The Internet is well on its way to permeating everything. Its march is relentless; its pace steady and its focus clear – it will become everywhere and in everything that gets manufactured, and that makes its way to us. The Internet of Things is the latest catch phrase and it is being uttered with so much conviction that we are about to start believing it, as if it were a forgone conclusion. But is that really true? Will people embrace the Internet with the same appetite that manufacturers seem convinced of? Does it make sense?
But what is the Internet of Things (IoT?)? It refers to connecting regular items to the Internet. Imagine your coffee mug, your front door and your fridge are all connected to the Internet, and this will give marketers an opportunity to collect information and serve more relevant communication to consumers. Your fridge will warn you when it is down on eggs, and your front door will alert you when a delivery has arrived. Similarly, businesses will no longer run out of stock, or other instances when waste is reduced to zero.
Apparently, the IoT is already upon us, and will only get bigger. By the end of 2012, Cisco estimates that the total number of Internet connected things reached 8.7 billion. Their estimate for 2020 is in the range of 50 billion devices. Others, such as Gartner, forecast 30 billion devices, so perhaps the reality is going to be anywhere between the two figures or, quite possibly, slightly south or north of the range. Irrespective, the world will certainly be producing a large number of connected devices assuming the demand and consumer pull will continue to demonstrate the same appetite.
But do people actually care? We are all interested in the things that make life much more efficient and that open new possibilities. This will not prevent brands from manufacturing white goods that are connected to social media, but I doubt that we will all stand in line to order USD 4,000 fridges that enable us to send tweets. Perhaps a good place to start is to identify the things that people care about. We obviously care about a great many things, but fundamentally are mostly concerned about physical health, mental wellbeing, safety and security, and connection to loved ones – those are the areas people are likely to focus on.
Technological convergence and the Internet are giving rise to a different group of brands and things. These are brands that demonstrate a high care factor, and that have a clear purpose of actively caring for people’s physical health, their safety and mental wellbeing, and facilitate connecting people with their loved ones. Industry observers refer to a new kind of Internet of Things; it is the Internet of Caring Things. Brands that belong to the ecosystem facilitated by the Internet and converging technologies, but that are driven by purpose and a focused mission to help people live better lives, safer lives, while providing richer and more fulfilling experiences.
There is a raft of growing examples of such products: Nike’s Fuelband is one shining example of a brand that is allowing us to lead fitter lives. Even better is Athos, which manufactures smart fitness suits that read and track muscle activity. Wigo is an example of a wearable tracking device that increases alertness. Another one is Skully, which is a smart motorcycle helmet that helps eliminate blind spots through the use of camera and an HUD display. These, and many others, are giving rise to a new, and more purposeful generation of caring brands that are creating the Internet of Caring Things.
The Internet of Things is going to be an inescapable reality for humanity. The reality will become increasingly present because manufacturing will standardize it, and it will become impractical not to include connectivity. It also may become a hygiene factor. But it is the brands that have a high caring factor that will shape success, and because of that the Internet of Caring Things is likely to stand out and play a bigger role in people’s lives. The future will belong to purpose and utility, and while this cannot stop the pervasiveness of connectivity, people will embrace caring brands, and reward them with their loyalty and money.