Category Archives: IoT

Bots are great for the Enterprise, not just for consumers

2016 was already declared the year of bots. While potentially being slightly over-hyped, it seems that many consumer companies have been putting a lot of meat behind their conversational UI efforts.

Facebook is banking on its messaging apps to get back into becoming a leading platform again. They are already allowing users to chat with businesses for customer service and have integrated with Uber to allow people to call an Uber through Messenger. Up-and-comers like Kik are thinking about “importing” WeChat’s success in China to the US.

If indeed there is a broader shift away from traditional point-and-click apps to chat-based user interfaces that is a shift not just for consumer tech but also for the Enterprise. The same fatigue that consumer have with apps is also true for prosumers occupying a work station at work. They get several software solutions for HR, a few more for communication and social networking inside the organization, Many more to sharing content, and so on and so forth.

The transition to bots and conversational interfaces could represent a major point of disruption in the interface paradigm, leading to a slew of incumbent startups going after traditional Enterprise players. There are so many options to explore. What about a conversational analytic platform? How about search and information queries inside the org. run by an bot talking to multiple folks? Maybe a friendly HR bot can help you out with employee benefits? and believe it or not there is already a conversation lawyer out there called Ross (http://www.rossintelligence.com/) courtesy of IBM Watson.

But what about the distribution of those services? Companies like Slack are looking at chat-as-platform as a major next step and that could be one entry. Another simple and under the radar channel is email. Plain old email, requiring no apps to install and barely any configuration to hustle with.

Case in point is Clara. I love my Clara. She might be dumb as hell sometimes, but that is when the human kicks-in and corrects course. Hopefully there is some machine learning going on when that happens as the service seems to improve all the time. I’ve recently surveyed folks who have engaged with Clara only to find out that 90% had no idea they are talking to a machine, with the 10% that did know being Silicon Valley folks who just happened to hear about Clara.

And off course there is Siri and the now Alexa from Amazon. The other I came back home and my three years old toddler has totally lost interest in his previous hobby, the iPad. He spent the entire afternoon busy bossing Alexa around, cracking up whenever she replied to his commands.

Although Alexa currently just resides inside Echo, a consumer product mostly occupying kitchens, I’ve actually started using Alexa for more and more semi work related chores. For example, she is excellent at figuring out what my next meeting is an how traffic is looking (“Bay Bridge traffic is awful today. Thanks for asking”) I can see a natural evolution to engaging with a “personal assistant” – Alexa for business – making every employee a tad more efficient.

All in all it’s exciting development, making technology more accessible and helping us humans become more efficient at whatever we set out to do, including business.

What’s wrong with the Smart Home?

For a while now we have had a slew of companies big and small promise us that the age of the Smart Home is finally here. The industry has seen a rash of early products that have raised soaring expectations and contributed to an expanding universe of ideas – it has become one of the hottest topics in IoT over the last two years (see my post about CES earlier this year – http://www.itamarnovick.com/internet-of-things-is-all-the-rage-at-ces-this-year/)

The “Smart Home” is an idea representing the culmination of many consumer-focused technologies, resulting in a magical residence equipped with lighting, heating, electronic devices, information, entertainment and other home components interacting together seamlessly and controlled remotely. This concept has fueled the imagination of entrepreneurs and tech savvy homeowners. Even my wife got used to having August the Smart lock gracefully unlock the door for her when she comes back home. Yes, she is loving it, thanks for asking.

However, Despite the “future is now” proclamations by industry observers, Smart Home technologies have been in the works for years and even though the first wave of Smart Home products is out there in the market I think we are very early in this cycle.

There are too many blockers and products are not working as well as they should. Here are a few challenges that have been plaguing this market.

Products not yet ready for mass market
While people are interested in the technology, they also aren’t ready to buy it. And I don’t blame them. Many products feel like a V1 or even a beta, with a disregard for usability and an incoherent story about what the product can do for people. This mean that anyone interested in buying a connected product quickly encounters a cautionary tale that makes them think twice about spending $200 on a connected door lock.

