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How the "Internet of Things" will become as mainstream as Dropbox

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 12:10pm
MIT Technology Review

According to booth-manning reps at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, IBM is announcing an “Internet of Things Cloud” with free enrollment of the first 10 connected gadgets—whether washing machines or parking meters. It’s the kind of teaser more closely associated with, say, file storage on Dropbox. While this “IoT Cloud” will be for businesses, it will provide tools for those businesses to write apps for ordinary folks, such as for health-monitoring and home-management systems. 

Such offerings stand a strong chance of massively accelerating the arrival of the ubiquitous computing era, with examples on display throughout the cavernous conference halls in Barcelona.

The “Connected City” section gives a visceral sense of what this era will be like, and the deep involvement of major carriers and IT companies in making it happen. “City” is just part of the story, with systems to tie together emergency reports, infrastructure sensors, and even parking meters. Major automakers from Volvo to GM are showing off connected cars, with the latest systems for avoiding crashes, helping drivers, and delivering information from home and office with platforms such as AT&T Drive. And so on, through a litany of home, health, and educational applications. Korea Telecom’s display bristles with the wireless systems enabling it all. Elsewhere a man rode a stationary bike with a wireless glucose sensor taped to his arm and a wireless heart monitor taped to his chest, his vital statistics displayed on a nearby screen. He was doing this in behalf of the telecom Orange, which makes the back-end system.

Such visions have been around for many years. But the displays and talks in Barcelona, and interviews with major technology executives (see “Nokia CTO on How the Company Will Reinvent Itself”), shows just how fast all this is coming. Sensors and processing power are now extremely cheap, and the wireless infrastructure is increasingly in place. But there are some major barriers from here: making sure these systems stay secure, are easy to adopt, and truly add value.  But just as free e-mail services made e-mail ubiquitous and services like Dropbox made cloud storage easy, IBM’s “Internet of Things Cloud” and other such services stand a strong chance of doing the same. Just a few clicks, and you’ve registered your devices, and started getting analytics and management dashboards and tools for everyday users. As one rep told me, there will be “no hurdles for quick startup.”

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