Business ideas: Smart products

Is there an everyday item you really feel should connect with your smartphone? Fuelled by Internet of Things technology, the smart product market offers huge scope to start a business

We all know what a smart product is by now, don’t we? For decades people talked about a future where fridges would re-order produce as supplies run short.

And while most of us still rely on tweaking the last online order or taking a scrap of paper to the supermarket, the reality is we do now live in that world where everyday products are connected to and remotely controlled by smartphones, emitting data for us to check on the move.

But so far we’ve only scratched the surface and the majority of us have not gone much further than wearing a Fitbit [a plethora of other activity trackers are available]. Which is why creating a smart product remains a yawning business opportunity.

Starting a smart products company: Why it’s a good business idea

As The Rise of the Smart Product Economy report authored by Cognizant’s Euan Davis in conjunction with The Economist Intelligence Unit says by way of introduction: “Making products smart can deliver game-changing innovation, enriched customer experiences and new, across-the board levels of efficiency.”

If you stick a sensor in something and Bluetooth-enable it you make it ‘smart’ and as the fittech business opportunity demonstrates there’s potential benefit to making almost every accessory smart. Enthusiasts are now monitoring their activity and vitals via smartwatches, headphones, sports clothing, footwear, and the scales they weigh themselves on post-workout.

Juniper Research estimates that the global wearables market alone will be worth $80bn by 2020. That’s small fry compared the value of the overall Internet of Things (IoT) market, encompassing wearables, which IDC predicts will be worth $1.7 trillion by 2020.

Meanwhile McKinsey’s Internet of Things: Mapping the value beyond the hype shoots for the stars. Having factored in a series of scenarios in digitising the physical world, the report concludes IoT could be worth between $3.9 and $11.1 trillion by 2025, with cities, vehicles, logistics and navigation, health, retail, factories, offices, and the home all utilising connected technology.

More of us are living in cities with a growing wealth of smart attributes, we’re never apart from our smartphones, are beginning to drive connected cars, and many of us have toyed with the idea of having a smart kettle, toothbrush, or watch. It’s perhaps the consumer end of the market that represents the best start-up opportunity.

Smart products business opportunities

A quick look at crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, which is a good place for pre-launch product start-ups to generate interest and cash for their first manufacturing run, shows there are a host of smart products coming to market right now. From smart luggage Néit, with integrated travel lifestyle app and GPS-enabled to keep track of it, to WiFithing’s device that monitors heating and lighting.

Christian Lane, creator of the Smarter iKettle and a Startups Awards finalist in 2015, announced a range of affordable products to enable customers to ‘upgrade’ their kitchen without spending thousands on something like the ‘Family Hub’ smart fridge from Samsung.

Its Smarter Mat – a flat rubber covered mat with a WiFi dock for charging – can be placed in a fridge or cupboard and lets you know when you’re low on the products placed on it. Having alerted you it can also replenish the products by plugging into user’s grocery order.

The Fridge Cam is a retro-fit product with suction mounting so that it can be put in any fridge. It shows you a snapshot of what’s in your fridge at the point the door was last closed with images transmitted straight to Smarter’s app. Finally, its Smarter Detect product responds to noise from your oven, microwave, dishwasher or washing machine and sends you a push notification to your phone that the oven has beeped.

Technology consultancy Cognizant’s report suggests entrants will need to consider how any smart product they create not only exudes “reams of insight on product usage and status across the value chain, but can also inform continuous product improvements and influence strategic moves into connected and/or radically adjacent markets.”

“However,” it adds, “product companies need to get on board, and fast, to ensure they are not left behind in the quickly intensifying and accelerating smart product market.”

Insider opinion

Speaking at CES 2016 (the consumer electronics show) Christian Lane had this to say on the Stuff stage:

“We’re in this transitional phase now of the connected home and the connected kitchen. People aren’t ready yet to spend thousands and thousands of dollars replacing their fridge or their oven, so we’re here now to bridge the gap and to say this is a good entry to a connected home.”

“All of our products will retail for under £100, so it’s affordable and available now [launching summer 2016]. We’ll be launching them this year within our retail stores. We’ve got a big presence in John Lewis, Amazon and Currys back in the UK. We’ve just announced partnerships across Europe as well.”

“At the moment we’re focusing on the kitchen because we genuinely believe it’s the heart of the home. It’s the first place people come to when they get home from work and the first place they go to when they get up in the morning. The kitchen holds a huge opportunity to take away the household chores.”

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