What's definitely going to be a buzzword for the next year, the "Internet of Things," is the idea that every object we own will be identifiable and inventoried by computers. Originally proposed in 1999, with the thought of barcodes and RFID, the concept can be extended even more today with GPS, Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi, and long-lasting battery technology. While enabling your toaster to tell you the weather may sound trivial, having your alarm clock push itself back five minutes because your morning meeting is delayed just might change your life.
What companies might benefit from talking toasters? It may be too many to count, and too many to earn any reasonable profit margins on such business.
The future of things
There are plenty of small solutions currently available that can help you find your lost goods. One such product is Tile, which raised more than $2.6 million on Kickstarter. The small tiles that you can stick on objects or on a keychain have a range of 150 feet, but if in the range of another tile user's phone, the tiles location can be updated. Therefore, if enough users are in an area, the range becomes almost limitless. Through this type of mesh network, you never have to lose things again.
While such small conveniences may not vastly improve our lives, or add value to our economy, there are plenty of big ones that could help revolutionize our world.
Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO ) predicts that by 2020, over 50 billion things will be connected to the Internet. As an example, Cisco touts its partnership with Planetary Skin, which uses "billions of networked sensors on land and in sea, air, and space to detect and predict changes to the environment." Obviously, as a leader in networking, Cisco stands to benefit if its predictions are correct. Billions of things sending data means more servers and networking needed to deliver and store all this information.
There are no limits on where computers will be placed and hooked up. There are sensors on cows to let farmers know when they're sick or pregnant. Street lights can sense surrounding conditions and dim or brighten themselves to compensate. Smart energy meters can show the current price for electricity, allowing businesses to delay using electricity during peak energy use to save money. And, of course, self-driving cars will sense each other and be able to drive more efficiently than we humans could ever achieve.
So who wins?
Besides Cisco, who could benefit from a large number of connected doodads? It really is impossible to tell. And even though there will almost certainly be billions of connections, there are so many players and start-ups competing that none may truly reap any outsized reward. Many will mention Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) , Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) , IBM, and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) , along with a bevy of wireless technology companies and other chip makers.
The Internet of Things is a growing market, but investors already know this. That's one reason why Google is valued at a price-earnings of over 27. The thing is, this growing market steals share from many of the same companies' traditional markets. For example, as the PC market crashes like an overheated processor, Intel's revenue from PC client group fell 7.5% year over year in the last quarter. Intel must get a piece of the new trend to stay relevant.
Apple, of course, has historically been the prime example of staying relevant through its revolutionary product releases that have created entire industries. As its computer and iPod lines wane, it can count on its iPhone and iPad to create revenue. And as these mobile devices become widespread, Apple can count on iTunes to help pad its revenue; in the latest quarter, iTunes revenue grew 25%. However, even Apple can't shake negative sentiment as it has yet to release anything crowned as groundbreaking since the iPad. Investors believed in a continuing machine of hit products when its stock sat at $700, but when they realized such a product might take longer than expected, Apple's stock price was cut nearly in half.
Like Apple's fight to stay relevant, the Internet of Things may be more of a weeding process than windfall for many companies.
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