The New York Times recently published, “Just How Smart Do You Want Your Blender to Be?” The author, Jacob Silverman, explores the “land rush to digitize the home.” He cites the push for “smart” technology to be embedded into everything–from toothbrushes to baby monitors to your very own home. It’s staggering to read about the need for consumers to use this new smart technology to track and report stats right from the fabric of their own clothing. But are consumers really getting the value they expect or need?
Looking for Personal Value in Smart Technology
Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and even the Internet of Things all aim to transform the future. But how does a busy person juggling a demanding job and two young children get any benefit from embedding “smart tech” into everything? Does a “smart diaper” do anything for me when my son is quite vocal about letting me know when he’s uncomfortable? On the other hand, the ability to deposit a check into the bank using my cellphone camera keeps me from having to schlep to the bank – a much-dreaded task – is a welcome innovation. I’ll keep my coffee maker low-tech, thank you very much. But, I do love my car’s rear-view camera and GPS.
Consumer attitudes aside, the perceived valuation of once-booming “personal tech” firms has certainly come down to earth, which indicates I’m not the only consumer looking critically at the personal value of smart technology.
Widgets and Gadgets Galore
So here’s a quick survey of my own experience with a few of the myriad new widgets and gadgets available:
- Payment Tech: While still riddled with implementation issues, some recent fraud problems, and spotty consumer adoption, technologies like Apple Pay and Google Wallet, as well as those provided by traditional banking suppliers, have the advantage of being embedded in the king of all smart devices – our phones. They also solve problems like the example of depositing checks that I cited earlier. Going to my local farmer’s market without cash? No problem – each of the vendors is set up with Square – a convenience that serves consumers who never have enough cash on hand, and farmers and vendors who never want to turn a customer away empty-handed.
- Connected Cars: Much ado has been made of the “autonomous vehicle”, and I think most consumers share a certain amount of skepticism that they will “leave the driving” to a robot anytime soon. Smart technology that is integrated into the way we already use our vehicles, however, is welcome and can ease the stresses of driving and car ownership. GPS is now a service we see as essential, computers that alert us to maintenance needs prevent breakdowns and more costly repairs, and emergency notification services and intelligent safety mechanisms have saved more than one life.
- Healthcare Diagnostics: The human benefits of smart health monitoring and diagnostics are too huge to ignore. In reality, in a casual survey of some who have actually used devices like heart-rate monitors that report back to a physician, have complained of a clunky product that didn’t communicate in real-time and failed to meet today’s expectations of how technology should work. Despite a currently clunky experience, the life-saving potential of intelligent consumer health technology, coupled with adequate investment and increased focus on the consumer’s experience, will lead to widespread acceptance by consumers.
- Fitness & Health Trackers: I often say to my friends who wear a Fitbit and track their steps each day “I’m either getting enough exercise or I’m not.” I know if I’ve been sitting at my desk all day and haven’t taken a walk that I need to get moving. I don’t need a special gadget to tell me I’ve failed to take exactly 10K steps. So – I don’t get value out of a fitness tracker, and it seems I’m not alone. In another well-researched piece in the NYT, Nick Bilton explores the relative usefulness and maturity of the fitness tracker market, and finds that overall, the market is still immature and widespread consumer adoption is still a few years away.
My Cognizant colleague, Benjamin Pring, wrote an insightful piece about one of the well-known failures of fitness trackers: The Nike Fuel band (though I have ONE FRIEND who still uses one and proudly posts how much “fuel” she’s burned on Facebook).
- Drones: Drones will see some very interesting commercial and social applications. Combined with GPS capabilities, imagine drones conducting search & rescue work, or scouting for forest fires before they spread out of control. Brilliant. As a consumer product, drones were a big hit on the 2015 Christmas list, and certainly they remain a coveted gadget for the early-adopter. With increasing regulatory pressures and somewhat limited hobbyist-type appeal, I believe drones will go the way of the Segway – a commercial technology and consumer curiosity rather than an integral part of everyday life.
- Smart Appliances: Back to the original story that triggered this post. Do people value smart technology in their blender, refrigerator, washer and dryer? A quick skim of the comments section on Jacob Silverman’s article shows a very persistent theme of skepticism and even rejection of technology-enabled devices in the home. Are these comments from luddites and curmudgeons?
Personally, I will continue to look carefully at how new consumer technology can help simplify my life, not add more clutter. As the consumer smart technology market matures, companies betting their futures on wearables, smart homes, and other consumer tech innovations should invest in understanding where consumers find true value, and be wary of features that detract from the end-user’s goals, or risk landing in the “junk drawer.”
What do you think? Do you value smart technology in your blender, refrigerator, washer and dryer?