Last week on Twitter, a few friends of mine, IT industry analysts and journalists, were tossing around the conversational ball. We were debating terminology — The Internet of Things — that has come into common usage recently and is being tugged at and morphed by an increasing number of interested parties.
The question started with Ben Pimentel, a reporter for MarketWatch, who asked, “What will we eventually call it: ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘Internet of Everything’?” I jumped in and noted, “Used to be plain ol’ embedded; suited me fine. U want Internet of something? Have at it.”
At that moment Ray Wang, Constellation Research Founder, said, “digital endpoints :)” Then, given that my firm is named Endpoint Technologies Associates and that I am always promoting the use of the term “endpoint” in any context, I had to come back with, “I think Ray is onto something ;)”
I noted that my definition of endpoint (single user device, with human interface, has IP address) implied digital and therefore that word could be dropped, leaving only “endpoint.” Nice and neat. That got a single vote from Karsten Weide, VP of Media & Entertainment at IDC.
For me, that conversation illustrated how quickly things are changing in our digital world. A few years ago, the term embedded referred to the boring part of the digital business, where small, low-power processors performed fixed-function tasks (i.e., were either non-programmable or had extremely limited programmability), typically involving sensors and actuators (e.g., a temperature sensor in your car’s engine signaled a small processor, which adjusted the mix of air and gasoline fed to the engine automatically).
Well, if I can persuade everyone to use “endpoint” instead, headline writers will be happier, and maybe we’ll all have a clearer perspective on what’s happening. In service of this goal, I have prepared a few visuals to illustrate the path we’ve trodden.
Back when most people had just one PC to access the Internet, and Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and many companies long gone were kings, the world was device-centric. You went to your computer to do things.
In 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone, it kicked off a trend toward alternative ways to connect. As soon as an individual had two devices, the only model that worked was person-centric; that is, your stuff had to be unified on your behalf. Thus, a song on iTunes on your Mac had to be interchangeable with the one on your iPhone.
As time rolled on, more endpoints joined the Internet party.
And now, companies like Whirlpool and General Motors are proposing even more endpoints. CES 2014 earlier this month was all about in-home and automotive applications. Google’s recent offer to purchase Nest is another example of the trend toward integrating more aspects of a person’s life into the digital soup.
If all these endpoints are to be of service to you, the individual, who will coordinate them? The cloud.
The cloud — represented by services like iCloud, SugarSync, and Dropbox — was initially about synchronizing the state of your stuff, keeping all your data up to date no matter which device you used to modify it. Backup services kept track of computer-ish things: settings, preferences, programs, subscriptions, and files.
But now the role of the cloud in coordinating all this stuff has grown more complicated. First off, major new chunks, things like car data and home data, are being added to your initial “information object,” the blob connecting you with all your stuff.
And those embedded computers are all talking to each other, sometimes by way of the cloud, and sometimes directly (peer to peer). Qualcomm’s AllJoyn functionality allows smart devices to find each other and interact when they’re in close proximity. Smart Bluetooth beacons, situated around the walls, can alert a store when a known customer walks in the door, and the store can automatically serve appropriate offers, either via the customer’s phone or through digital aisle displays.
Each of us has our own more or less detailed digital representation, which may include what we like, what we’ve done, and where we’ve been, depending on what we are willing to share. The bargain offered by Google, Amazon.com, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and others is: the more you’re willing to share, the more free stuff you get (e.g., access to the service). Weather.com will give you a detailed forecast if you let it send you ads. It will send you better (i.e., more appropriate) ads if you let it take a peek at your information object, which is so close to being you these days that it almost is you.