It’s not all phones controlling appliances

I have said many times that mobile, social, and the Internet of Things are inseparable. That is an uncomfortable statement for a lot of people.

Embedded folks usually dismiss mobile as unrelated because the consumer use case, volumes, and lifecycles distort their discussion for the most part. Similarly, many toss social from the mix as a fad that only reaches a certain demographic, with too much clutter to be interesting. A few have discovered that open source and application stores and crowdfunding success rely deeply on social.

LG Smart AccessSocial media gurus often come from the marketing side, looking for monetization and disruption of business models and such. Many also tend to amplify pre-chewed stories with characters like refrigerators, drones, fitness bands, smartwatches, autonomous cars, and other things the average person-on-the-street might recognize. No surprise, they are after a much larger audience. They don’t usually use words like “MEMS sensor” and “ARM microcontroller” and “Thread protocol” and “energy harvesting” and “real-time analytics”; those are reserved for developers.

Those Internet of Things developers are a fun bunch. In a field of opportunity, many are bickering over which specification should be standard, debating whether consumer or industrial is the real IoT, and finding out creating change on a massive scale is a lot harder than it sounds. Connecting a device to a network is usually only the starting point. They are quietly having success in many places, but in the process have uncovered a dark side of security and privacy, and devices that have to live a lot longer.

Every once in a while, the discomfort breaks out into the open:

Mr. Pogue needs no introduction to most people, with high profile gigs in print, TV, and online. He is listened to by many. In this discussion, he is way off the mark. His characterization describes only a part of the consumer IoT. Yes, beacons and thermostats and door locks and pet trackers and fitness bands are cool. Mobile is definitely the on ramp to the IoT for consumers.

What about cars talking to each other directly to stay safe? Air traffic control accounting for drones dropping packages everywhere? The smart grid with electric meters and demand management? Healthcare with wireless sensors talking to instrumentation in a hospital? It also leaves out almost the entire industrial IoT, with sensors attached to very expensive equipment enabling real-time updates for control and predictive maintenance. And that is just the start.

But, it was prime time Twitter bait. One of the first responses:

Considering Mr. Ashton wrote the book coining the phrase “Internet of Things”, I found his visceral response to Mr. Pogue both entertaining and telling. He is absolutely correct, but these brief fisticuffs highlight an important problem: if we can’t explain it to Mom or folks on Twitter who don’t read much less do research, we’re not there yet.

Self-proclaimed social media experts aren’t doing any better. Another more disappointing response:

Anyone that has worked for a few years in industrial automation circles will recognize that term as an Allen Bradley / Rockwell trademark that means something quite different. Let’s just say I’d expect a lot better advice from a six-figure CMO, Mr. Afshar, but thanks for playing.

You’ll notice that I don’t describe myself as an expert, guru, rock star, or any of that – I think those terms are self-serving narcissism. I’m an explorer on the IoT, still learning and thinking critically as the journey unfolds. I have more than a little experience; I’ve been working on this day and night for the last 9 years and counting.

And it frustrates me that instead of trying to make things work together, we’re all trying to disrupt each other, either technologically or for some marketing advantage. Everyone wants a term they can “own” on social media, and I’ve admittedly borrowed Mr. Ashton’s phrase as best capturing the vision. I get it. We have to arrive at some terminology to have a chance of success.

My point? This is not a discussion for 140 characters, or trying to crowdsource some catchier branding. Reaching the potential for the Internet of Things will mean reaching a lot more people, connecting a lot more things, and worrying a lot less about who wins on social media and more about how we help people using the technology.

Someone just suggested to me that maybe there are two completely different communication strategies, one talking to consumers, one talking to industrial. At some point, to share ideas, practices, and data, those sides have to speak the same language.

There are differences. Where the consumer IoT is a personal cluster based on sensors and a phone with an app tied to the cloud, the industrial IoT adds bigger sensor clusters with gateways, multiple protocols, IT infrastructure, and analytics capability, all coordinated in real-time.

It’s not all phones controlling appliances. There will be many IoT applications – most we haven’t imagined yet – that consumers won’t see firsthand, but will feel their effect as industries are transformed. A key aspect of consumer adoption will be devices that make sense, are easy to use, and provide a valuable service. Value and return-on-investment are (hopefully) built into industrial projects as they are defined, where consumers will often make their own choices for devices.

I’d expect connecting 7 billion people and 50 billion things to be just a little bit complicated. I’m still exploring, and thinking out loud, and trying to see around the corner, along with clients and readers.

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