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What’s in an IoT Name? And Who Goes First?

iStock_000051490138_Small.jpgAt Imec’s ITF a couple months ago, the Internet of Things (IoT) loomed large, as it has a tendency to do everywhere. Seems to be the great unifying force, the collective raison d’être for us all.

But they had a different spin: the “intuitive” internet of things. It seems that everyone is trying to carve out their own version of the IoT, which is easily done with a concept that vague.

Imec also discussed public projects like the environmental sampling prototype in place in Eindhoven. And it occurred to me that this might be a back door into the consumer IoT space.

Let’s take those in order.

How to define the IoT? We recently saw the internet of moving things (I wasn’t buying it). Then there’s Cisco’s “internet of everything.” I’ve also had a hard time with “everything” being better than simply “things” because, obviously, the IoT will never include everything, so it feels like taking all the IoT hype (of which there is plenty already) and then dialing it to 11.

So what is this “intuitive” IoT concept? Imec’s idea here is that the Things themselves melt into the background. In the end, what we experience isn’t a gadget, but rather a service enabled by a gadget or a combination of gadgets.

One example from Imec’s Harmke de Groot is a smart kitchen you can add using this salt and pepper shakers, where recipes are suggested based on available ingredients, an in-hood sniffer can make suggestions on work in progress, and perishables can be monitored for freshness. These would be enabled by a host of sensors in refrigerators, cabinets, and on and around the stove itself.

This reminds me of past presentations on context awareness (a phrase that seems to have faded out of the headlines lately), where interfaces fade away and machines anticipate our needs. Nice idea in principle, although fraught with complication. Then again, we’ve solved complicated problems before. It certainly seems that the focus on what IoT devices enable is the right focus. Just not sure it needs a new name (especially IIoT, which looks like the Industrial IoT).

The Eindhoven environmental sampling project was held out as another example: as far as residents are concerned, there’s a service that tells them the local air quality. The fact that this service is brought to you by a bunch of devices hidden away somewhere is secondary. But this particular application also got me thinking about my usual background question about where the Consumer IoT profits will come from.

The essence of that question is that there is a ton of investment going into IoT technology – and presumably someone is expecting a return on that investment (RoI). In the consumer space, where will that come from? Are there compelling services that will make consumers either spend more to save somewhere else or simply spend more? Because if they don’t spend more than they do without the IoT, then it’s hard to see where the RoI is. Businesses can get advice from an innovation consultant on how they can implement IoT to their operations.

But projects like the environmental monitoring one bridge between industrial-looking and consumer-looking IoT. It has the scale of an industrial installation, but the beneficiaries of the services are consumers. Let’s call it the Municipal IoT. Things like street parking, street lighting, air quality. Municipalities are, to some degree, being forced into those applications. Just as with the Industrial IoT, there are efficiencies to be gained. Growth can be managed better, costs can be reduced, and quality of service can be improved. Unlike the Industrial IoT, however, this will be very visible to consumers.

So it got me wondering: will we ease into the Consumer IoT via the Municipal IoT, where exigencies force implementation without consumers having to buy off? This might defray a chunk of the fundamental technology investment, reducing the residual RoI needed from consumers via their in-home gadgets. It also gets consumers used to engaging with the services that the IoT enables, potentially stimulating demand for further, more personalized in-home services.

Speculation on my part. I think that segmenting the IoT in such a manner can have value for focusing investment for best return. Renaming the IoT, on the other hand, seems less beneficial.

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