Archetypes of “Internet of Things” businesses
The Internet of Things is now strongly established as a trend, not necessarily a market yet. Most people in the field will agree it usually describes how ubiquitous technologies and infrastructures like Wifi, 3G (5G soon), Bluetooth might help us connect not only technology-centric products like phones, tablets and laptops but a plethora of physical devices that aren’t connected yet like chairs, doors, buildings.
If we have a good, if inconsistent idea (follow #iot on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean) about what The Internet of Things is supposed to be about we rarely put a face to the people or companies that attempt to create the consumer-facing products that make this trend come to life, the mass market devices and solutions. Things that people want, and desire as much as the latest gadget.
For the Creative Industries KTN workshop last month I identified 5 archetypes of companies that currently produce consumer-facing iot devices or solutions. Here are 3 of them.
1. Product companies who find telco partners to bootstrap the business
Another way of enabling the growth of iot products on the market is to form relationships with the companies providing the technological infrastructure. When Rafi Haladjian launched Nabaztag in France, it was offered as part of a France Telecom boardband package. This allowed it to get into the homes of future users very rapidly. Obviously, Rafi’s background as the founder of the first French ISP FranceNet (which he sold to BT) must have helped. GlowCaps, (David Rose’sl atest project) made deals with AT&T in the US to offer connectivity and call support services to their smart medication packaging products. Products like NetSmart, Current Cost’s web extension to their energy monitoring devices (which Tinker worked on initially) is a good example of a company that traditionally is driven by product design, but dipping its toes in the data game. With the knowledge they have about distribution and deals like an initial partnership with Google they have allowed their company to be perceived as a stable service provider.
My Nabaztag seems a bit unhappy - not sure why. (via)
2. Web companies with prototyping capabilities and enough turnover to deal with some manufacturing
Google’s latest moves in the hardware space are unique and interesting. First their business location NFC-enabled business packages to allow you to “check-in” easily. Then they announced the Android ADK. These are not necessarily consumer-facing products yet, although one can argue the community of hackers is large enough, but I’m curious if they’ll support the production of ideas and projects built with these platforms. Historically the people selling the platforms aren’t the ones involved in product funding or manufacturing.
3. Advertising agencies who develop products ideas as PR
Being able to make something physical has become a differentiator in a competitive marketplace like advertising. In 2007, companies like Moving Brands worked on physical projects that linked to digital interactions like the Weare scarf . In 2009, Weiden + Kennedy designed a limited edition range of data-driven jewellery that were being sold in Soho. More recently RIG (which I am now a partner in for full disclosure) made a unique series of Christmas decorations that were tailored to your use of online social networks. There are plenty of other experiments like a digital foosball table, and Bakertweet. However, most of these projects were made in small quantities in terms of manufacturing (less than 1K units). They are often experiments to allow those organisations to learn from the process of making, fabrication, retail etc.
These 3 archetypes don’t include one-off products for museums, exhibitions, r&d or academia because they often have a reason to be one-offs. These archetypes also prove there is a tremendous amount of space in the market for partnerships, experiments, diversified funding and business models. It’s a whole new world of entrepreneurship out there.
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino is a product designer & entrepreneur. Born in Montreal, she grew up in Paris and the Middle East. She co-founded Tinker, a smart product design studio, which she ran from 2007 to 2010. Focused on creating product experiences that linked the digital to the physical, some of Tinker’s clients included National Geographic, BT, BBC, The Evening Standard, Whirlpool & Wired.
She is now a consultant on “internet of things” issues in product & digital design, an evangelist for Lirec (an EU-funded project about robots) and partner in design partnership RIG London. She is based in London. Follow Alexandra on Twitter @iotwatch.