Who's Going to Drive IoT Innovation
Let’s face it, the Internet of Things (IoT) is hot right now. And it’s only going to get hotter. Everyone wants in on the perceived coming gold rush that will be the Internet of Things. And a gold rush is most definitely predicted! Gartner has said so here, and here. IDCsays so, too. I could go on and list how many analysts and media pundits, etc. agree, but that would just be redundant. Suffice to say that basically everyone thinks so. And they’re all probably right.
To some of us, this isn’t a surprise. For instance, back in 2004 I started saying the following:
“Sun has licensed Java™ on a billion cell phones. Now, if every person on the planet carried 3 cell phones, you’re still only talking about maybe 15 billion devices. That’s a limited market. But if we were to license Java™ on every processor in your car, your kitchen, your building, etc. then you’re talking trillions of devices. Now we’re talking about a real market!"
Yes, I said that. In 2004. And that was before there was any “Internet of Things” in any real sense. I’ve been repeating it ever since. But we (at Sun Labs) were developing a sensor platform for the internet of things, and that’s the vision we had. Score one for us.
We also saw that the cost-curve on 32-bit processors would bend significantly and that in 10 years, embedded devices would all be based on 32-bit, powerful, cheap processors, so that’s what we built back then. That was the Project Sun SPOT.
Fast forward 10 years. Here we are, with a plethora of devices from Raspberry Pi, to Intel Edison to Electric Imp to Spark, to any of the hundreds of Arduino-based devices. 32-bit sensor platforms are the default, not the outliers. Score one for us. And as noted above, all the analysts are predicting explosive growth in the IoT market space. Score two for us.
One of the 3rd assumptions we made was that Sun SPOTs should be a “platform for innovation” and that Makers, the guys in garages and basements who do this in their spare time, because they love it and can’t stop (guys like me, frankly) would be the market movers. We ‘marketed’ to the Maker movement. We had a booth at the very first Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA. Go see the kinds of crazy things the kids were doing with Sun SPOTs back in the day. The funnest projects were done by regular Makers. Guess what? Score 3 for us. See?
Yes, the big guys like Intel and ARM will move the hardware needle. They will be pushed by the Arduino folks, in many ways, but most basement/garage makers aren’t going to be developing processors, though they may (and probably will) develop boards and platforms based on processors by ARM and Intel and others. Supported by places like SparkFun (I love them, and have been a SparkFun junkie since ’04!) Makers will develop sensor platforms and implementations that will move the market. And what will be key to the Makers success? Aside from the availability of great platforms, the great enabler will be Open Source. Open Source Hardware and Open Source software. Open APIs, open software for authorization and authentication and configuration and management. No Maker can afford to buy an enterprise license for your LDAP/Authentication platform for their project. No Maker will want to pay a license fee — at least initially — to use your APIs. They want to build a neat project. They want to solve a specific problem. Once they succeed with that project they may turn it into a product. That’s when the API company, the Authentication company, etc. can expect to get paid.
So if you’re one of those companies. If you are selling APIs, or authentication and management, or whatever it is, to the IoT market, you’d better make it Open Source. You’d better allow the Makers of the world to download it and use it for free to build their project. Because they will be the next Google. The next Facebook. The next Instagram. And when they are, you’ll want to be the one that was their (free) friend back in the day.
Call me crazy. Tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I refer you to the above. 3 for 3. I’m not saying I’m a genius, or that I’m Carnak the Magnificent. I’m just sayin’.