Technologists are holding court at South by Southwest this weekend on the so-called Internet of Things, a future reality where data will be gathered and used for everything from cars and lawn mowers to refrigerators and toothbrushes. Many of these connected products are already available, but when will they become so ubiquitous that marketers must change course—as when smartphones became part of non-techies' lives half a decade ago?
The truth of the matter is there's still infrastructure work to be done. Telecoms and governments have to create digital avenues that would let all software-powered items talk to one another. And we need super-techie advances with microprocessors and batteries that will last for years. But South by Southwest goers generally agree with Samsung's prediction that products will be routinely connected within the next five years.
"As microprocessors and bandwidth become greater and less expensive, converging with nanotechnology as wearables with sensors, the Internet of Things is already here but will gain exponential acceleration and become more utilitarian as we move into the future," said Richard Hollis, CEO of digital commerce player Holonis. "That simply means that everything that is captured by these devices can used as purposeful information and meaningful data."
OK, but will consumers buy enough "smart" products to make marketers rethink how their brands advertise in the coming years?
"There are a lot of smart appliances for the kitchen already, with more launching every day—just checking [digital fundraising platform] Kickstarter shows you where the industry is headed," commented Kevin Yu, CEO of SideChef, a social-cooking mobile app.
Digital agencies are on board with the notion.
"In our own work, we're focused on bringing digital and physical experiences together, and hiring a lot more designers with industrial design backgrounds to help us to that," said Derek Fridman, group creative director at Huge. "We're also creating dedicated workspaces in our offices in order to let us experiment with this kind of work."
360i technologists Layne Harris and Fitz Maro recently wrote a thesis actually predicting big Internet of Things afoot this year, much less 2020. Here is one part of their rationalization: "In 2015, marketers can expect to see broad adoption of more affordable technologies that are inspiring consumers' lives and lifestyles by offering seamless integration between the digital and physical worlds. The resulting evolution of consumer behavior will require brands across every category to be more digitally centric in how they develop their marketing and brand experiences."
But let's take the perspective of someone who often analyzes how digital meshes with everyday people.
Erica Dhawan, CEO of Cotential, has researched how marketers, grandmothers and even homeless people either are affected or can be impacted by an increasingly interactive world economy. She spoke at SXSW this morning, plugging her book: Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence.
"I am not sure we'll all be ready [in five years] to embrace the Internet of Things," Dhawan told Adweek off stage. "But with the generational shift that we are experiencing in today's world, there will be people that will be ready. And like any force or new capacity, there will be those that will struggle."
She added, "Those who understand how to engage with these new tools and technologies—it will be like the printing press and the steam engine, where people will look to use them as a force for good."
Let's hope so.
Check back with Adweek over the next several days for more Internet of Things and emerging marketing-tech coverage at SXSW.