Über-connectivity for mobile phones and tablets makes sense. People buy and use those devices because of their built-in ability to connect from almost anywhere pretty much all of the time.
But what about vending machines, thermostats, lighting fixtures, and anything else containing a few chips and a bunch of electronic components? Do we want or need these kinds of devices? Should manufacturers be spending a considerable amount of time reengineering systems and embedding more mobile connectivity features into mainstream consumer electronic products?
Until last week, I had my doubts. Generally, I don't want everything in my personal space, house, or office talking to each other and talking to networks out there, whatever those networks might be. All that no-touch connectivity and master-of-the-universe machine-to-machine interaction appears a bit too science fiction for me.
Then, I heard a compelling scenario from Martin Körling, research area manager at Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). Speaking at a Mobile World Congress session last week, Körling took the conversation beyond the idea that adding mobile connectivity is a cool feature, and showed how it can be built and used as a service, or even used to entice people via gaming mechanics.
One of the interconnected electronic device scenarios Körling offered up sounded more like a social networking scheme. It went something like this: Your thermostat sends you a mobile message asking if it has your permission to collaborate with the blinds to save you money on your heating or air conditioning bill. You say yes, and get a ping back, rewarding you for saving some money. The thermostat then comes back and says, "Hey, I can be friends with your whole electricity system. We can work together and save you even more money." You say, "Cool, go ahead." You feel good about yourself, and your machines have teamed up to work more effectively for you.
Sounds like something straight out of Star Trek, doesn't it? While I still don't think I like it from a privacy-protection standpoint -- because I'm not convinced layers of security have been heavily embedded yet -- I can see the case for it. As someone who often has to dash back home to make sure I turned off the iron, getting a mobile message from a consumer electronic device can help me personally and prevent my house from burning down.
Whether or not this has any substantial return on investment for device makers, I don't know. Convincing them it does seemed to be a priority for other panelists on the Mobile World Congress stage, including executives from Sony Electronics, Jasper Wireless, and Everything Everywhere.
"Global connectivity is vital for machine-to-machine, cross-broader business," said Marc Overton, vice present of wholesale and M2M at Everything Everywhere
, a UK-based wireless services provider. "In the consumer electronics space, users will want out-of-the-box connectivity. How hardware manufacturers and system and service providers develop, coordinate, deliver, and promote mobile connectivity is critical. Companies will have to change the way their businesses operate."
What trends do you see in consumer electronics and embedded mobile connectivity? What quirky things have you heard in the M2M space? Tell us in the comments.