The Internet of Things Doesn’t Work

The Internet of Things doesn’t work. That’s it right there. I would say that’s all I have to say on the topic but that would be lying, and those that read my blog would know that.

So let me elaborate. The Internet of Things doesn’t work because companies don’t want it to. They haven’t looked further than the standard spreadsheet accounting that fails so many businesses, markets and stifles new ideas. I don’t mean funding, far from it, if you read another article I’m going to publish about Crowdfunding you’ll know that I feel that model is also not working and is failing its own customers. No, by spreadsheet accounting I mean columns of figures on a simple spreadsheet, in this case sales.

Why would a company want to open up their range of products so that consumers had more choice? Not just choice between their products, but choice between companies. Why would they want that? Then their competition increases, consumers have a choice between multiple suppliers. Companies like to build their own propriety range, tie the consumer into that range and ensure that they continue to buy upgrades and other items within the range made solely by themselves. Surely that maximises profit?

It can, Apple are a good sign of that, however it can also be done other ways to the consumers’ benefit, allowing other companies shares of the profits, and providing a better overall solution and ultimately, longer term profits. However, companies are more concerned with older business models and want to tie the consumer into their propriety systems to ensure they buy their products, ensure they continue to do so until they can bleed everything out of the product line. It means they don’t have to continue be the best or the latest in the marketplace, just hook people in and keep them there spending the money.

Internet of Things should describe Internet enabled devices you can buy from anywhere and when you connect them to the Internet you can link them with your other Internet enabled devices, whoever made them. You can then build rules around those devices, getting them to work together. For example, if a thermostat says the temperature has dropped in your house, and all the windows and doors report as being closed, and at least one of the family’s mobiles is in the home, turn the heating on. It isn’t just about connecting the home either, imagine the possibilities with the Internet connected vehicle, roads, or even a company’s products. Nor is it about one or two devices, the power of this world comes from the linking of devices and the sharing of their data, devices no one had ever thought to previously connect, linking them together with rules to take action on each other’s information.

The devices needed to accomplish this world should come from different suppliers and all connect together seamlessly, or at least simply, otherwise innovation and new devices are seriously limited. That, however, just is not the reality today.

Here’s where we hit the big problem. The current Internet of Things is not a sea of devices that can interconnect, it’s a sea of companies with their own propriety systems and devices that don’t talk to each other. In general, they are closed systems, some with limited APIs allowing some token information to be passed, but nothing near what would make a truly connected system. This is an Internet of Propriety Systems.

There are some systems out there that are trying to live by the ideal model but they have created a new problem for companies wishing to truly try and connect everything, multiple formats. We now have an ecosystem that looks like the battle between Betamax and VHS but hundreds of entries of companies own systems and two major protocols, neither of which look like they’ll win.

Some companies are now doing more and even trying to cater for these other closed or propriety systems with limited or unique APIs, and others are building their own systems that cater for both major protocols. Surely they should announce a winner now and everyone can put their backing behind it. Imagine if every connected device from every manufacturer talked to each other in the same way with the same information.

For those companies who are trying to deliver a truly Internet of Things model they are faced with the vast task of a system that must work with both formats and every time a new device comes along the company has to produce new code to make it work, and it only works as far as the device manufacturer allows. It’s the model that the company I have purchased from for my smart home system is following and it isn’t ideal, far from it.

Just as VHS became the standard for home over Betamax, although the quality level was well disputed and Betamax remained within the video industry for some time, a real standard has to be decided upon for the Internet of Things. One standard and a simple certification level which will force manufacturers to make their devices fully compatible, fully open, and with a complete API allowing any company to integrate with simply and easily.

As a consumer I want to do is buy a device from any manufacturer and have it connect to my own system, be it a motion detector, video camera, kitchen appliance, car, anything at all. I should be able to choose a supplier and not be tied into them, restricted to the devices they offer, stopped from using devices in the marketplace that they don’t make or of the type they don’t offer at all, and left with expensive items that can never be added to or improved if the company fails.

I want to select the devices I want, have them integrate with each other, and if a company fails have the knowledge that I can just replace the odd device here and there rather than the entire system of devices.

This is not only better for the consumer but it will drive innovation in the marketplace as companies strive for better, higher quality products with new functionality, or completely new devices that no-one had thought to integrate before.

It isn’t just the single protocol that needs chosen, or the manufacturers to offer full, open APIs to all their devices, but the companies themselves need to stop selling beta products. Whenever software is involved it seems that these days companies can take advantage of their customers and sell a product as complete when in fact it isn’t working as described when sold and requires updates galore, even from the moment you unwrap it. That is something I will write about in another article when I talk about crowd funding projects and the video game industry, areas that are both taking advantage of their consumers.

For now though the message is clear. The Internet of Things isn’t anything like that, it’s the Internet of Propriety Things, or the Internet of Closed Systems, and that has to change. Companies need to move from the Apple to the Android mindset and integrate with a common protocol to allow consumer choice and their products to fully integrate with each other. This will benefit the consumer, drive innovation, and create a market around the ecosystem of rules and management of systems.

If companies don’t start working this out then the idea of Internet of Things will fail. Consumers will lose faith, like my own father who purchased Lightwave RF products for his home automation, mind you I bought a more open, integrating system in Smartthings, and I am facing other problems which I’ll talk about in another article.

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