Belfast Telegraph

Forget sat-nav, the latest web innovation means a bottle of rum can now direct you to the pub

The largest 'Internet of Things' consumer trial is taking place in the UK this month. What next for web-enabled products, asks Katie Wright

Pick up a bottle of Malibu this month and you won't just be taking home coconut-flavoured Caribbean rum, you'll be part of the largest ever Internet of Things trial of a connected consumer product.

Why? Because behind every orange sunset logo on one of 40,000 bottles, there's a near-field communication (NFC) tag.

Hold your smartphone against the picture (make sure your NFC settings are turned on) and a website will instantly pop up, bringing you a bar locator, cocktail recipes, competitions and other branded content - you don't even need a QR reader or app - and in exchange, Malibu will be able to collect customer data.

The pilot was created in collaboration with SharpEnd, the first Internet of Things (IoT) agency - but what does that vague term actually mean?

Essentially, it means everyday objects connected to the internet so they can send and receive data, the way phones and computers are now, but on a wider scale, including devices like washing machines, thermostats or refrigerators.

Bosch, for example, has just announced it's partnering with Drop Recipes app to allow cooks to control their ovens via the app.

You know in futuristic films when everything from lights to cars are voice-activated?

That's the future the IoT envisions, and the International Data Corporation predicted in 2015 that the industry will be worth $1.7 trillion by 2020.

However, more recent data suggests take-up may not be so swift, as Deloitte reports sales figures for connected appliances have hardly increased in a year, with just 3% of homes owning a smart thermostat compared with 2% last year.

Apart from smart TVs, which are now owned by nearly a third of consumers, across all other IoT categories adoption has remained very slow, which is particularly galling for manufacturers hoping to counteract the effects of falling smartphone sales.

But it's not all bad news.

Amazon is investing heavily in IoT, and has just launched its Dash instant purchase buttons in the UK, which are intended to make restocking home essentials less of a chore.

There are 40 branded buttons available for products like washing powder, kitchen roll and cleaning spray.

Once the buttons are set up with Amazon's smartphone app, they can be pressed to place an online order of a specified quantity, and the button is disabled until the delivery arrives (to prevent duplicates).

The e-commerce giant has been a bit cagey with exact figures, but says that in the US, two Dash orders are placed every minute and order rates are increasing.

With sales of big ticket gadgets looking less than impressive, it might be little buttons and bottles of rum that help get consumers more enthused about a connected future.

If manufacturers can parlay those first sips and clicks into greater understanding and appreciation of the Internet of Things, that future could be here sooner than we think.

Belfast Telegraph