There is a somewhat infamous 1995 Newsweek article about how the hype and the reality of the Internet were so far apart. Here is a choice excerpt complaining about the promise of e-commerce:
“Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn't—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.”
The tone is more than a bit curmudgeonly, and the overall effect is a complete lack of vision. Sure, in 1995, the consumer Internet was just getting started, and there was a lot of hype. But this was a year after Marc Andreesen founded Netscape and Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.
The “spark” that ignited the consumer Internet – the browser - was already there. All it took was time and imagination (and a lot of infrastructure and capital) to get to where we are today. Google wouldn’t come along until several years later in 1998.
I don't like the word "hype," particularly when describing an emerging industry, because if hype is the enthusiasm about the potential of an emerging industry, then it logically must come before the realization of that potential. Pointing out all the ways that a complex internetworked mesh of devices will fail is easy to do since it requires no vision or actual research; just observation of the current state and generous amounts of opinion.
The “spark” of the consumer internet was the thing that very simply connected people to the internet and made all that content dead simple to navigate: The browser. The entire Internet as we know it was then able to be built.
Take Google; the company was founded on the premise that the internet was going to be comprised of a whole bunch of information, and people were going to need a tool to find it. Search, it turns out, was an important cornerstone of the consumer web. (Along with Commerce, Content, Communication, Advertising and several others.) The mortar in between those stones are things like Payments, Security and our favorite, Analytics, which does everything from detecting network threats to informing better website design.
What does all of this history have to do with the Internet of Things? Well, we see a lot of required analogous components to the cornerstones and mortar of the consumer web, but really it’s about the spark.
But really: Have we seen the spark that is going to usher in the totally connected future? There are already hundreds of millions of machines connected to the internet, just like there were already computers connected to the internet before the browser.
So what is the analog to the browser for the IoT?
Yes, I know autonomous machines don’t need browsers because they don’t (mostly) interact with the world with eyes and fingers and keyboards. They DO need a simple way to connect themselves to the network, though. Understand that: “Connect themselves.” Can you imagine the deployment nightmare of connecting millions of geographically distributed sensors at today’s GPRS/3G/LTE modem costs and today’s SIM-based provisioning approach and today’s billing economics? It isn’t going to work out of the gate. But it will eventually, incrementally, get sorted out.
For the consumer Internet, the browser represented universal simplicity of access to the Internet by humans. We now just need universal simplicity of access by machines, and that will be our spark.
It may not be a “browser” in the sense that it is a piece of software that runs on a computer, but it is a good bet that the right answer is that the spark for the IoT is similar in that it will allow all of these connected machines to easily access the machine analogs to Commerce, Communication, Content, Search, and Advertising.
And here’s the answer: The way the Things will connect to the machine analogs of the cornerstones of the consumer internet is the same way they will connect to each other: Through the data they generate.
The important IoT insight is that the data generated by billions of machines all flowing toward one place is only so valuable, but all that data flowing instead to a marketplace that enables those machines to combine data autonomously through an externalized higher-functioning system that adds value back to each and every node connected to the network would be the browser analog to the consumer internet.
It would enable IoT devices to “browse” the use cases, data streams, code repositories and services they need to increase their own value by adding to their own codebase with the result of being able to add more value than their hardware limits them to.