The highlights of CES 2015: IoT dominates the show, but we’re not there yet

Matt Hatton, Founder & CEO, Machina Research

At CES in 2011 a former colleague of the author quizzed me on why we had set up a research and advisory firm to look specifically at IoT and M2M. At the time the show was dominated by tablets, smartphones and 3D technology. By CES 2015 the situation had changed dramatically: everything at the show was about the Internet of Things. Even the secondary trends such as 3D printing and evolutions in TV technology have, more often than not, a ‘connected’ angle.

This year, the biggest tech firms made a more substantial play for the IoT. Samsung’s BK Yoon, in his keynote, focused on IoT and how we were not that far off. IoT was the main topic of conversation, and clearly an increasing focus of, the great and good of the tech sector. During discussions with the upper echelons of management at, variously, mobile operators, cable operators, and vendors as diverse as Blackberry, Cisco and Qualcomm, the major focus was on IoT and the implications of its growth.

One particular area where Samsung was active was in the connected home space, where it was focusing a lot of attention on its recent SmartThings acquisition. And they weren’t the only ones: Google announced an expansion of its ‘Work With Nest’ programme with 15 new partners, and even Apple, which wasn’t present at the show, was represented with the first set of devices certified for its HomeKit. AT&T also got in on the act at it’s pre-event Developer Summit, announcing that it was opening up the Digital Life platform for third party developers, including the likes of Qualcomm Life and Samsung. The battle for the connected home looks set to hot up in 2015. But is this really an internet of things, when we’re likely to see a number of different open and proprietary systems battling for dominance? In the long-run the open system should win, but fragmentation will slow things down.

There were, of course, also the obligatory connected cars, connected refrigerators and wearables (which almost largely consisted of some not-quite-as-ugly-as-last-year watches). The most interesting thing was that there was very little that was really new. This was a year of incremental improvements and ecosystem developments.

The importance of IoT in grabbing headlines is all very well. However, it does not mean that it is anywhere near maturity. Every company at CES feels that it needs an IoT message. However, it is noticeable that for every company, “IoT” looks curiously like their own business or technology. The irony is, of course, that the very definition of IoT is of an internet, so interoperability and interworking between all of the elements is crucial. Today we have a lot of elements of an internet of things, but we’re not there yet. Let’s not forget, IoT is a framework, not a technology. While the technology might be there, we’re still a little way away from all the parts working together.

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