I went to CES with one distinct focus in mind: Out of all of the noise of product announcements and promotional hubbub, I was in search of that elusive, buried truffle of TRUE innovation. I was looking for the quiet-yet-recognizable signal of original thought on things that truly matter for consumers now and in the near future.
As I sorted through the 4k TVs and the iPad covers… strolling the aisles with booth after booth of things that I had seen before, a picture emerged.
Yes, I did find the Horizon of Innovation.
Some background first.
Circa 1998, the connected life started with our information gathering and the Internet looked like a library. Go there, get information, leave. There was rudimentary communication that replicated written letters, and that was pretty cool too. In fact it was fundamentally transformational to our education systems and, for those who used it, to our ability to stay in touch with people we already knew.
At that point, the Internet and associated devices began an unstoppable trend of transforming every aspect of what it means to be human. Technology and connectivity will continue to infiltrate and transform absolutely every aspect of humanness, from conception to prolonging death and everything in-between.
Oh yeah, the punch line? The Edge of TRUE Innovation has now passed through our information gathering, transaction, entertainment and education systems. Everything encompassed in those institutions from here on out is incremental as the transformation from human to something more progresses. I know it’s a big assertion, but think about it – once the transition from human to werewolf hits a certain point, the rest is a foregone conclusion… the complete transformation is inevitable and it’s just incremental change as the hair grows and the nails lengthen… that’s where we are with the technological transformation of those systems.
So the Edge? This year, it’s in two places: 1) The Internet of Things, e.g. connected sensors and data 2) Automotive/transportation.
Internet Of Things – This is a big category as it encompasses the instrumentation of daily life. It’s healthcare and the quantified human. It’s home surveillance and smart infrastructure. We’re seeing it in web-connected power meters and WiThingsNikeFitbit doodads. This connected quantification is in its infancy and won’t stop until there are sensors wired directly to our neurons.
The same thing goes for our houses. Nest is only the beginning. I fully expect there to be water sensors embedded in our home’s walls, slabs and floors to sense moisture. I also expect up-to-the-second power usage reporting to become commonplace in the very near future.
We’re in the very early days of sensor-driven lives, for sure. This trend could take a lot of different directions and it’s not clear exactly how the consumer experience will play out. There is a huge opportunity for companies driving the platforms, infrastructure, standards and transmission protocols. We’re at the very beginning of this opportunity.
The second trend of automotive and transportation is somewhat obvious, but I think it’s going to take some very interesting twists and turns as Network Driving Oversight runs up against the fierce independence of the automotive mindset.
In 2013 the car has become a big mobile iPhone/Android phone dock. Entertainment plugs right into the dash and many manufacturers are building hotspots right into the telematics. So why is this the cutting edge if it’s out there? Mostly because all of it is so early, there are no standards or common platforms. Also because most everything pretty much sucks right now.
We know cars are capable of connectivity. But given that, what are the innovations that are natural to driving that will emerge? Will the insurance business spin up a micro-actuarial focus to give discounts (or the reverse) to drivers who have statistical clustering around an obscure set of tracked variables? Yep. Will there be entertainment programming created primarily for the driving experience? Probably. Will our cars monitor our vital signs through our hands and butts, letting us know we’re going to fall asleep before we do? Or predict heart attacks? Likely.
This market is completely open.
Also, did you know your cell phone sends data to your carrier’s network, creating a direct map of where you are and how fast you are going? Did you know your carrier sells this data to mapping companies so they can provide real-time traffic along your route?
That’s happening now… if you’re surprised, where did you think the red lines on your Google map came from?
What is next on the frontier is doing lots, lots more with that data. Right now we think of our primary route as the only way, and suggested alternates are sub-optimal. But if everyone were on, say one or two systems, routes and traffic maps become real-world load balancers. Those load balancers do exactly what their netops cousins do: sending traffic along various routes based on the optimal balance of speed.
But what if that equation that drives the load balancer is also influenced by things like monetization? Your objectively selected route may include “optimizations” like the inclusion of a gas station that’s partnered with the mapping company.
Now here’s a crazy thought. What if that mapping company took autonomous control of your driving?
There is a lot to be settled in this scenario, and it is starting to happen right now.
The best example of that, in addition to Google’s autonomous cars, could be seen in Ford’s continued pursuit of the Sync features (powered by Microsoft, no less). Specifically, at CES, Ford announced an open platform for applications to be written by any developer to the Sync system. Are we seeing Ford and Microsoft taking a stand as the open providers of telematics? That would be weird.
So, it’s possible to argue with my viewpoint that there’s only incremental innovation – or at least the playing out of the things set in motion – left in information, education, shopping and the rest. And it’s possible that the thing-based internet is still a long way off, as well as automated driving.
But I challenge you to think about where we still have technology platforms to create, where the rules of competition are not yet defined… this is where the biggest innovation opportunities lie.