First there were smartphones. Now there are smartwatches, smart homes, and even smart grocery stores. Smart technology keeps evolving, but it hasn’t always done so in a straight line. While the evolution of smart technology has meant that some devices (like smartphones) have become ubiquitous, others (like smart fridges) have failed to catch on.
From Amazon to Apple
In December, Amazon opened Amazon Go, a smart grocery store where there are no lines and no cash registers, according to Forbes. Customers scan their phones when they enter the store, take products off the shelves like they normally would, and when they’re done shopping they simply walk out the door. No more scanning required. Amazon says the store uses computer vision and sensors combined with artificial intelligence to figure out what people are taking and bill them accordingly. It’s a sign that the evolution of smart technology is moving beyond individual devices and into physical spaces.
Amazon isn’t alone when it comes to using smart technology in the physical world. Some professional sports teams have started adding location-based features to their apps, allowing them to, say, send a message to every app user who’s at a game. Some brick-and-mortar retailers are experimenting with technology that will allow them to communicate with customers based on what aisle of the store the customers are standing in, giving them access to product reviews and sending them deals based on what’s right in front of them.
Smart technology has already had some pretty big false starts. The Apple Watch remained a niche item, especially considering it’s an Apple product. It suffered from lacklustre sales and a generally indifferent consumer market. The rest of the smartwatch industry has seen pretty similar results—popularity with a small subset of fans but little mass-market interest. Is it because people already gave up their wristwatches for smartphones and don’t want to go back? Or because smartwatches are essentially a peripheral purchase? Given the fact that the Apple Watch didn’t get a Dick Tracy-style video-communicator app until November 2016, it’s possible consumers just didn’t see what problems the technology was supposed to solve.
Heading into the home (and garage)
That’s what happened to the first generation of smart-home technology. It turned out that people weren’t interested in buying an internet-connected fridge just for the sake of a having an internet-connected fridge. But the current wave of smart-home technology is a different story. People understand the appeal of a lighting and heating system that can be automated or controlled remotely. And as the cost of these systems continues to decline, they’ll continue to become more attractive to consumers.
The smart-home market is also getting more interest from tech giants. Apple, Google, and Amazon are all pushing smart-home solutions, says Forbes. For all three companies, AI assistants will be a key part of this strategy. After all, using a voice command to turn up the heat on a winter day is pretty cool. If these companies are successful, it will revolutionize the way users interact with their smart homes. While Google and Apple have phone-based AI assistants that their customers carry around with them, Amazon has positioned the Echo as a stand-alone device, albeit one that can control other devices.
The other big smart technology on the horizon is the smart car. For companies like Uber, this could be a game changer, but in general, autonomous cars may be a difficult market to crack for smart technology. Some people will want to continue driving, while others will be worried about losing their jobs. Most other smart-technology setbacks have been the result of consumer indifference, but the smart car could see real pushback.
It’s hard to say where the evolution of smart technology is heading, but it seems safe to say that a lot more devices—and places—will be getting a little dose of intelligence sometime soon.