Technalysis Research
Previous USAToday Columns

December 30, 2014
It's more the like the dis-connected home

2014 USAToday Columns

USAToday Column

January 15, 2015
Commentary: Tech device diversity set to explode with IoT

By Bob O'Donnell

FOSTER CITY, Calif. -- Remote-controlled pet cams with integrated treat dispensers and smart toothbrushes were just two of the hundreds of wacky, wild and yet oddly intriguing devices unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

As usual, the show provided an amazing sensory overload of gadgets, news, people, parties and information. This year, though, I was particularly struck by how diverse the show has become. From connected cars to smart homes, smart watches, robotics, drones, notebooks and, oh yeah, 4K TVs and high-resolution audio, the smorgasbord of available products was truly remarkable.

It is borderline impossible trying to find common themes that ran through this year's show, but one intriguing development is that we're seeing the dawn of an entirely new genre of tech-related companies: micro tech hardware businesses.

While there's a long history of small software start-ups, creating new hardware products has typically required a much larger organization. But thanks to some of the products and technologies on display at CES, such as low-cost 3-D printers, and other tools and developments that are driving the "maker movement," we saw an explosion of small entrepreneurs and inventors sharing their new hardware ideas in tiny booths throughout the show.

These companies were at the heart of the very popular Eureka Park, a new section of the show floor dedicated to these micro start-ups.

Walking through the packed aisles of Eureka Park, there was a palpable buzz in the air as people hunted for interesting new smart devices. What stood out for me wasn't necessarily any particular device, but the enormous range of different niche markets they were attempting to fill — from high-tech toys to audio soundscape headsets to connected household appliances, there was something for nearly everyone. And that's what makes this development so interesting: while some of these products will never make it to market, many of them will, and they're likely to impact us in ways we haven't even considered yet.

In fact, the whole world of smart connected things, also called the Internet of Things (IoT), is likely to be filled with thousands of different little companies creating products for thousands of different customer interests. We're not likely to see too many mass market IoT products, but collectively, I think they're going to make a very large impact.

The IoT market is perfectly suited for these new types of micro tech hardware businesses. It's going to take the creativity of lots of small hardware businesses to come up with all the amazing things that become possible in this new world of smart connected things.

Of course, there are a lot of challenges facing these tiny companies, not the least of which are funding, manufacturing, distribution, marketing and all the other issues associated with selling hardware products.

However, when you think about the possibilities available when you combine crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, along with the tech incubators/workshops like TechShop, and the viral marketing/advertising efforts now possible with social media, you realize we really are on the cusp of what could be a very exciting new era.

Bob O'Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech

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