26 Oct 2016
Connected living is the next frontier in today’s digital society. With four billion smartphones projected to be in use by 2021, and another two billion devices linked to the Internet, research firm Euromonitor expects the smart home to be at the heart of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Loo Wee Teck, Euromonitor International’s Head of Global Consumer Electronics Research, estimates that 56 per cent of household air-conditioners and 46 per cent of washing machines will be connected to the Internet. The vast potential of the market is clear when one considers the 2.2 billion households worldwide are expected to have an average of three connected devices or appliances.
“While we have more than six billion connected devices in use, the durable appliances are not connected now,” Mr Loo said. “In the typical life cycle of appliances, it takes five to 10 years to be replaced. So if we are talking about the future of connectivity, we have to start now because it takes a long time for a product to be replaced by a smart device.”
Mr Loo was speaking at the Symposium on Innovation & Technology, held 13 October during the HKTDC Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Edition). Leading industry players spoke on the topic of “Power of IoT and Emerging Technologies,” offering insights on various IoT applications, trends and business opportunities presented by the rapidly evolving tech sector.
Along with smart homes, smart electric cars are taking hold in urban cities, including Hong Kong. “The right product is supported by the right infrastructure and the right ecosystem, as well as the right policy,” said Isabel Fan, Regional Director, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, Tesla. Ms Fan stressed that Tesla is not simply an electric carmaker but an auto technology company that aims to make its new models smarter with IoT technology.
An independent survey commissioned by the HKTDC during the fair identified the smart home as among the next big trends. More than 60 per cent of the 1,052 exhibitors and buyers surveyed expect wireless-system items that connect housing systems or appliances to the Internet or mobile networks will enjoy strong growth in the next two years.
IoT doesn’t seek to replace appliances or devices, Mr Loo said, but works with them to create value-added benefits. By better explaining the concept to users, manufacturers and developers can encourage consumers to adopt to the trend more quickly. He called these market segments the “low-hanging fruit” that could create brand loyalty, which was much more important to long-term revenue than the initial purchase.
With the IoT market tipped to reach US$11.1 trillion by 2025, according to management consultancy McKinsey, its applications can help business and government make better decisions by collecting big data, according to Anthony Wai, APAC SE Director with Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company that focuses on the commercial application of IoT technology.
Aruba provides data-collection services for companies to make informed decisions, improving efficiencies such as in maintenance and risk management. “Society is moving towards an idea economy,” said Mr Wai. “If you think of Airbnb, they don’t actually own a single room. The idea economy is basically how fast you can adapt to changes.”
Olivier Klein, Solutions Architect, Amazon Web Services, believes that the future IoT trend is in cloud computing and artificial intelligence, which will connect various devices more efficiently. He cited as an example Amazon’s online bookstore. “The warehouse doesn’t only connect robots with shelves. The shelves are arranged based on the big data of shopping habits of book buyers, which facilitates the robots locating the right items and enhances their efficiency,” he said. He also noted a partnership Amazon has with DHL in Germany to deliver packages to people’s vehicles instead of their home.
Mr Klein said no single enterprise can make the world smarter through IoT without enterprises collaborating to gain maximum benefit from the technology. For its part, Amazon has opened to third-party developers its cloud-based platform Alexa, an artificial intelligence voice-controlled assistant, which can provide information, such as weather forecasts and news, play music or even control other home appliances.
With countless opportunities just within the smart home, the world’s-biggest provider of chips for smartphones, Qualcomm, is focused on offering affordable, low-power, integrated hardware solutions.
Qualcomm Senior Director of Sales for Southeast Asia and China, Michael Wong, said that the proliferation of IoT devices, along with the requirements of smart cities and smartphones, has led to a fragmented hardware market. “What we are doing is offering a complete platform to hopefully reduce the fragmentation,” Mr Wong said.
Building smart homes, even smart cities, will require developing IoT products using innovative materials. “Nanotechnology is essential to bring out the unique properties of advanced materials, mostly nanomaterials,” said Dr Peter Lee, Chief Technology Officer, Nano and Advanced Materials Institute Ltd (NAMI). The institute has been developing cutting-edge nanotechnology, some of which has been commercialised for use in products spanning electronics, cosmetics, healthcare and home appliances.
Dr Lee spotlighted such innovations as printed electronics, which he said is currently in early-stage disruption, as well as flexible batteries that are now being used for smart watches and power banks. The next generation of flexible batteries, he said, will hold higher energy density, charge wirelessly, and will be rollable and stretchable, making them ideal for use in wearable tech garments.
One of the early IoT movers is Hong Kong-based Myandar, which manufactures technology that tracks and monitors luxury goods throughout the retail environment in real-time. It counts Hong Kong retail jeweller Chow Tai Fook among its clients.
One of its products is the mTray, which is a display tray for jewellers and watchmakers that tracks the movement and location of expensive pieces, as well as VIP customers, through Near Field Communications, or NFC, and radio-frequency identification, otherwise known as RFID.
“The idea started with consumers; it was consumer-centric,” said Myndar President and Chief Executive Matthew Man. “For the consumer we created an emotional connection,” he said.
Myndar’s approach to winning clients involves having a strict business focus by applying customer insights. “Enterprise, smart business, has a much bigger potential than the consumer market for leveraging IoT technology,” he said. “There are many consumer success stories here today. The secret is to move that across. You can make a fortune.”