Connectivity standards
WIFI and Bluetooth are just not a good fit for connected home devices. Even Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which is a newer standard is not a great fit. It’s nobody’s fault, but the devices and consumers who buy them end up paying the price. These standards haven’t been designed with IoT devices in mind and don’t support use cases such as super low latency with consistent very reliable connection.

ZigBee and Z-Wave have been touted for years but market adoption of both is still anemic. Case in point – have you ever seen a smartphone that has any of these new IoT standards?

End point solutions vs. Platforms
So far, with the exception of SmartThings and a few others, the big promise of having connected devices talk to each other has not been delivered. The solutions that are selling well are actually all point solutions – Dropcam, Nest Thermostat, Canary, etc.
Non of these devices are “Platform” today. Unfortunately, the few platforms that are out there are not playing nicely with the leading point solutions leading to a frustrating user experience.

I think 2016 or 2017 will be a wonderful year for Home Automation filled with breakthroughs. Now all we need to do is fast forward to that time… I can’t wait for my fridge to start talking back to me when I forget to throw out my out of date eggs.

“Internet of Things” is all the rage at CES this year

IoT had a massive presence at CES this year (2014), with a big focus on Smart home devices. The hype around the “Smart home” is just getting started… Who doesn’t wants to a have a fridge that can tweet all by itself?

More seriously, It’s fascinating to see how quickly new devices are getting to market these days. Hardware is hard, and yet a lot of startups are building devices quickly. Here are some cool devices that I’ve seen on the floor:

Canary

A DYI all-in-one Home Security system still in pre-order. It’s had a very successful IndieGoGo campaign and the excitement over it seems well-founded. The Canary is a powerhouse of sensors with HD camera, microphone, thermometer, motion detector, air quality sensor… you name it.

The also have a friendly mobile app that goes with the device, enabling you to see what went down in your home in the last day (or more if you pay for the extended plans). It’s basically a life-stream of the HD camera showing highlights of the day (based on movement and such). Looks pretty neat.

With no Door Open/Close, just a single motion sensor, and no home monitoring solutions Canary will be hard pressed to replace a full-blown home security system. However, if you Rent or don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee Canary might be a good fit for you.

Revolv Hub

The Smarthome needs a brain to be smart and quite a few folks are off to the races to build a so called “hub”. The grand vision beyond this is that in the future all the “smart” devices will be able to talk to each other and somehow make sense of all the chatter.

Revolv is one of the latest contenders to this category and has been working on some cool stuff. The Revolv Hub is a master controller of devices, connecting your devices to a smartphone app. The Hub supports 10 wireless standards , including Z-Wave, Zigbee and a slew of others. Off course it also supports regular Wi-Fi devices to backlink it all to the cloud. Revolv is working with some big names like Sonos, Philips hue, and Yale locks, but with automatic firmware updates the team is committed to bring many more devices to the fold.

The intriguing part is how Revolv puts all those devices together through their app via triggers. For example, If you move within 100 yards of your house, the Kwikset smart lock can unlock the door and yous Sonos device can turn up the heat.

SmartThings

SmartThings is another hub that wants to lord over your home devices and also a successful graduate of crowdfunding campaign. While SmartThings handles smart devices using Z-Wave and Zigbee wireless protocols just like Revolv, SmartThings’ secret weapon is optional sensors that tell you when the dog leaves the house or a window is left open.

The SmartThings app also works with IFTTT (disclamier: IFTTT is a Life360 partner) meaning you can setup protocols like “If I come within 50 feet of the hub, Then unlock/heat up house.”

SmartThings made quite an impression at CES with their “house” (Check it out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DQfhdK5qMw)

Nest Protect

Nest (the smart Thermostat company) is coming up with yet another product that is aimed to disrupt a dormant and un-sexy category. This time they are going for… Smoke Alarms.

The Nest Protect smoke alarm is all about the human touch. Instead of having annoying sirens go off, it it kindly speaks in a human voice and alerts you of smoke (and where it’s coming from) or a carbon monoxide leak. To dismiss, simply wave at the Nest device. It’s also got a beautiful design (compared to any smoke detector I’ve ever seen) and a battery life that lasts up to ten year.