The smartphone revolutionised personal computing, creating a computer that most of us have within arm’s reach 24 hours a day. The Internet of Things promises to revolutionise computing again, by connecting and collecting data from everything we live in, drive in, eat in, sleep in and work in.
In just a year or two, the number of IoT devices will outnumber the number of PCs, smartphones and laptops globally. Forecasts range from as low as 41 billion to as high as 80 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020.
But how will this really change how we live and work?
Search Is Dead, Long Live Search
For years people have been claiming that search is dead, but we still find ourselves on Google looking for a restaurant, searching for the best ski equipment or researching a new company. However, the promise of IoT means never having to search again.
With every connected device you have, more data is collected about you, your habits, your needs and your preferences. When this data is aggregated, a complete virtual profile of you emerges. This profile will know what you need before you do.
The virtual you will be able to anticipate your needs, perform the necessary search and deliver the result you need, before you even have to ask. It will be able to adjust your thermostat before you realise you are too hot or place an order for tissues before you notice you have run out.
Obviously, search still happens, but it is all done behind the scenes. If the Internet of Things becomes what we believe it can be, you’ll never need to visit the Google homepage again – except to check the daily doodle.
The Power Of The Ecosystem
For this to happen, all our devices and all our data have to be connected. By 2020, the average person will have more than four Internet-connected devices, but they won’t be very useful if they exist in silos.
Just as operating systems have become the bases of power in the mobile ecosystem, the central platforms through which Internet of Things devices connect will be the locus of the industry.
These platforms will enable the aggregation and analysis of data from a variety of sources and will connect to mobile payments, commerce and other services so users can take action based on that information. An open platform is key to creating an IoT ecosystem that is greater than the sum of its parts.
At the company level, building a strong ecosystem is also critical to success. The winners in IoT will be companies that build large, loyal user bases. On the product side, more users create more data, which informs algorithms and delivers better results.
Shipping more units also gives companies more leverage with suppliers and makes them more attractive to partners. Just as in the social sector, network effects will matter.
Mobile Won’t Always Be On Mobile
The launch of smartwatches foreshadows another evolution coming in IoT: blurring the lines between hardware, software, and mobile.
IoT devices to date have been pieces of hardware that connect to an app on your smartphone, which allows you to interact with them. The smartwatches signals an important shift as it combines the hardware and sensors with the software and user interface into one device.
While it still requires a phone to connect to the Internet, it is easy to see a future smartwatch that eliminates the need for the smartphone entirely. At the moment there are a few smartwatches out there (see Samsung Gear S) marketed as standalone devices – being able to make phone calls from your wrist is a step forward – but it can’t replace the processing power of a smartphone, at least not yet.
As IoT devices evolve, they will take on more “mobile” qualities and become the new home for many functions we currently rely on our smartphones to perform. In addition to making search obsolete, IoT could make the smartphone irrelevant in the near future.