The Internet of Things is looking for its VisiCalc

There’s an interesting dualism in attitude toward the Internet of Things:

We’re all sure IoT is going to be huge. But no one needs it right now.

Microcomputers were kind of like this in the 1970s. Intel and others put the processing core of a computer onto a single chip, making the microcomputer possible. Which allowed Steve Wozniak to build a microcomputer, all on one circuit board.

But no one had any idea what to do with it. Steve Jobs thought people might store their recipes on a home computer. I don’t think anyone has ever done that.

So, for the first few years microcomputers were nothing more than a toy for early adopters. It wasn’t until 1979, three years later, that VisiCalc shipped. VisiCalc was the first viable spreadsheet for the Apple II, and it’s largely credited with making the microcomputer useful.

Suddenly, you could build financial projections, calculate budgets, make plans, from your own thousand-dollar computer. This was the “killer app” that made the micro computer matter. It was quickly followed by desktop publishing, CAD, and a bunch of other killer applications.

It feels like IoT is in a similar phase. We’re just hitting the point where cloud-connectivity is cheap — new wireless chips make networks easy to deploy and dramatically reduce costs. Most people that don’t build connected devices probably don’t realize that this is a very recent phenomenon. We now have chips that enable low-cost IoT at scale. (More on that in this post.)

So now we can connect anything to the internet, but we’re not quite sure why we need to do that. To monitor temperature in the fridge? Improve physical security? Do smart-city-things? Track location of… everything? What will be the killer app for IoT that puts devices in every room of every home, every corner of every office, and maybe even in every piece of clothing we wear?

The truth is, we just don’t know. But I’m not worried.

Quite the contrary, I’m betting my career on a belief that we’ll see orders of magnitude more connected devices in the coming years, and that they’ll change the world in ways we can’t even imagine.

The IoT is coming. We’re just not quite sure what to do with it yet.

Daniel is co-founder of Beep Networks, an enabler of easy-to-deploy long-range IoT networks and systems.