Internet of Things: A Fad or Reality?

Conceptually in existence since 1991, the Internet of Things (or IoT) has been a constant topic of discussion and debate in technological circles around the world. Debates where communities are almost split down the middle when it comes to discussing the feasibility of IoT being a functioning reality. Especially with early experiments like wearables not living up to expectations, the world simply can’t seem to decide if it has faith in the concept or if it is just another passing fad.

When Nike announced their decision to bail out of the wearables industry, many followers decided that it was a sign of things to come for the entire IoT space. After all, if a brand like Nike couldn’t pull it off, who could, right? Well not quite. Nike faced multiple hurdles which led to their eventual decision. For starters, hardware manufacturing wasn’t their strong suit. Combine that with upside-down targeting, closed-off stance towards developers and customer experience fraught with friction and you have the perfect recipe to encourage product discontinuation.

So where does that leave people who are pondering the fate of IoT? Is it doomed to fail like the naysayers believe? Evidence suggests otherwise. IoT isn’t just the darling of startups who’re seeking to finding a footing anymore. Big names and industry leaders are making conscious calculated moves towards investing in IoT-led initiatives hoping to pave the way for the next generation devices that will herald the true coming of smart connected devices.

Home automationThe biggest and most obvious case in point being Google’s recent $3 billion acquisition of Nest, a surprise move that later indicated the internet giant’s interest in the smart connected devices space. Clearly, Google is not alone in thinking that IoT has much more to offer than just strangely unsatisfactory wearable fitness devices. The New York Times article on connected home devices says that venture capitalists have been pumping investments of almost $500 million into smart connected products and companies since 2012. According to Gene Munster, analyst at Piper Jaffray, the next 5 to 7 years will see the global market for connected home products to swell to about $40 billion.

Another technology giant that has shown keen interest in the space is Cisco Systems. Signing up with the Electronics City Industries Association, Cisco has recently set the ball rolling to establish an IoT innovation hub in Bangalore, India. This center is intended to enable testing and production of device prototypes for a smart connected city using solutions such as smart parking, smart CCTV surveillance, smart street lighting, smart water management/leak detection and community messaging. It is estimated that Cisco has earmarked $250 million for global IoT investment fund, out of which $40 million is reserved for India alone. This move is just one of the many initiatives that Cisco is making to be well prepared for what they clearly believe is the future.

According to CB Insights, the other top IoT investors (as of January 2014) include Intel Capital, Qualcomm ventures as well as Sequoia Capital among others.  Given that there is so much interest and financing towards the IoT space, it would be rather premature (and clearly incorrect) to claim that the entire concept is flawed and certain to fail.

What all the sceptics are not realizing is the fact that it really isn’t a question of whether IoT will ever become a reality. It is already here. From fitness trackers to smart devices to tablets that can be synced together seamlessly to exchange information, IoT has made quite an impact in our daily lives already. What’s more, it’s here to stay. The only factor that is up for debate is how the entire concept will evolve.

As of right now, the glamour of the devices is blinding most of us to what really makes it all amazing – machine to machine communications and the potential that IoT-generated data opens up for developers and organizations everywhere.

IoT can power the gathering and delivering of data in ways that haven’t been possible before. This means that businesses can view their customers’ behaviors in better context and gain powerful insights. However, the key behind all the game-changing data insights will be access. Without access, all the beautiful data is pretty pointless. Like the Iron Man suit without Tony Stark.

Open API is one way out in such situations. When APIs are opened up to developers, one product’s data can pave the way for the next or make existing ones much more intuitive and capable of seamless integration into customers’ lives. The other more obvious way out is to follow a common standard which will prevent data from pooling in silos or restrict access by way of proprietary protocols and APIs. HyperCat is one such standard among 5 other standards that are said to be competing with each other in the IoT space.

Data transfer is a whole other dimension in the IoT world which is also showing significant progress. Bluetooth Low Energy standard, for instance, has made wearables manufacturers pretty happy because of its capability to operate with low power sources such as lithium coin cell batteries. If extended to devices such as smartphones, BLE could make the entire IoT progression speed up by leaps and bounds.

Given the encouraging pace at which IoT is developing, the entire argument about whether it is a fad or not is a waste of time and energy. IoT is progressing as you read this and while it may look completely different in another ten years, it is definitely not going to fizzle out like just another fad.

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