New terms often emerge in order to encapsulate hot new technology trends which are less than clearly defined in the specifics or the implications. One such current trend is the Internet of Things, or Everything if you prefer, terms which may be meaningful or empty depending on individual taste. Whatever IoT or IoE ultimately mean or become, there is a strong sense at CES 2014 that their commercial impact is becoming real in some form or other, rather than simply visions on Powerpoint slides.
As an example, the smart home era is now clearly upon us, after emerging as a strong future trend at CES over the past couple of years or so. IoT discussions generally include the apparent arrival of smart home technologies into mainstream products and services as one piece of evidence that IoT is real. It extends beyond home control and automation, of course, and wearables are the latest incarnation of the broad IoT trend. CES 2014 is littered with wristbands, headbands and other wearable technology products of various descriptions, many of which will no doubt fail commercially. Again, there is a strong sense that out of this emerging, fragmented primordial soup of innovation and ideas a few big winners will emerge in years to come. They may or may not include the smart mug (sic) displayed on Intel's booth, a porcelain coffee cup incorporating Intel's latest thumbnail-sized microprocessor.
Beyond consumer and B2C models, however, the impact of IoE will embrace industry and public services in general, and this is the foundation of Cisco's new strategy. John Chambers regards this year as one of his famous inflexion points where things come together and future concepts suddenly switch from excited chatter to real business decisions. According to Cisco IoE has moved rapidly in recent months to become central to board-level and high level government debates, and Cisco is doing its best to pull together multiple players in the ecosystem to persuade both industries and government bodies that the opportunity is real. It is targeting vertical industries but also the public sector, where Cisco's Joe Bradley discussed the opportunities and challenges in a round table with myself and other analysts. Bradley claims that Cisco has developed at least 40 use cases which show authorities how they can improve the way things are done and save money. One that was emphasised was improvements in how people find parking spaces using sensor networks, perhaps not the most exciting example but one which it is claimed could save many millions of dollars, euros or Yen.
However much Cisco focuses on these B2B strategies, and however much industries and governments start to take IoE seriously, it seems vital that the interests of the end user should not be forgotten. It's clear from this CES that there is a wealth of new connectivity-based experiences coming down the pipeline over the next few years, many of which will challenge traditional norms of behaviour as well as the way that traditional customer-supplier relationships work. Data security is clearly a critical element but in my view the biggest challenges will not be technical but social. The importance of Trust, not just for consumers but for everyone in the ecosystem, should never be forgotten as IoE creates fundamentally new ways of going about business and government.
Client reading: Intel Sets Sail For Post-PC Era, But Don't Call It That