Internet of Things

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After years of empty hype, The Internet of Things is finally here – and it’s going to change the world. There are already more objects connected to the Internet than there are people in the world and this is set to grow exponentially over the coming years. From watches to wellness and smart homes to smart cars – the future is now.

When Google released Google Glass it was seen as an extension of the devices market, an alternative to a phone or tablet, but as innovation continues around it, it now appears to fit more closely into a new ecosystem which is developing around lifestyle monitoring and smart personal infrastructure, which covers wearables as well as intelligent homes and vehicles.

Despite the years of anticipation surrounding smart watches and the Pebble, by the time they were released onto the market it seemed they had already become obsolete. Why have a smart watch when the new must-have was the fitness band, measuring activity levels, sleep patterns and even predicting when you are likely to get ill. Apple looks likely to finally join the party this year with its much mythologised iWatch and recent rumours suggest it will incorporate watch, fitness band and broader IoT capability, marking it out as the next generation of wrist-worn devices. Consumers are now able to track more and more information about themselves with a simple wearable and an app, and this is just the beginning.

While app-controlled security cameras, home controls and smart lighting started to make their appearance on shelves to a mixed reception in 2013 it was Google’s US$3.2 billion acquisition of Nest Labs, the smart thermostat, smoke and CO detector company, in January of this year that made the everyone sit up and take note. We frequently see large tech companies such as Google and Facebook making speculative acquisitions, but US$3.2 billion goes past speculation to prediction: smart homes, smart security are going to be big.

Out on the roads it is again Google and Apple who seem to be doing battle, with Apple announcing its “iOS in the Car” initiative in June 2013 and Google following on this year with their Open Automotive Alliance in which they have partnered with car manufacturers including GM, Audi and Honda. Under both systems, the cars will not only work with the OS, for example to play music, but enable the cars to become devices in their own right.

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The impact of the IoT will be wide-ranging. Initial beneficiaries are horizontal – manufacturers of key components such as semiconductors whose customer base is expanding rapidly as more hardware requires them to function. The second phase of development and adoption, which we are now entering, will see the vertical markets begin to benefit – such as software developers in the consumer realm and within the enterprise IoT, companies who will see processes streamlined and costs cut.

The early investors in the IoT sphere have, as we have seen, been the global Internet and tech companies, with Samsung being Asia’s prime mover. However, as the wide-ranging impact of the IoT on the global markets both horizontally and vertically becomes apparent, we are starting to see investors coming from those horizontal and vertical beneficiaries, such as semiconductor manufacturer ARM’s recent acquisition of Sensinode Oy an IoT software developer, and Unilever’s new incubation scheme dedicated to the Internet of Things.

Most recently traditional investment firms starting with the VCCs, who traditionally adopt a higher risk profile, have been turning their attention to new IoT technology: Zonoff, a software platform for the Internet of Things, just raised $3.8m from investors including Valhalla Partners and Grotech Ventures while Singapore’s Economic Development Board has identified the Internet of Things as a key area for investment to continue to develop Singapore as a global hub for development of and investment in technology and IP.

The Internet of Things will result in monitoring systems collecting data from our homes, our vehicles and even our own bodies – the “quantified self” where data is being collected on your lifestyle and choices around the clock. A world in which being “always-on” takes on a whole new meaning. This may leave you filled with dread, predicting a Terminator-style dystopia. It may leave you excitedly envisaging a future where illness is predicted and prevented, homes react organically to their occupants and you only ever see adverts for products you want. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: it is going to change the world.

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