The Internet-of-things is not about things

Tracy Rolling wrote a detailed, first-person, customer experience report in Medium about the limitations of activity tracking. It’s not that we can’t track activities, but that the resulting information is something less than useful to the average (read, non-fanatic) consumer. In her article, she describes how her activity tracker can log all manner of data, but it really doesn’t provide much in the way of information that’s useful to her on a daily basis. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that activity trackers are abandoned after just a short period.  Her article highlights the value of the end-to-end customer experience.

Looking in from the outside (I don’t own an activity tracker), I don’t know that this fall into disuse is because the tracker puts itself out of a job (saying, in effect, “You’ve achieved your goal! Congratulations. My work is done.”) or it just doesn’t live up to its promise, whatever that was at the time it was bought. In either case, it highlights what seems to be an inherent challenge that the Internet-of-things hasn’t overcome: providing a durable customer value.

In spite of the recent hype, tracking things isn’t new. I’ve been connecting things to devices and vice versa for 35 years. Connecting them to the Internet is new, but recording telemetry is not. The fact that every person in the civilized world is carrying a powerful computer (usually in the shape of a telephone) is a recent phenomena, that one would think holds some promise. However, without a need (be it present or latent), connecting monitoring transducers to a smartphone or the Internet still seems like it’s in the solution-looking-for-a-problem phase of technology.

It’s not unlike the early days of cell phones or PCs–when the technology was a solution in search of a problem. Eventually, problems will be identified (or invented) and then connected with solutions. However, in the meantime, there’s much to learn about both.

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