Controversy around the FitBit IPO is unsurprising. For those of us covering mobile technology, it’s clear that Wearables are being over hyped, use cases are still be identified and models validated. Fitbit however, is perfectly positioned to have their stock price initially trade at double their asking price, simply because they have a validated use case.
Telecom’s wrote a great article “Fitbit IPO pop suggests speculative bubble around wearables and IoT” which goes over what the current ecosystem looks like as well as what’s happened to date with the FitBit IPO. (Spoiler, there are indications that the bubble isn’t just around Wearables).
So if adding sensors to your body and creating useful data for users around Health, Personal Awareness, increased productivity due to personal positioning or BioMedical are all bubble talk, then where else are we going to draw innovation from?
Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR) have to be considered Wearables, so they’re in the bubble…but honestly, my enthusiasm around them can be likened to someone who drank some cult-ish koolaid. This is the year of Altered Reality! AR like the Microsoft HoloLens and VR with the HTC Vive (which is literally the HoloDesk from Star Trek) have set the stage for this vein of Wearables to gain ground. But, like I said, this is still technically a Wearable, and even though I’m personally hot on it, I am lumping it into the bubble. So let’s keep looking.
Automotive is poised to do some interesting things. The thought of my Super Computer Car docking into my Super Computer House and doing Super Computer things with each other is coming. Right now we’re dealing with an industry that traditionally takes 7 years to turn out of product coming together with mobile development which has 6 month turn around times. I judged a Mercedes Benz Hackathon over the weekend and did up an article that gives you a snapshot of what it looks like now for Automotive development. We’re at the start and we’re going to see some interesting things. Precision tooling and billions in engineering still hasn’t lead to a car that is smart. Telsa is the best example: a car that gets updates coupled with an alternative customer business relationship, since they’re maintaining a relationship by owning the charging stations. Telsa is getting into selling power. What automotive maker sells gas?
The Car peaks my interest for another reason. I’m based in Taipei and spend a lot of time looking at Asia. China is all over the Autonomous car: Baidu (the Google of China) is working with BMW and Mercedes Benz. Not surprising, and one might even think their just playing catch up, until you figure out that the Chinese government is trending pro-autonomous car. Not many governments have the bandwidth to just decide that cities or regions can have infrastructure. Imagine highways that have extra sensors or lanes just for autonomous vehicles. The potential for large scale immediate roll out feels salient in the conversations I’ve had.
This leads me to my next point, IoT and smart cities. Huge potential, but also experiencing a lot of hype. It’s clear we can draw innovation from those emerging categories, but I’m going to acknowledge that they are firmly in buzzword territory. So I’m knocking those off the list since we aren’t reaching for any low hanging fruit in this article.
For me if I’m going to identify where the real areas of innovation are happening, I’m looking broadly at where traditional industry blurs lines. We’re at an interesting inflection point, organizations are going to have a hard time breaking new ground at the pace they’ve maintained for the past few years. Where the disciplines crossover and intersect is where we’re seeing real innovation. If you’re looking for examples, it is actually most easily brought to light with the Internet of Things.
We’ve got a long way to go before big players can truly accept open innovation and allow sharing between industries. Big players like Samsung, P&G, Dupont have their fingers in enough pies that they can actually blur lines between industries. As much as I hated the Galaxy S5 & the S6 seems like an iPhone clone (yeah…I said it), Samsung makes cars, washing machines and they even have their own clothing line. Did you know that Samsung actually sponsors Koreans to go to Italy to get degrees in fashion and design? They’ve been doing it for years. Big Business suddenly has potential, but the little guy is quicker and more nimble.
The other area that I’m keen on is the future of the human computer interface. This is more than Wearables like AR & VR, it’s about re-imaging how we interact with our devices. We’ve been using the keyboard for 300 years. We added a mouse and a trackpad, which was a big step, but the fundamental form factor hasn’t changed. Taking a look at the laptop we’ve just started adding depth sensing camera’s like the Intel Real Sense, which lets you unlock your computer with your face (and so much more like gestures) or Leap Motion which just lets you add gestures. But looking at the emerging field there aren’t many universally accepted gestures for interacting with your devices. It’s coming but we’ve got a long way to go and companies like Thalmic Labs or Nymi (Go Canada!) are at the bleeding edge of what that could look like.
I do get excited about Wearables and think that they’ve created this hyped up bubble for a reason. Admittedly, new ways of interacting with data is exciting. But as much as a nerd as I can be, I’m still waiting for a Smartwatch for Women that doesn’t make me look like I’m wearing my Boyfriends watch. (I did give the Apple watch a try…but it turns out I was wearing it wrong). This doesn’t mean that placing sensors on your body isn’t going to change the way to interact with our machines, it just means we haven’t nailed the usecase and form factor yet.
Which brings us back to where we started with the FitBit IPO. Clearly it’s not worth that much. But honestly, what else are people going to invest in that signifies the potential of a segment that has yet to figure it out?