The Internet of Things has been coming soon for quite a few years.
It's one of those concepts that people have heard about and some may even be dabbling in, but its full potential has yet-to-be realized. The world of connected devices has slowly inched forward with more products targeting the home market in 2015.
But so far, at least as far as everyday life goes, the IoT has been mostly a novelty. It's cool to remotely control a thermostat, turn out lights or lock a door using your smartphone, or to do many of the other things in the home IoT-enabled devices have allowed, but it has not been essential or even that useful.
That should begin to change in 2016 with an explosion of devices that make life easier in ways that are easy to see and ones which are a little more subtle. Our panel of Fools examined how the growth of the IoT will impact your life over the next five years.
Tim Brugger: (Data-driven media): With market estimates as high as $11 trillion by 2025, it's safe to say the Internet of Things is poised to become one of tech's leading markets. Naturally, that kind of potential opens the door to some of the world's biggest companies to garner their fair share.
For many, the budding IoT market brings to mind a world of interconnected sensors: in homes, cars, and even cities, which will certainly impact all of our lives. But the biggest impact won't come from the sale of gadgets, it will come from collecting, analyzing, and ultimately utilizing the unprecedented reams of data IoT devices generate. That's why companies like IBM (NYSE:IBM) committed more than $3 billion in IoT-related investments in early 2015.
What IBM recognizes is that selling IoT devices is nice, but using cognitive computing tools like its Watson "machine learning" wonder to crunch all that data and develop actionable results is where the real impact lies. Already, digital marketers implement targeted marketing campaigns based on the analysis of consumer's habits, at an alarmingly successful rate.
Now imagine those same digital media companies with today's data, combined with information on our driving, eating, and work habits, to name but a few, that IoT promises to deliver. For example, a smart car is beginning to show some signs of wear then, lo and behold, the first ad that pops up after signing onto the Internet is for auto parts.
Data-driven marketing has drastically changed our experience with digital media in the past five years. With the advent of IoT and the data derived from it, the next five years promises even more impactful changes to our digital experience.
Beth McKenna (It's going to make buying easier): While we might not all be living like the Jetsons by 2020, we should be on our way, thanks to the Internet of Things, which is already making strides in automating or "smarting" up homes.
The fact that many of us will likely be living quite differently in our homes in five years is illustrated by the following torrid growth projection: Connected-home worldwide device sales will soar from over $61 billion this year to about $490 billion in 2019, according to BI Intelligence.
The home automation topic is huge, so I'm going to focus on one specific facet that's recently arrived complements of e-commerce/tech giant Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN): the automatic reordering of the countless consumable products most of us in the developed world use in our homes.
Amazon introduced its Dash Buttons earlier this year; these devices are essentially free, as each button costs $4.99 but includes $4.99 of credit toward purchases. You simply place these devices onto products that are in the program and connect them via Wi-Fi to Amazon's mobile app on an iPhone or an Android phone. When you notice you're running low on items like trash bags, razors, laundry detergent, or pet supplies, you just press the button, and -- voila -- the product will be on its way to your door.
In a brilliant move, Amazon also earlier this year unveiled a developer program called the Dash Replenishment Service (DRS) that allows companies to build reordering buttons directly into their household appliances and gadgets. At least 11 companies, including Whirlpool, General Electric, and Brita have joined the DRS program.
Brita, for instance, has developed a "smart pitcher" that knows when to order a new water filter based on how much water has passed over the existing filter, while Whirlpool created a washer that automatically orders detergent. The DRS program not only promises to help bring to market gadgets that make life easier for consumers, but it also should further tighten Amazon's grip on consumers while allowing it to profit from selling IoT devices.
Within five years, these initial steps that Amazon has taken with its Dash one-click buying program and DRS program should lead to capabilities that are much more advanced and widespread.
Daniel B. Kline (Home automation in a familiar package): Like my colleague, I'm intrigued by the home automation possibilities offered by the IoT, but it's the remote control and automation of devices which most interests me. And, it's Amazon which may be at the center of that world as well.
The company's Echo wireless speaker/personal assistant could become a sort of home-automation hub. It's slowly moving in that direction and it might have an easier time gaining acceptance because it's a pretty cool device even before you factor in that it can control lights, thermostats, air conditioners, and other devices.
The $179 Echo works as a voice-activated assistant that can do everything from deliver weather reports to play music both from Amazon Prime Music, your own library, and other popular streaming services. It also can order from Amazon.con (like DASH), and serve as a virtual assistant. Those alone are enough for people to buy one, which should give Amazon a large installed user base once third-party home-automation products become more available.
The online retailer has already opened the platform to developers. Integrating Echo, which is easy to use, with home automation will give people the sort of future home we always expected. Being able to say "Alexa, dim my lights" (Echo is addressed by the Alexa name) is closer to how home automation has been shown in science fiction. It's also easy to understand and less daunting than many of the current solutions.
Echo offers a backdoor in home automation and the IoT, but it's not the only one. In the next five years the Amazon device might control your home, but it's also possible you will use your smartphone, a game console, or even a streaming media player to do the same. The future of IoT and home automation won't be some new device or techie solution. It will almost certainly be added functionality to products people already use and understand.