Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Thoughts on Iot: Products and Novelties

To be successful, you need a product

The Internet Refrigerator is a meme that gets a lot of jeers, but I think at the core of those jeers is the fact that it seemed like a solution looking for a problem.  To me, most of IoT feels like this (especially most of the stuff at CES).

Early devices like the toaster were done because they could be done.  Dares and fun side projects.  But they weren't real products that solved someone else's problems or filled a need.

I've seen a lot of kickstarters and startup companies go after home automation without really having a product or service that solved a real problem.  And those have mostly faded away.  The compelling reasons to use the products aren't there, leaving them as no more than novelties.

This is, perhaps, the genius of the Nest.  It's a thermostat (boring), made to look beautiful (yes, a novelty), but with remote access, and the smarts to learn your schedule instead of you telling it your schedule.  The goal is clear, the execution is beautiful, and now that they've had time to refine the results, everyone I know with one loves it.

I have an internet-enabled bathroom scale from Withings.  Yes, really.  What it offers is that it remembers my weight, every time I step on it.  And it gives me that data later, graphed over time.  And it does the same for my heart rate and some other health-related data.  The problem it solves is that I hate data entry, which is why I never was very good at tracking my weight in the past.  Now it's tracked for me, automatically.  And now I have a handy reference for some of my vital stats.

These are useful products, even if still overly expensive and luxury items.  But the electronics are just going to keep getting cheaper.  But if the business proposition doesn't fill a need, just is "X plus the internet", I don't see it ever really being more than a novelty today, and tomorrow's humorous internet meme.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Thoughts on IoT: Introduction and Hurdles

The Internet of Things is about connecting devices.  To what?  To everything.  It's not about making toasters or refrigerators that are "internet-enabled", it's about connecting devices to everything else.  And the internet is the doorway to "everything else".

Nearly a decade ago, when I entered this space, I hadn't realized quite what it was going to turn into.  Since then, I've seen a bunch of ideas come and go (and some come back again).  The core problems really haven't changed, and the solutions are getting better every year.

This is the first in a series of posts about the Internet of Things: lessons I've learned from it, the hurdles for anyone in the space, problems that I think we need to solve, and where I'd like to see things go in the future.

These aren't likely to be in any particular order, and the list below isn't in one, either.  Of these, most of them are the hurdles I mentioned in the title.  These are the problems that need to be solved in IoT.

Successful products and services vs. novelties - Most IoT devices seem like novelties, and that's a fair argument to make.  I think we're still in a phase where we're still exploring what we can do, and trying to build solutions to real problems.

Communication within the home - This is mostly about engineering the solution, but also about standards and communications.  This is a really hard problem to solve neatly, in a way that works in the "real world".

Communication from the device to the cloud - Talking out can be easy (if you have TCP/IP), but trying to communicate back to the devices gets a lot more complicated in a hurry, given the current state of home networking.

- Security is always hard, and IoT marries some things that expose new problems:  embedded device security, network security, and data security (let alone issues of data privacy)

Data - As we connect more devices to the internet, and start trying to do things with their data, we're going to need to deal with that data:  ownership, storage, search, privacy, analytics, automation, etc.

Interoperability - It's not really an internet of things if the things can't talk with each other (or their clouds can't).  The Hue is a very expensive, smartphone-controlled lightbulb by itself.  But it could be 
so much more if other things could talk to it.

    I don't see any one company solving all of these, or any one consortium, either.  But as an industry, as builders of the internet and the devices that we connect to it, we'll need to be solving these issues for the Internet of Things to really bloom in it's full potential.