenly pops up on your screen telling you your basketball has been stationary for the last ten days. Sure, you may be annoyed at the time, but your heart will thank you in the long run.
There’s no doubt that the Internet of Things is good for both the consumer and the business selling related products. By gathering unprecedented amounts of data about users’ habits, surroundings and interactions, companies are able to create great software that enhances users’ lives in new ways.
In the future, hardware manufacturers will be able to use the huge amount of data gathered from their sold devices to put together more specialized findings. This could lead to targeted advertising, social integration, life coaching and so much more.
Over the next few years, the Internet of Things is going to take the world by storm. Consumers might find it ridiculous to link a computer to almost any object at first, but over time, it will become the norm. As businesses that build devices and software for the Internet of Things are able to show how they can affect and improve people’s lives, the general public will start embracing it in the same way they gravitated towards smartphones and tablets. Google’s purchase of Nest signifies the Internet giant’s intent to jump on the bandwagon early and be at the forefront of what the company hopes will be the next big thing.