PitchBook senior financial writer Mikey Tom is at CES this week in Las Vegas. Here's his report from the event's first day:
CES is so filled with exciting emerging technology that it can be difficult to pick out overarching themes amid the constant flow of talks, pitches and demos. That said, one topic that rang throughout Thursday at CES was the Internet of Things (IoT). While this isn’t the first year IoT has held a presence at what is arguably the world’s largest tech conference, the number of talks that incorporated the burgeoning sector made it difficult to ignore. As we covered in our IoT Breakdown, the industry has seen remarkable growth in recent years, with VCs pumping record amounts of capital into startups looking to apply internet connectivity and usability to both new and existing products.
A technology being widely used within the IoT space—and was the talk of the conference—is Amazon’s Alexa platform, which enables developers to create apps using a voice-based user interface. Although the tech is probably best known for its use in Amazon’s Echo devices, the ecommerce giant previously opened Alexa up to be used by the developer community, which warmly accepted it. There are now more than 7,000 different “skills” built by third-party developers that can be performed via the Alexa voice interface. Amazon is taking an active role in expanding use of its Alexa voice-platform, too, perhaps most notably launching a VC fund last year dedicated to funding startups utilizing Alexa.
Alexa is the story of CES 2017. It's everywhere. That should concern Google, Microsoft, and Apple
It's not just startups using the tech either; Alexa is also being picked up large corporations. Ford, for example, will be incorporating Alexa into its cars later this year and GE plans to release a lamp with Alexa, which people will be able to use to order food, play music, or even preheat their oven, per Fortune.
While the influx of venture investment and success of Alexa warrants an optimistic view for the growing IoT industry, some experts argue that people may be getting ahead of themselves. There are more companies than ever integrating internet connectivity in interesting ways, but usability is often an afterthought. They get so excited about cool applications of emerging tech that they forget many end-users aren’t as tech savvy as they are.
This sentiment was echoed by the panelists of “Indiegogo: Does a smarter home mean a smarter life?” Colin Marshall (left), a VP at Fantem, pointed to his wife as a proxy for the mass-market consumer—if she is able to easily use a new IoT device, then it’s most likely ready for end-user adoption. As of now, that’s often not the case.
This isn’t meant to put a damper on IoT. By many accounts, the space is flourishing and well on its way to changing consumer lives for the better. It’s just important to be realistic and understand that, while all this new tech is popping up at a rapid pace, ease of use is of the utmost importance, and we may be a bit further out from mass adoption than some people think.