The buzz with the Consumer Electronics Show is that everything gets to be connected, and that may or may not be a good thing. It’s not surprising that we’d see a drive to connect; Cisco for example has been pushing it on the theory that anything that creates more traffic sells more routers. The question is whether M2M or everything-connect is something that pays off more than it costs.
There are things that we need to have connected, things that can be useful, and things that are probably silly. The problem is whether “silly” is a standard we can agree on. Let’s take watches for example (Apple is said to be looking at a connected watch). If you presume that the only purpose of a watch is to tell time, you could definitely put this in the “silly” category. If you assume that perhaps you could make it vibrate to tell you that you have a call or text, then some would say it’s silly because your phone does that, and others might find it helpful because they can’t hear their phone or feel it vibrate if it’s in a bag. If it’s reading your vital signs to alert somebody to a problem, maybe it’s well up in the “useful” category.
The next challenge is what it costs, not so much for the device per se but for what it would take to make it useful, or as useful as the intrinsic application allows. Let’s take our watch-watching-vitals as an example. This is “useful” if there’s some way of reporting the result. Presumably it gets near-fielded or Bluetoothed to your phone so it can generate an alert on your behalf. Is it secure? Will the battery last long enough for the user to actually gain from the device, or will it end up failing and perhaps hurting those who rely on it?
Let’s take another notion, which is the connected car. First, we have connected cars now, with OnStar for example, and we also have the potential for putting apps on a phone that could serve many of the purposes of connecting the car; what you’re missing is telemetry from the car itself. So perhaps what we should do is to use one of the “sync” notions we already have to link cars to phones to obtain that information.
Then there’s the question of whether connecting the car is in our interest. Clearly having the car subject to any form of outside control invites hacking the car and sending people careening into who-knows-what. But even real-time entertainment or video calling in the car is a distraction to drivers. I’ve noticed that we have a fair number of people walking into objects and other people because they’re distracted even as pedestrians! Get these people behind a wheel at a similar level of attention and we start reducing the population in a hurry.
I’m not against gadgets, or gadgets online, but I’m against hype. How many articles will be written about networked watches, or networked cars, or networked refrigerators, microwaves, chairs and tables…? We’ll darn sure have people writing about how the cloud will facilitate our networked watches. Maybe they can be linked to SDNs too? The sky’s the limit here.
Then, maybe I’m missing the point here. Maybe this is all theater, with no presumptive link to reality much less a presumptive goal of utility. A show like CES is just an outing, a chance to blow off steam, eat some nice meals on the tab, and tell stories. I guess we’ll see what real stuff comes out of the show, and decide on that basis. So far, I have to say that I’m glad I’m not there.
We do have one maybe-bright-spot, the so-called “phablet”, a phone that’s bigger than an iPhone and smaller than a 7-inch tablet. I’m not yet convinced that we have figured out what the best size for a mobile device like a tablet is, and I’m darn sure that cell-connected tablets of any size should be able to pair with a Bluetooth headset and used to make calls. Does it make sense to shrink a tablet to a vertical 16:9 factor that’s maybe six or seven inches long and thin, then hold it up to our ear/mouth? Maybe.
It makes more sense than talking into your watch. Sorry, Dick Tracy.