It’s interesting to track trends in technology by analyzing the latest in industry buzz-phrases. After the World Wide Web was firmly established as a business tool, industry consultants started spinning out terms like “intranet” which later morphed into “web services” and lately to “cloud services”, terms that encompassed a range of services than run on commodity web servers. To justify those outrageous consulting fees, one must constantly come up with new jargon to make your customers feel out of touch.
The latest buzz-phrase does, for once, accurately capture the nature of significant, organic changes coming to our computing lives. The future of the Internet is here and it’s smaller, cheaper, and more connected than ever before, encapsulated by the buzz-phrase “Internet of Things” — or IoT for short. It would be more accurate to call it the internetting of things, but that’s more work for consultants to type, and you can’t bill for all those extra letters.
An Explosion of Connectivity
According to Intel, the number of connected devices is roughly equal to the population of earth. By next year, 2015, the number of connected devices will be more than double the population of the planet. An Internet connection is coming to a house and appliance near you. It’s hard to find a TV anymore that’s not connected, and Wi-Fi connections are turning up in refrigerators, washer/dryers, exercise equipment, and most of the major systems in your home and car.
Some of those connections will help you by giving you remote control of devices like lights, thermostats, and door locks; others will be there for the benefit of the manufacturer. My parents' refrigerator phones home to the manufacturer when the filters need changing; new filters appear, as if by magic, in the mail. The Internet of Things will mean there will be a host of new devices clamoring for your attention, but will also bring a new level of convenience and peace of mind, knowing the smoke alarm will text you if it senses a problem.
Smaller, Cheaper Computers
The cost of computers is continuing to drop, and devices like tablets and netbooks are available for under $300. Serious power users might select a new computer like Lenovo’s Yoga 2, which retails for around $1,000. For most people, laptops like the HP ProBook at $626 will be more power than they need. Thousands of consumers have discovered that adding a wireless keyboard to their tablet let's them handle 95% of tasks they ever need to do on a computer.
Desktops have all but disappeared from the market, as the market for towers has shrunk to a handful of specialty applications (and hobbyists who still enjoy building big box computers). That’s bad news for companies like Microsoft, which has struggled with the transition to connected devices. Microsoft cheered when Windows Phone captured roughly the same market share as Blackberry, so there’s no fear Redmond is setting the bar too high for themselves. Microsoft even tried giving Windows Phone away in India, a tacit admission the mobile OS is pork chop ugly.
When it comes to computer operating systems, Microsoft finally got Windows 8.1 into shape; it’s quite a nice OS that comes out at a time when computer operating systems are little more than a vehicle for apps. Both Android and iOS are capable competitors in that regard, and the transition puts Redmond into direct competition with Google and Apple. Historically speaking, competition has not been one of Microsoft’s core strengths, and they have been slow to adapt their flagship Office product to tablets and mobile devices. The harsh reality may be that the world simply doesn’t need three operating systems.
Adapting To The Cheap
The trend to lower-cost connected devices will be mostly good for consumers, though the transition will open up a brave new world for hackers. In the end, expect convenience to brush aside security concerns, because it’s just so cool to have your garage door open automatically when it detects your car coming up the driveway, and to have the lights and appliances spring to attention because you’re home. The brave new world of connected devices will mean more granular control of your personal space, and it’s hard to see that as a bad thing — at least until some 9-year-old kid in China starts flipping your living room lights on and off.