Monday, July 13, 2015

The Internet of All Things and the Demand for “Quick and Easy”

While it was written just two years ago, I can already see how, in many ways, the article “Ten IT-enabled business trends for the decade ahead” from McKinsey & Company both hit the nail on the head, and still had a lot to learn. Reflecting on a previous report from three years prior in 2010, writers Jacques Bughin, Michael Chui, and James Manyika comment on how the trends have already evolved and that the digital world is expanding at a pace that is nearly impossible to keep up with.

As soon as I began reading the article, I was reminded of a “new” technology that I, admittedly, only recently learned about: Amazon’s Echo. For those that do not know, the Echo is a stand-alone home device, cylinder in shape, that is a sort of “jack of all trades”—it is a speaker, information provider, smart-capable device for your home, and personal assistant. And all you have to do is talk to it. The Echo was soft released by invite-only late last fall, and is now available on Amazon’s website for anyone to purchase.

Alexa, Echo’s personality, has everything you need in her cloud-based memory—from what’s on your calendar for the day, to the weather, maintaining a to-do or grocery list, watching the latest episode of your favorite show (via your Amazon Prime subscription, of course), and turn off the lights in your bedroom if you forgot (if you have a Wemo, Belkin, or Philips device connected to them). But that’s not all: say you are cleaning up a spill and realize that you are on your last roll of paper towels. All you have to do is tell Alexa you need more and she will order them for you from Amazon to arrive at your door in the next few days. It is virtually the "Internet of All Things."

The Echo’s hands-free nature makes it more convenient than holding your smartphone to tell it to do things, and certainly more capable than what many smart watches are able to do. But how much is too much? Alexa can store anything you tell it in Amazon’s cloud, and is only prompted to listen when you ask for her by name, but what’s to stop Amazon from listening further so that they can continue to analyze their customers for a more detailed and customer-oriented experience?

And, where does it go from here? Technology today is astounding, and the McKinsey article often comments on that. The Echo, by various reviews, still has a long way to go. It currently only connects to Amazon’s base services, which makes sense, but isn’t viable for someone like myself who owns mostly Apple products. But if you were to tell someone 20 years ago that one day soon we’d have a device that ordered the products we needed and turned out our lights for us, all from the convenience of our sofas, we may not believe it. We as a society want "quick and easy," we want simplicity, and we want everything else to be handled for us.

I can see other big companies acting on this soon.  Apple came close with their Watch, but it as fallen short of expectations, and the Apple TV, while helpful in me continuing my cable-free lifestyle, is limiting as well. If Apple made a device that combined all of their products—their own “Echo” with Siri instead of Alexa, that answered phone calls, sent emails, connected us to our music and movies, and maybe even ordered items on Amazon for us, I’d probably buy it.

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Amazon Echo: http://www.amazon.com/Amazon-SK705DI-Echo/dp/B00X4WHP5E

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