We're in the beginning of a world in which everything is connected to the Internet
and with one another, while powerful yet relatively cheap computers analyze all
that data for ways to improve lives.
tell your mirror to remind you to
floss. Basketball jerseys detect impending heart
failure and call the ambulance for you.
At least that's the vision presented this past week at the Mobile World
Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain. The four-day conference highlighted
what the tech industry has loosely termed "the Internet of things".
Growth opportunity for wireless carriers
Some of that wisdom is already available or promised by the end of the year.
Fitness devices from Sony and Samsung connect with your smartphones to
provide digital records of your daily lives. French startup Cityzen Sciences
has embedded fabric with heart-rate
and other sensors to track your physical
Internet-connected toothbrushes are coming from Procter and Gamble's Oral-B
business and from another French startup, Kolibree. The mirror part is still a
prototype, but Oral-B's smartphone app does tell you to floss.
Car makers are building in smarter navigation and other hands-free services,
while IBM and AT&T are jointly equipping cities with sensors and computers
for parking meters, traffic lights and water systems to all communicate.
Internet-connected products represent a growth opportunity for wireless
carriers, as the smartphone business slows down in developed markets because
most people already have service.
With the technological foundations here, the bigger challenge is getting
people, businesses and municipalities to see the potential. Then there are
security and privacy concerns – health insurance companies would love access to
your fitness data to set premiums.
Companies to work together
At a more basic level, these systems have to figure out a way to talk the
same language. You might buy your phone from Apple, your TV from Sony and your
refrigerator for Samsung. It would be awful to get left out because you aren't
loyal to a single company. Plus, the smartest engineers in computing aren't
necessarily the best in clothing and construction.
Expect companies to work together to set standards, much the way academic
and military researchers created a common language decades ago for disparate
computer networks to communicate, forming the internet. Gadget makers are
starting to build APIs – interfaces for other systems to pull and understand
Building everything is too much for a single company, yet "they want
all this stuff to work together," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of
the Linux Foundation, a backer of the Tizen project for connecting watches, cars
and more. Samsung's new fitness watches will use Tizen, and tools have been
built to talk with Samsung's Android phones.