Everywhere you look at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it seems there’s nothing that can’t be connected to the internet: Tennis rackets, coffee makers, watches, jewelry, baby clothing, pet accessories, oven ranges and infinitely more appliances and household goods are all getting high-tech upgrades.
It’s called the Internet of Things.
To Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the International Consumer Electronics Show, the important consideration is not whether a product can be digitized, but whether it should be. The question, he said, is ultimately, “Does it make sense?”
Historically, crowds have flocked to the annual show to find out “what’s technologically possible, what’s technologically feasible,” DuBravac said. “But we’re now shifting, and no longer is the focus on what technologically can be done, it’s what is technologically meaningful.”
With so many competing internet-connected products vying for attention at the massive event — more than 150,000 people are expected to attend Tuesday through Friday — many will ultimately fail. CES has become a place to “try to differentiate the winners from the losers,” DuBravac said. “As we digitize and connect and sensorize an increasing swath of our experience, CES becomes that pruning ground.”
It’s hard to know where to start trimming. There are 900 Internet of Things exhibitors at CES, the largest-ever showcase of such products and services.
Market-research firm IDC predicts that the worldwide market for Internet of Things solutions will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020, although estimates from other firms vary widely.
So you get things at CES like the wi-fi kettle, which allows tea drinkers to “start boiling your kettle from anywhere in the house” by using your smartphone, according to its manufacturer, a British company called Smarter.
At a separate booth nearby, Los Angeles-based Dacor was touting its new Discovery IQ range. Cooks can pre-heat their ovens remotely, look up and add recipes to their personalized databases and learn how to cook the perfect meal.
And countless exhibitors were showing off smartwatches and fitness trackers.
The Internet of Things has become so important to the tech industry that Samsung co-CEO Boo-Keun Yoon made it the focus of his Monday evening keynote, telling hundreds of attendees, “It’s not science fiction anymore; it’s science fact.”
Tech analysts said the internet-connected products with staying power will not only provide information but also recommend new behavior. Products also benefit when they can adapt to events that have yet to happen: for instance, a new sprinkler system that connects to the internet to find out when the next storm is on its way, and adjusts its watering output accordingly.
One of the leading Internet of Things companies is Nest, which Google bought a year ago for $3.2 billion. Best known for its “smart” thermostat, Nest is working to connect all kinds of household appliances and electronics together for convenience, and to monitor usage and save energy. At CES, Nest announced collaborations with a dozen companies for its “Works With Nest” developer platform, including an expansion of an existing deal with Whirlpool.
Companies and deep thinkers continue to contemplate privacy, security and social aspects of a world where people and innumerable “things” are in constant contact. But for the next few days, the focus is on the cool — and silly.