Why is IoT so far off-target so far?

If you’ve seen a presentation that I have given over the past couple of years, you may have seen me reference “the three phases of Wireless”.  It pretty much echoes the three phases of the Internet, but with more of a wireless spin.


During the first phase, it was all about voice.  In the late 80’s and into the first part of the 90’s, having a cellular phone was a luxury that most of us either could not afford or couldn’t justify the high cost for the poor level of service that we received.  However, when phones and airtime came down in price in the early to mid-90s, voice became the first killer app in the world of wireless.


The 2nd phase started in the late 90’s and continues today.  This is how we moved all of our key personal information wirelessly.  Starting with the first Blackberry and continuing through the various iterations of smartphones and into the world of tablets, this phase involved us sharing our lives onto the Internet using a variety of wirelessly-enabled devices.  Data usage boomed for the cellular carriers as it seems that not a single meal is eaten today without being shared for the world to see…..FYI, don’t really care what your dessert looked like, people.


The third phase started a few years back.  It started with businesses and has made its way to the world of consumers, but not to the extent that it should have.  This phase is about connecting your “stuff” to the Internet using wireless technology.


By “stuff”, it can mean a lot of things:

  • Your car
  • Your home
  • Your body
  • Your appliances.


Where as the first two phases also saw slow initial adoption rates, it is different with phase three.  The main reason for a slow pickup in initial sales for the first two was cost-related.  Everyone knew that they wanted a cell phone in the late 80’s, but it was just cost prohibitive for most.  When the costs came down, the sales spiked and never looked back … the same goes for Blackberry and other similar devices.


However, I don’t see that as the main reason for people not wanting to connect their stuff to the world of the Internet to the same degree of fever that they wanted to connect themselves…..I think we have been off the mark on products.


Now, I don’t want to have everyone freak out at me and tell me how their IoT related consumer product is selling tons and I don’t know what I am talking about.  There have obviously been areas that we have seen great success…..but is anyone foolish enough to say that it compares to the explosion in growth that we saw with the cell phone and then with the smartphone?


So, why has it missed?


I think the first reason is we have not been on target with the products that we have released, and perhaps they were never designed to be the next greatest thing. A garage door that is smart may be cool to some, but is not sexy.  It will not be advertised in the Super Bowl at $4M per commercial.  It doesn’t drive an immediate call to action to buy.  It says, “That is cool, maybe I will get one of those when the old one busts”.


As well, I think many of the initial products that were created were done because someone thought they were cool, but we are now finding out that there is a very limited market for them.  Such may be a $400 smart shirt to tell you what your vitals are…..not many of us have that much of a desire to pay that much for information that is often available on our smartphone. 


This New Yorker cartoon kind of sums that up….we are building products, then hoping to find a market for them.




Finally, I think we have done a bad job marketing to one key demographic….the Millennials.  Millennials (or whomever was aged 13-25 at that time) are a key reason why previous products worked.  When they decide that a particular piece of hardware or service is cool, the adoption rate is spectacular. 


Let’s face it, most of the current IoT offerings to not apply or appeal to them.  They are not likely to be overly concerned about their health, most do not own homes and many don’t even own cars.  They are not as concerned about traffic congestion, as most of them either have more time on their hands than busy parents or take public transit everywhere.  We need to appeal to this group much better if we want to see success…


The Bottom Line

Now, many industries would love to have to “settle” for the growth rates of IoT, especially when they cannot grow the top-line revenue numbers.  However, I always believed that the success of a company should not be judged merely by how it does, but rather what it should have done based on its possibilities.  It reminds me of the quote from Legendary basketball coach John Wooden…..”Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability”.