The Internet of Things. It's a phrase that has worked its way into the mainstream vernacular lately, becoming a bit of a buzzword. During the upcoming Interactive week at SXSW, there are more than 70 sessions scheduled that touch on this topic. As with most unfamiliar things, let's consult Wikipedia...
The Internet of Things is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices.
So, objects that interoperate... what does that mean exactly? It means not just your smartphone is "smart" anymore. How about a smart home? Connect everyday physical items and devices so you can control them from afar, and so they can interact with other devices – a network of your things.
Now you get it – and now imagine the possibilities! Changing your Nest thermostat while you're out running errands is old news. If you and your friends get the Apple Watch, you can capture and share your heartbeats with each other. Because.. well, we're not sure why, but we're ready to admit that there's more going on with the Apple Watch than the average watch-reader is prepared to understand (or need). To see if the kids are brushing their teeth as they should, invest in a new Mother, which comes with Cookies and admittedly ups the IoT's creep-factor even beyond sharing heart beats.
Source: iScoop. Infographic Source: NCTA
The Internet of Things is exploding, popping up in products from Kickstarter to Home Depot – but is the public embracing it? Is it making our lives better, or at least easier? There are some big hurdles for the IoT to overcome. For many, it's hard to wrap their brain around the paradigm, much less apply it to their lives. It often takes a bit of skill to set up and successfully use those curtains that connect to your wifi – so we let the custom installers do it, and now there's something pricey in our homes we potentially can't fix ourselves. Like broken escalators that are still perfectly functional stairs, will we find ourselves fiddling with our Apple Watch trying to get the curtains to close?
Beyond the general public's hesitance or resistance to adoption, there's another speed bump: There's not yet a universal standard for devices and how they communicate with each other. Instead, we have a clumsy collection of separate things solving separate problems employing their own separate apps, all with the promise of connectivity. Alton Brown would call them 'unitaskers' – a melon baller sure does make good balls of melon, but that's all it can do, and arguably they are a poor investment. Many of these "smart" devices use their own hub systems and apps, which could easily end up cluttering our lives and our phones.
Luckily, the smart people already saw this coming, and there are companies out there making strides to create commonality. In fact, a Charleston-based company and friends of ours, ISI Heatworks were sort of a big deal at TechCrunch last year, and this year at CES where they were part of Qualcomm's Internet of Everything. Their revolutionary tankless, digital water heater called Heatworks MODEL 1 uses AllJoyn for connection and automation – for example, saving custom temperatures for each family member's shower. The AllJoyn system enables you to connect and control all sorts of digital IoT devices for customized experiences and smart events around the house and even on the go. Now that's hot.
So for now, the IoT promises more possibilities than clear-cut solutions. Will it be huge? Definitely (and it already is in many industries). Are there potential pitfalls and drawbacks? Again, definitely. But meanwhile we're enjoying this generation's version of the automatic coffee maker that brews your morning joe before you open your eyes. Why set a timer when there's an app for that! Just make sure your operating systems are up to date and you've synced your latest bean-grind settings to the cloud. Oh, and that your internet is working *shakes fists at Comcast*...
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