In the winter of 2000, Steve Jobs took the stage at MacWorld and laid out what we now consider a very forward thinking idea. He said that the “Mac would become the center of our digital lifestyle.” We did not know it at the time, but he and his Apple team were secretly working on the iPod and a music store that used the Mac to side load downloaded music to the iPod. Jobs literally made the Mac a hub connected to a “spoke” or cable that was then connected to the iPod.
For most of the last decade, the idea of the Mac working as a hub that side loaded content to products like the iPod, iPhone and the iPad played itself out well and made it very easy for consumers to buy digital content and download it on these devices. Over the last few years, Apple has refined this vision and starting making the iCloud more of the hub and wirelessly connecting their online stores to download content directly to their iDevices via the cloud.
While making the cloud the hub in this scenario is still the best way to think about this idea, it became pretty clear to me while at CES last week that in many ways, smartphones are really emerging as the hub of our digital lifestyles. Yes, smartphones are still connected to the cloud in terms of accessing data and transmitting information and even digital commands, but it seems to me that the smartphone in many ways is becoming the one device that is sitting at the command and control center of our lives and is working more like a hub in its own way.
A good example of this is the role my smartphone plays in my connected car. My smartphone uses Bluetooth to connect to my car’s digital display, which has channels for music, data and of course voice. When a call comes in to me, the phone serves as the hub that connects to my cars screen and tells me who is calling and even allows me to use the cars screen to answer the call. My smartphone also is the hub that sends music to the cars audio. At CES, GM showed its Malibu Eco connected to a smartphone that actually started up the car remotely.
In smart homes, the smartphone in many ways serves as the remote control. We can now turn on and off the lights in our home even if we are thousands of miles from where we live. Thanks to the Nest Thermostat, we can use our smartphone or connected tablet or PC, to adjust our thermostat to a higher temp so the house is warmer when we get home. If a burglar trips a motion sensor, a person could be instantly alerted of the break in and immediately call the police. Comcast even has a system that puts cameras in homes and ties it to their network, which lets users see what is going on in the house on their smartphones while sitting at a restaurant or in the office.
Interestingly, CES could have been called the “sensor” show for the hundreds of devices shown that had sensors embedded in products that tied them to the Internet and apps downloaded to a smartphone to remotely control these senor based devices. This was especially evident in the special health exhibit on the CES show floor where 74 companies had various sensor-based health monitoring products tied to smartphones.
One health product that really interested me as a diabetic was iHealth’s wireless blood glucose meter called the Smart Glocometer. It lets diabetics determine their blood sugars and then sends that data to a smartphone app for reading and storing so that they can monitor their daily progress. This product is before the FDA for approval but could be on the market soon.
A small start up named AliveCor has created an iPhone case that, when grasped, records an electrocardiogram on the iPhone screen via its app. And the folks from Nike, Jawbone, Omron and FitBit, to name just a few, were in this smart health area showing off their various health monitoring devices which all have sensors for recording things like steps, sleep patterns, calories burned, etc.
When Jobs introduced the Mac as the hub of a digital lifestyle, I doubt that at the time he envisioned the cloud becoming the big hub in the sky or the role a smartphone could play in becoming a “hub” in our pocket. However, it is clear that Apple has played a major role in defining the concept of a digital hub and allowing other major players to learn from their original vision and expand on it exponentially.
Over the next two or three years, I believe we will see thousands of sensor-based products tied to apps on our smartphone that will make it even clearer that the real hub of our digital lifestyle may actually be our smartphone. It is the one device we have with us at all time and given its increasing power and capabilities, it could emerge as the command and control center of our digital activities and become even more indispensible than it is today.