Humble Pebble Heralds Big Changes for Internet of Things

September 1, 2015


I used to collect watches until almost three years ago. After backing a Kickstarter campaign for the Pebble smartwatch, I haven’t worn a traditional timepiece. What it lacked in form versus its traditional counterparts, it more than made up for in function. With a glance at my wrist, I can immediately see client emails, a text from my wife, breaking news alerts and how bad the Washington Nationals baseball team is playing. While my watch is relatively ancient in technology terms – and has been lapped in features by new smartwatches – it has been indispensable since day one. And though the value and convenience was immediately apparent, it took me a year to realize that my Pebble was a ripple ahead of a tidal wave for the communications industry.

The Internet of Things, abbreviated as “IoT,” is a movement to connect everyday objects to each other, the cloud, a phone/laptop and more. The Nest thermostat is a great early example of an IoT device. Not only can you control the temperature from anywhere using your phone or watch, it also provides detailed, easy to understand reports on how much energy you saved and what the top factors were (weather, away from home, etc.), as well as how you can improve. Consumer IoT has already gained momentum in home appliances (know what’s in the fridge before you get home), lighting, security, and even toys – Barbie now has cloud-based voice recognition. In fact, consumer IoT is projected to grow to be $300 billion in 2020. And that’s a conservative estimate. Enterprise IoT will be much larger, and manufacturers already are seeing significant gains in productivity, safety, quality and sustainability.

After a year of owning my Pebble, it inadvertently notified me of what the challenges for communicators will be in this new landscape. I realized one morning that without thinking about it, I was looking at my phone less and wasn’t downloading new apps at all. The buzz on my wrist would tell me if I needed to pull my phone out of my pocket or continue on my way. No longer would the following happen:

  • Wonder if I was missing an email
  • Check my phone
  • See what was going on with Twitter
  • See a link to an interesting article
  • Go to a site on browser
  • See a review of an interesting app
  • Download it, and then
  • Try to figure out what happened with the last 20 minutes

In addition to telling me the time, the watch also had the happy byproduct of saving it. Because I was looking at my phone less, I also was seeing far fewer ads and becoming more task-focused overall. One of the factors that makes wearables and broader IoT successful is that the interface is prioritized on the function of the device, not an attempt to shrink a phone onto your wrist. This discipline creates fewer opportunities for discovery, and the irony of this ever-more fragmented landscape is that it will provide less opportunity for brands to engage outside of their wheelhouses.

One of the greatest benefits of IoT devices is the wealth of data that they can provide a user, but this also potentially creates new hurdles for communications. Complex topics such as personal fitness and energy usage are demystified by always-on tracking that provides individuals clarity on what actions create positive change. Messaging that is dependent on expert positioning will face higher and higher hurdles as audiences become better educated on a broad spectrum of topics. Agencies often talk about developing content that has value, but to interact in this space they will need to provide actual utility.