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Published on March 23rd, 2017 | by Guest

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Why this is the perfect time to get into IoT for engineers and enthusiasts

The Internet of Things is one of the most exciting technologies on the horizon. The funny thing is that while the technology is revolutionary the idea isn’t new at all. Smart home appliances and different machines talking to each other have been a staple of science fiction for decades. Things like the internet were not well represented in science fiction and their emergence was a bit of a surprise to the general public, but the same cannot be said about the Internet of Things. You will be able to tract back concepts of IoT in science publications and science fiction 7-8 decades ago.

Tech publications have been telling us that we are living in the age of IoT for years now. People are a bit puzzled – just when is this Internet of Things thing going to be a reality? Since we are in the technology industry we are asked this question a lot and the answer is really frustrating. There is no technological bottle-neck when it comes to the Internet of Things. We have some fantastic engineers all over the world creating solutions and inventing devices which would work great in our homes. We do not need to develop any new technology to make IoT work in every home. The real problem is that the world of business is approaching things the wrong way.

The Walled Garden approach

The real reason that the internet of things is not a reality is the walled garden approach which too many tech companies employ. The walled garden is a term used to explain the way many tech companies try to minimize the options of the customer. Apple is one of the best examples of a walled garden we have. A walled garden is a beautiful and well-maintained place which is fun to visit – the only problem is that once you are in, you are walled in and you cannot leave. Like how when you buy an iPhone you are sort of locked into the ecosystem Apple has created. You can only install apps from the Apple store. You can only use the Lightning port for earphones and other similar restrictions.

Apple is not the only company that uses a walled garden approach but they have been easily the most successful with it. Companies use the walled garden approach because it results in more revenue for them. If you can control where your customers can spend their money you can get a cut from it every time they make a purchase.

The problem is that the walled garden approach does not, and cannot possibly work with the Internet of Things. It goes against everything that the Internet of Things stands for. The Internet of Things is about allowing our different machines to communicate with each other to make them smarter. If we start limiting the machines they can talk to them we are, in essence, limiting the IoT itself. The whole idea of pulling a walled garden approach towards the IoT is so greedy and anti-consumer that we cannot believe companies are actually trying it. This is like creating phones that can only call phones from a certain brand – it makes no sense whatsoever and does not make the experience better for the consumer in any way.

IoT is not commonplace because the business world is failing it

Most of the major IoT companies right now are simply being greedy and shortsighted. They are all trying to become the Apple of IoT when it probably will not be possible. In order to be the Apple of the IoT a company will literally have to make almost every type of appliance and electronic used by people. The Internet of Things is too big a thing to be controlled or dominated by a single company. Sure, we will have some big players in the market, but it is highly unlikely that the market will be dominated by 1 big player.

IoT needs a shared language

What needs to be done in order to make the Internet of Things work is to create a shared language for the internet of things. It wouldn’t be the first time different tech companies come together to create one language – HTML5, GSM, CDMA, and many other such similar languages exist which allow different devices from different brands to easily interpret the same thing the same way. As soon as we have a shared language for the Internet of Things you will see devices popping up in everyone’s homes. The internet of things is, by design, something which will naturally become the new way of interacting with things. The uptake of the Internet of Things will be as swift as the uptake of microwave ovens or remote controls for televisions. The amount of convenience they offer is just too much for most people to be able to ignore.

IoT needs a shared language if it is to become a reality. It needs all the companies to come together and agree to one standard. The reason is quite simple; all of our devices need to be able to talk to each other. We shouldn’t have to stand in the store and check to see if what we are buying is compatible with everything else we own. No one wants to buy a smart product and come home with it only to find out it cannot work. As long as this doubt exists in the mind of the consumer IoT will remain a niche enthusiast product.

This may, however, not be a problem for much longer. We have previously been through similar stages in other technologies and it always takes a few years, but we always end up with a working solution. There was a time when every phone company had their own charger and people had to carry around chargers with them. This was solved as most manufacturers adopted the Micro USB standard and made our lives easier. The iPhone didn’t have a competitor until Google unleashed Android and allowed any manufacturer to use it, effectively giving all phones a shared language. Google is attempting to do the same with Android Things.  Android Things is an IoT OS that Google hopes to launch similarly to Android, its mobile OS. They are currently targeting the poor security features of most IoT devices, but have plans to increase the scope of the project further.

The Huge Business Opportunity of IoT

If you are discouraged by all this talk of how IoT is failing right now, don’t be. You should be encouraged instead. This isn’t a problem, this is an opportunity and an opening for innovative thinkers to come forward and reap the benefits. If Google or any other company was succeeding with the current strategy then we would have a problem. Then it would not be smart to enter the IoT industry as a business.

IoT is not a question of ‘if’; it is a question of ‘when’. The fact that people are rejecting closed standards is fantastic. See, if we let a few companies dominate IoT then we are all in for a bad experience. It is very bad for consumers because we will get locked into different ecosystems. We wouldn’t be able to use any innovative device made by a company other than the one which made out IoT controllers. We would lose out on a lot of choices. It would also mean that companies would have less competition in the marketplace and thus would not focus too much on creating better products.  It would be bad for businesses as well. They will no longer be able to launch new and innovative products

The Real IoT opportunity is for programmers and engineers

We are very interested in the Internet of Things because of the unique opportunity it provides. You may be thinking that IoT is not ready for business yet based on what we have said so far. The reality is that IoT right now is in the perfect place for software and hardware engineers to get into. It is bad for businesses to get into as well if you plan to release a product soon. There is no telling what standards the industry will settle on and there is a big chance that the standard you are using may not be the one. This will result in your product becoming useless. IoT right now is an opportunity for smart business people who can wait a bit. If you can wait for 2-3 years before releasing a product on the mass level then you should invest in the Internet of Things. If you want to release a product in a few months then our advice is to wait.

