The hype and hope of 'Bright Shiny Objects'

    Dan Alaimo

The mass market is still recovering from its latest bout with "The Bright Shiny Object Syndrome."

It comes down with this fever every time a new technology product catches its fancy. The symptoms are excessive hype, excitement and preoccupation until the next hot thing comes along.

The hype over new technologies occasionally coincides with their eventual reality. But more often than not, it doesn't, and the expectations stirred by the overheated enthusiasm can even kill a good idea if it doesn't gain traction fast enough.

The Apple Watch is the most recent occurrence of this phenomenon. My take on it—and that of many others—is that the concept of a smart watch is going to take hold, and Apple's is a solid bet for success, although big sales in the short-term are still a question mark. Its long-term success may well be based on features not yet considered. The Apple Watch 6, though far in the future, will be a very different device from the one just introduced in the same way the iPhone 6 is a huge improvement over the original iPhone. Android versions will follow a similar pattern.

Two recent headlines from support this point. "Apple Watch isn't clicking with millennials" spells short-term sales trouble in the tech world, while "Apple Watch is ready for business" indicates that the device may find many uses beyond providing distractions to consumers under 35. It's going to sell and perhaps sell big, but the real potential is still unrealized.

Another recent example of a "Bright Shiny Object" infection is the Internet of Things (IoT), which buzzed and buzzed in January after a booster shot of hype at the Consumer Electronics Show.

The loudest buzz was about how, by using sensors and remote connectivity, the IoT was going to connect various devices in the home—such as the TV, lights, locks, environmental controls, kitchen appliances and more—while connected to smartphones and smart watches. To set this in motion, all consumers have to do is buy new appliances and gadgets, or install sensors in the ones they have, as well as the software and connectivity hardware to control it all. Or maybe just buy a new home pre-configured for this budding technology.

I hope they sell a lot of them, but it will be awhile before I get around to buying.

Those who listened carefully could detect a lower decibel of buzz circulating around the business case for the IoT. Because of its high potential for a return on investment, this new technology will arrive sooner, last longer and be far more impactful on the business and IT landscape.

It is already emerging. For instance, Amazon just bought 2lemetry, a provider of IoT services for industries including retail.

The potential boon for stores employing IoT services is clear, and potential improvements might include sensors for refrigerated cases to communicate cooling or lighting problems, sensors at the front-end to signal when lines get too long and more cashiers are needed, and merchandise and shelf sensors that communicate through the supply chain when inventory needs replenishing. 

In the warehouse, voice-picking devices are linked to the warehouse management system, as are the lift trucks and packing lines. The efficiencies are evident.

On the road, there are temperature control and location systems enabled, as well as communications to the driver—all interconnected. These are already in use.

While the clamor for fuel savings has temporarily died down, tests are underway to have trucks travel as close together as 20 feet apart to save fuel the same way bicyclists do when drafting behind one another to save energy. It's called 'platooning.' A semi-automated system using direct short-range communications links the braking and other truck controls, electronically telling the rear truck to slow down with a millisecond's notice, independent of the drivers' reactions. The tests show that this works, and it is another example of the IoT's efficiency.

Today's "Bright Shiny Object" is a watch, and yesterday's was an interconnected household, but tomorrow's will be the refrigeration units and lift trucks that drive technology forward into the future with less hype, and more consistency. -Dan