Dirk Knemeyer

The future of the Internet of Things

The future of the Internet of Things, March 28, 2003

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

What it makes me think of is the evolution of technology in other ways. Even this goes back many thousands of years in terms of looking at technological progress and trends. Just looking at the history of internet-based technologies, the pattern is — you start with this Wild West of a lot of disjointed things, and it then synthesizes into fewer established foundational things.

For example, the early Internet was total Wild West, people just connecting essentially on a phone and a terminal, connecting into a text interface. Over time that was consolidated into platforms, into companies like Prodigy, CompuServe, and eventually AOL which kind of killed the category, that took this situation where there were all of these kind of janky, disconnected, ad hoc things and made them into larger platforms that people could use and leverage in large and meaningful ways.

Those had their limitations as well, and so those walled gardens came out of favor, and we went back to a Wild West of … I’m going to say relatively good web pages and websites, and there were lots of them, lots and lots of them, and there weren’t any clear winners. There weren’t any clear leaders. Whether it be search engines or photo processing sites or any of the main … shopping for example … any of the main use case for doing things online, they were highly protracted.

Now today, it has really congealed into a relatively limited number of platforms, companies like Amazon, Apple, Google control huge market share, and the number of small companies doing things … they might be trying to come up and break in, but they’re trying to break into relatively established, broad-based platform players.

The Internet of Things is going to have to follow that same pattern. Right now we’re in the Wild West. The reason that the Jawbone UP, despite being cool and interesting, ultimately is a failure for me, is that it doesn’t have that platform protection. It’s not integrated into a larger thing that makes it a safe, reliable, dependable user experience, that makes it something that I can really integrate into my life and count on and have matter. The missing piece is the platform, and it’s something that isn’t being talked about. I’m not seeing, at the bleeding edges, good examples of prototypes or things trying to solve that problem, but it’s where we’re going to have to head next, and we’re going to need pioneers. We’re going to need people like … a good example would be my friend Leandro Agro who started a company in Italy called WideTag back in 2007/2008; that’s back at the beginning of the Internet of Things, when that phrase existed, but people were using the word “spime” more than they were using “the Internet of Things” to describe what this nascent space would be.

There are going to have to be pioneers like that who are getting things started, who are doing business and trying to make things even before it’s ready, because right now it’s not ready. These different companies, these products, are so diffuse and so split and spread that pulling them into a platform and having them function in a truly really effectively-working bigger life cycle, it’s still years away, but it’s the next move that needs to happen.

As we deal with the Internet of Things, as we make our cool little things in Arduino and enjoy products like the Jawbone UP, they all are hobbled in different ways. They’re just experiments. They’re cool. They’re almost more novel than anything at the end of the day because they’re limitations are so clear and so near.

Where we need to head is to the platform and to pulling these things together into bigger solutions. I think the companies that succeed at that today, it’s probably unclear. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d actually pick Samsung because Samsung is doing disruptive things across all kinds of technologies and industries. Google would also be a good candidate. It’s going to be a company on that level that is pulling together a family, a collection of Internet of Things into a whole life cycle of experience where you don’t have the kind of failings that I had with the Jawbone UP or that are obvious in the little, very cool, home-brewed kit-type things that people are having a great time working on these days.

The Internet of Things … it’s wonderful, I’m excited and intrigued by it, but where the really interesting things need to happen, where it’s going to go from being a novelty to be something that’s really revolutionary, is when the platforms come together. What those look like and the companies that are behind them is uncertain, but seeing that transpire, and then really, particularly, benefiting from the fruits of those successes is going to be really thrilling.