Why is the opportunity huge for software and hardware engineers? Because there isn’t a big enough supply of innovative IoT products yet. Big corporations haven’t yet figured out how to create a ‘killer app’ for IoT and are experimenting. Look for IoT products online and you will keep running into the same products from different companies. Smart lighting, smart energy management, and smart thermostats seem to be what every company is focusing on to release. For a technology to really become mainstream it needs a killer feature, something which amazes people. There is none that does the job for IoT yet. There is also a big chance that the first killer product will come from an enthusiast engineer instead of a big corporation.

Why Enthusiasts can beat Corporations

As we said before, the biggest companies in IoT right now are too busy trying to make their walled garden the main one for IoT. They aren’t really focusing on creating a proper IoT product right now which leaves a lot of room for enthusiasts to fill the void. The best part is that it is very easy for engineers to get into IoT. With products like Arduino it is easy for enthusiasts to create innovative products. If you are already familiar with the software side of things, you will be surprised at how quickly you will be able to learn about the hardware side of things. Conversely, if you are good with the hardware side of things, you will be surprised at how easy the software side of things is to learn. Right now you can make something which no company has thought of and get viral on the internet. The same will not be possible in a year or two as IoT devices become more commonplace.

Creating the next open tech standard

There is also another amazing opportunity at hand. Most often technology is driven by business. The biggest companies get together and try to come up with standards that everyone else uses. Almost every standard which we are accustomed to was created like this. A company is created that manages the standards and the company is controlled by a conglomeration of different big players in the industry. DVD, Blu-Ray, the ill-fated HD-DVD and Betamax, VHS, HTML5, and many other standards were created this way. However, there is no reason that this should be the only way that things can be done. Not all standards need to be closed and controlled by businesses. Sometimes the people win over the corporations and end up creating open standards.

The internet is built on open standards. IP, TCP, HTML, and many more similar technologies that back the internet weren’t defined by any one corporation. The ‘WWW’ (World wide web) itself is an open standard. Imagine how bad it would be if companies had tried to control the internet from the beginning. You would have a Microsoft internet which you could only access through Microsoft devices and so on. There weren’t any big corporations in the tech sector back then, because the sector was still in a nascent state. Instead, you had the military, universities, and enthusiasts working together to create something which could be used by all. There are many other standards which aren’t controlled or created by corporations such as PNG. BitTorrent is another great example of what happens when people invent things instead of corporations. The BitTorrent standard was created by an enthusiast student Bram Cohen.

How to begin experimenting with IoT

The best part is that it is very easy for enthusiasts to gather and take part in the process. There are many prominent programming and engineering websites as well as forums where people can get together and create the next big thing. Right now the best way to get into it is just to start creating. Don’t think too much about business ramifications of your product right now. The first step is to make something unique. Don’t start by trying to create the next big thing, start by trying to create something small that you understand. Once you understand the mechanics behind the way IoT works and how it can help people in their daily lives you can create bigger and better things.

Here’s a small example of what you can do; if you have a dog, then you can create a dog door for them to make sure that they get out when they have to. You can easily put a sound or light on the door to indicate to the dog when it is open. You then have to train your dog to open the door when the light is on. Once the dog realizes that it can get out whenever the light is on and not otherwise, it will know when it can get out and when it cannot. You can also easily add a small tracking device to your dog’s collar which logs when the dog leaves. You can also put in a small device in the collar which makes a beep once the dog is supposed to come back in. This way your dog will know that every day it can go out and play when the door is open. When the door opens the timer is set in the tracking device in your dog’s collar. Once the dog collar starts beeping the dog will know when to get back in. The entry and exit of the dog will be tracked on an online spreadsheet you can access from anywhere. You can be in office and you will receive a notification that your dog just went out. When time’s up you will get another notification. Then you can track when your dog returns home.

The best part about this whole process is that the devices to make such a contraption already exist. There are many trackers and loggers which can be easily programmed for the whole process. Once you perfect the product you can easily sell it to people who want to make sure their pets get enough outdoor time but are still worried about the dogs staying out too much. You will also immediately know if your dog doesn’t come back. You can even put in a GPS tracker in the dog collar to track it while it is outside the house. You will need to create a working prototype first before you think of the business implications. You will not need to invest a lot in this invention either; IoT building blocks are usually very reasonably priced. You should be able to create the whole system for a few hundred dollars – which is amazing, because until a few decades ago creating a new invention meant you would need thousands of dollars.

The key to IoT is to put people first

Succeeding in IoT as an enthusiast means understanding what people need. You will not be able to beat the big corporations when it comes to developing new technology. It is possible to create new software but it is almost impossible for an enthusiast to create new hardware. Developing hardware is a very expensive task that requires a lot of specialized machinery and technical knowledge. If you have investors with pockets deep enough to fund a multi-million dollar IoT endeavor then go for it, otherwise try to look for what people need. IoT is poised to change the way we live. It is the next step in our society and our interactions with technology. The dog tracking example we gave above does just that – it doesn’t focus on creating a new need or any new technology, instead it focuses on helping people with a task they may have a problem with right now. There are many different inefficiencies in our lives that can be made better with IoT.

 

About the author:

Vlad Kostanda, CEO at  Adoriasoft – custom software development company is a highly qualified, energetic team of experts driven by a mutual desire to deliver the best. It offers top full cycle services: Research and Estimation, Requirements definition, Architecting, Prototyping, Development, UI/UX design, QA, Support and Updates, IT Consulting. Founded in 2009, Adoriasoft is the company that has written its history of professionalism, hard work, commitment and dedication.

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