As anyone familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle will know, technology goes through various stages on the rocky road to mass adoption. From the first ‘Innovation Trigger’ to the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ followed by the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’, ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ and with a bit of luck, finally, the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.
Which brings me to the Internet of Things. Much-vaunted in recent years, it’s fair to say that IoT, as it’s commonly known, hasn’t quite reached the Plateau of Productivity, when everyone’s using it and the future without it seems inconceivable.
So, what’s going on with IoT?
Gartner’s Hype Cycle 2017 plotted it on the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’, predicting it will be two to five years before IoT becomes widely used. That means at the very earliest, IoT will be part of everyday life here by next year. Is this really likely? Or is mass adoption still years away?
Interestingly, there’s no shortage of gadgets out there that connect to the internet. I spent half an hour researching online and turned up a respectable selection. The Oral-B interactive electric toothbrush records everything from how long the user has cleaned their teeth to the pressure used. L’Oreal’s Hair Coach hairbrush not only vibrates if the user is brushing too hard, but sends crucial data on hair quality to an app. Meanwhile the Quirky Egg Minder egg tray syncs with the user’s smartphone, showing how many eggs are in the fridge and how fresh they are.
Of course, it’s all very well finding connected items online, where you can buy just about anything. But what about the high street? Is there any sign of the big chain stores responding to consumer demand for items that connect with the internet?
The answer is yes - the new John Lewis in London’s Westfield White City shopping centre sports a ‘Smart Home’ section. Tech fans are spoiled for choice, with everything from connected radiators and TVs to lights and speakers to choose from.
“Consumers want things that make their lives more convenient, that save them a bit of money and give them an opportunity to show off,” John Lewis’s head of buying for electronics, Laurence Mitchell, recently told The Sunday Times. “There is something about being the first person to have a bit of kit and demonstrate it.”
Mitchell’s words are revealing, for so far in the UK, the IoT hasn’t come near to mass adoption and has only really been latched onto by savvy first-users. All the same, the signs it has the potential to take off are definitely there, as demonstrated by a connected gadgets section in one of the UK’s most popular stores.
Predicting when IoT begins to scale the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ is anyone’s guess. The situation reminds me of the slow adoption of contactless payments, which were introduced in the UK back in 2007. Acceptance of ‘Tap and Go’ was notoriously slow and one national newspaper even ran a feature highlighting the struggle to pay with contactless, which was mainly due to underused terminals being out of order and staff who didn’t know how to work them. Skip forward 11 years and it’s fair to say the British public are in a fully-fledged love affair with contactless. The Church of England even accepts it at 16,000 sites and increasing numbers of cafes and even market stalls are demanding card payments only.
Which brings me back to IoT. Gartner’s prediction of mass adoption by next year seems highly unlikely, but the green shoots are showing. I’m not surprised that according to the Sunday Times sales of connected devices for the home jumped by 107% in 2017.
As the technology improves and the convenience of smart gadgets becomes clear, British consumers will undoubtedly start to buy into the brave new world offered by IoT. I’m certain it’s more than a world where you’ll never overbrush your teeth or run out of eggs thanks to an app-connected egg tray. It’s even more exciting than that. And for someone who lives and breathes gadgets, I can’t wait to see what lies in store.