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Of Internet-connected Crock-pots, cars, smartwatches

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 10, 2014
The oft-used phrase, 'Internet of Things' is one emerging tech jargon abstraction that average users are still noodling over in order to better understand and appreciate it.

More recently, short-distance (such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) and long-distance (such as 4G LTE, which is 10 times faster than 3G) wireless networks have vastly improved in functionality. The networks are faster, of course, but also focus on preserving battery power, as with Bluetooth Smart, based on the Bluetooth 4.0 specification.

There are also more than 1 million smartphone or tablet applications in each of Google's and Apple's app stores, and some of those Android apps even work the latest smartwatches.

The Nepture Pine smartwatch, priced at $335 and due out in March, features a 2.4-in. color touchscreen that will run most Android apps, allowing users to, for example, play the popular Angry Birds game in a relatively tiny form factor. The watch's multiple radios that use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even 3G wireless make it even more functional.

That may sound fantastic, but most analysts think the trend will be toward the development of much smaller, more fashionable smartwatches that can lure in more buyers, especially women. The tradeoff is that smaller watches likely need their own apps; many smartwatches now support fewer than 20.

The price of sensors used in many devices has drastically dropped in recent years, also helping drive the Internet of Things. For instance, an accelerometer sensor used in a smartphone that cost around $7 six years ago now costs just 50 cents, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, which operates the CES.

You get the idea.

What's happening in 2014 is a massive technology mashup of silicon, wireless networking, apps and data that can be stored almost anywhere and retrieved almost at any time — as long as the network is up and running and the devices have power.

On the power side, prices of batteries for portable devices are also dropping fast.

Rayovac unveiled a line of new chargers priced from $15 to $50. Available in the spring, the line includes a $20 Phone Boost 800 that can recharge a mobile phone with up to 150 minutes of talk time.

Casio unveiled a $100 runner's watch, the STB-1000, with two years of battery life. It can be connected to free runner's apps on an iPhone via Bluetooth and will be available for Android later this year.

These products in the Internet of Things are not just physical and touchable parts, but also the data that can be as elusive as fairy dust but travels as electrons through networks everywhere. Some people will laugh at a Wi-Fi-ready Crock Pot, but others who work out of the home and still need to prepare dinner will say, "I can use that!"

Good enough, but what's still missing is an answer to whether average users want to be constantly connected to data about their pulse and heart rate (or a number of other metrics) while running a 10K road race, or whether consumers want constant access to any number of other data points in a car or home.


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