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New Insights into the Emerging Internet of Things

June 15, 2016 by Rafi Goldberg and Travis Hall, Policy Analysts, Office of Policy Analysis and Development

From Internet-connected fitness bands and watches to security systems and thermostats, Americans are beginning to use Internet-connected devices, appliances, and objects that are part of a growing category of technology known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

The latest computer and Internet use data collected for NTIA shows that the number of Americans using IoT devices is still small. But we are seeing an interesting snapshot of early adopters. These new insights into how Americans are utilizing IoT are drawn from data collected in July 2015 as part of our Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. As we previously noted in April, few Americans—just 1 percent—reported using a wearable, Internet-connected device, such as a fitness band or watch, as of July 2015. While the market for this type of device is clearly in its early stages, we found notable differences between early adopters of wearable technology and the population as a whole (see Figure 1). Unsurprisingly, wearable device users exhibited many characteristics associated with higher levels of computer and Internet use. Wearable device users tended to have higher education and family income levels compared with all Americans, and they were more likely to live in metropolitan areas.

Additionally, 88 percent of wearable device users also used an Internet-enabled mobile phone in 2015, compared with 53 percent of all Americans. This may be expected because many wearable devices benefit from or even require communication with a mobile phone. The use of other types of devices, including desktop computers, was also significantly more common among wearable device users. In fact, while 34 percent of all households used desktop computers, 55 percent of wearable device users reported using a desktop computer in 2015. This suggests that early adopters of wearables are intense adopters of technology and devices more generally.

Figure 1: Wearable Device Users and All Americans: Selected Demographics
Percent of Persons Ages 3+ or 15+, 2015

Wearable Device Users

 

All Americans

8%

Have Family Income < $25,000

20%

40%

Have Family Income $100,000 +

24%

5%

Lack a High School Diploma (15+)

15%

52%

Are College Graduates (15+)

29%

6%

Have a Disability (15+)

12%

93%

Live in a Metropolitan Area

86%

We also asked respondents if they used the Internet to interact with household equipment; 7 percent of Internet users ages 15 and older—more than 13 million people in all—said they controlled a thermostat, light bulb, security system, or other household equipment via the Internet in 2015.

Internet users’ tendency to interact with household equipment varied considerably based on the other devices respondents used (see Figure 2). While users of any computing device were more likely than non-users to interact with household equipment, the results in Figure 2 suggest that users of certain device types are more likely to use Internet-connected appliances and other home equipment. This may be explained, in part, by the different capabilities of devices, or by a tendency for some users to gravitate toward a particular set of online activities and devices.

Figure 2: Percent of Internet Users 15+ Who Used Internet to Interact with Household Equipment, by Use of Selected Computing Devices, 2015

As illustrated above, there is also some correlation between use of wearable devices and interacting with household equipment via the Internet. Notably, 27 percent of wearable device users interacted with household equipment, compared with just 6 percent of non-wearable device users, which highlights how wearable device users tend to be early adopters of new technology. Conversely, those not using an Internet-connected mobile phone were particularly unlikely to engage in this activity.

These results help demonstrate that consumer uses of connected devices are still nascent. But as IoT technology continues to spread, NTIA is working to understand the challenges and benefits it poses and what role government could play in promoting its growth. In April, NTIA sought comment on the IoT. Last week, we posted the more than 130 responses we received. We are early in the process of analyzing the comments.

One of the questions we asked in our request for comment was how to best measure IoT and its impact. The responses to these and other questions will help shape our future Digital Nation research as we work to better understand how connected devices are used by the American public. NTIA will also be hosting an IoT workshop later this year and will be drafting an issue-spotting, agenda-setting green paper, which will identify key issues impacting deployment of IoT, as well as benefits and challenges and possible roles for government and the private sector in fostering the growth of IoT.

 

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