What is The Internet of Things and Where’s it Going?
For many years, futurists and technologists have told us that the “Internet of Things” (IoT) would change every aspect of our lives. The “Internet of Things,” or IoT, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the system of internet-connected objects that can collect and transmit data online without the need for human intervention.
A prime example of this is the Apple watch: it’s a watch (it tells the time) but it’s so much more: it tracks your fitness information, your location, and whatever other data comes to your phone. So you can use it to check email, take part in social media, and speak to friends via text or voice.
It also shares this information with Apple, and with anyone else Apple feels could benefit from being privy to such data. In other words, it’s a product which brings the full force of the internet’s data capability to life.
Now, extend this scale of capability out from a wearable watch to every other possible application, from connectable devices to home security, hospital equipment, cars, busses, trains, entire cities, etc. Soon, you’ll start to understand the potential -- and eventual pervasiveness -- of the Internet of Things.
The History of the IoT
The term “Internet of Things” was coined by Procter & Gamble supply chain engineer Kevin Aston in 1999. He first used the term in describing his work with RFID, Radio-Frequency Identification, the use of electromagnetic fields attached to objects to identify and track them. When he used the term, the Internet was still new. The concept of its extension outside of computers and into everyday life was merely a vague notion.
But fifteen years later, in 2014, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas made the IoT its primary theme. And that year, Google shocked the world by making big moves into the world of IoT: it made a $3.2 billion purchase of Nest -- a “smart home” product that connects your thermostat to your Wi-Fi (so you can control the temperature of your home in real time with an app).
In a decade and a half, this “vague notion” had become a “big deal.” The year before, in 2013, IDC published a report stating that the Internet of Things would be an $8.9 trillion market by 2020.
And was that true? Did it come to pass? Yes and no.
In 2020 alone, 22.6 million smartwatch devices were purchased by consumers. And by the end of 2017, experts estimate that the IoT industry reached a value of $100 billion to $2 trillion for the first time. That represents a large increase in the importance of IoT -- and 8.6 billion IoT systems and IoT platforms in use.
While IoT hasn’t quite reached the levels IDC expected seven years ago, it doesn't mean that growth hasn’t been steady, and it doesn’t mean that growth won’t continue to speed up over the next few years.
Where we go in the future and beyond with IoT -- and various worldwide IoT projects -- remains to be seen.
What Developers and Companies Can Do About IoT
The first step to understanding “what’s next” in the Internet of Things, is to get a handle on how IoT works, and some of the uses of IoT.
For years, we’ve been hearing about Smart Cities -- the ultimate extension of SmartWatches and Smart Cars: a city that collects data autonomously and makes improvements in infrastructure and lives based on this continual everyday data. As of now, many cities are beginning to introduce internet-related infrastructure (Wi-Fi in city parks, autonomous bus lines that accept internet payment), but there are no fully functioning Smart Cities as-of-yet.
"That said, with the huge changes seen across the world of medicine and government in these past years, in the near future we might begin to see some true investment in such IoT infrastructure." In particular, this could bring an investment in IoT sensors in public places, and an IoT network beyond just the devices we buy, wear, and own.
The best way to stay on this trend, is to remember: whatever comes next will be an extension of what’s come before. Where IoT infrastructure or software has been enacted to make citizens’ lives better or improve city services will likely be expanded.
A second way that companies and developers can stay on top of what’s next for the Internet of Things, is to focus on the user interface.
Because IoT devices tend to enhance everyday experiences (like shopping for food, checking the time, or taking your medicine), a smooth and simple UI design and UX are important for ensuring the Internet of Things doesn’t get in its own way. For the non-tech savvy, consumer and enterprise IoT needs to enhance their experiences, not get in the way.
Without usability, it’s unlikely that the Internet of Things will be adopted at the rate that it could -- if even at all.
No matter how marvelous technology can be, its impact is only defined by the degree it is used. Developers should be aware of this, and ensure they are skilled in the realistic application of what they build, not only the ideals. And companies should hire developers trained both in writing effective code, and in engaging in usability (UX and UI) to help build products that are easy to use.
The Internet of Things is poised to continue on its trajectory to be the Internet of our Future. Developers, those who work with them, and those who benefit from their work (hint: everyone) should keep an eye on how IoT continues to change the world--in the future and beyond.
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