The Internet of Things (IoT) is finally here. Or at least, that's what a recent report by the Economist's Intelligence Unit wants us to believe. Sponsored by ARM, which certainly has a vested interest in the matter, the 32-page paper states that the industry is at last catching on to the idea of connected devices after more than a decade of slow progress. After surveying 779 senior business leaders from 19 different industries around the world, the Economist revealed that a staggering 75 percent of businesses are already exploring the space. In fact, only 6 percent of those interviewed think of it as hype, and 94 percent believe IoT will have a significant impact in the next three years.
However, the IoT phenomenon still has a long way to go before widespread consumer adoption takes hold. Most businesses are still just experimenting with IoT either in research or internal operations and the "internet of things" mantra remains laced with jargon that might not sell well to the general public. The report also notes the dearth of IoT-skilled workers, a general lack of investment and the need for open standards before more consumers can embrace it.
In an invite-only event on Monday attended by select journalists and analysts, ARM CEO Simon Segars said that the latter was particularly important for the Internet of Things to move forward. "Most IoT applications are so narrow, with one device only talking to one service," he said. "We need these items to talk to each other more, in order to prevent an internet of silos."
Still, all is not lost. The Economist reports that companies could be willing to put more money in the technology as time goes on. The cost of sensors and micro-electromechanical systems like accelerometers and gyroscopes is going down as well, and hardware manufacturers are apparently selling them by the billions. Further, just because the IoT term isn't widespread doesn't mean we won't see an explosion of connected products on store shelves -- it's just that the everyday person might not know about it.
"Nobody is going to demand the underlying infrastructure," Kevin Ashton of Belkin told the Economist. "You don't go to the end user and talk about Internet of Things. You go to the end user to talk about benefits." Indeed, there are already products and service companies that use IoT that we might not know exist, such as insurers that price your premiums based on the data it gets from your car.
Segars went deeper into ways IoT could take off. Citing examples like wearables and the connected home, he said that ARM innovations like the minuscule Freescale Kinetis KL02 could be key in the evolution of connected devices. Dubbed as the world's smallest ARM-powered microcontroller, the KL02 doesn't cost very much to make, and can be incorporated into everything from lightbulbs to clothes. "The technology needs to be deployed massively at a low cost," he said, pointing out ARM's development platform specifically geared toward the Internet of Things. "We have fundamental IoT building blocks for developers... Our ecosystem is uniquely positioned to tackle these challenges."
Yet, the concept of IoT isn't without a few issues, especially when it comes to privacy and security. Indeed, Segars gave an unintentionally scary example that eventually people would move through a building like a busy airport and they would immediately be alerted to something like a late flight without initiating anything. "You won't even have to realize that there are a whole lot of semiconductors around you that are designed to make your life better." This is potentially a huge issue for those who are uncomfortable with their personal data being so easily accessible. Segars also recognizes that most people might not want to replace existing hardware just to get one that's IoT-friendly. For example, if your fridge works just fine the way it is, you're probably not interested in getting one that's hooked up to the internet, no matter how cool it is.
In the end though, the Economist study concluded that IoT is undergoing a "quiet revolution," which perhaps sounds more ominous than it should. However, it simply means that even if consumer awareness isn't mainstream, our devices are getting increasingly connected all the time. From Nike's Fuelband that tells us how many steps we've taken to Philips' internet-connected HUE lighting, it's clear that this so-called revolution is already well on its way. Whether or not everyone welcomes it willingly, however, remains to be seen.