Are we there yet?

A slide from Bosch’s Stefan Ferber detailing how to think about different data analytics needs.

Last week I was at the ThingMonk event in London getting a developer perspective on the internet of things.

On the smart home side, things were grim. At least three presentations referenced the Revolv hub, a device that people paid $299 for that was rendered useless a few months after Google bought the company and shut it down.

Security challenges and usability challenges also featured significantly in the smart home presentations. From the conversations and presentations, it’s clear that so far consumers, developers and even venture firms are becoming disillusioned in building connected hardware.

One entrepreneur who has been working on the internet of things for almost a decade turned to me and asked if we were wrong. Maybe, he suggested, this grand idea of things talking to other things wasn’t ever going to happen.

I won’t lie. I’ve asked myself the same question on those days when I look at yet another device that doesn’t work or offers marginal value. My house is cluttered with the physical detritus of my hopes for the internet of things, and the real-world value of these devices feels far away.

But there were several talks, including my own (see here) that offer slivers of hope.

Stefan Ferber, VP of Engineering in Bosch’s connected business, detailed how to think about data and the industrial internet. He divided the data demands into four different categories on a quadrant that measured how much data was produced and how quickly something needed to be done with it.

He also said that he keeps a chart on his wall showing how the internet of things can improve the world if we get it right, which keeps him motivated when things get tough.

As for the rest of the event, I took away a few thoughts.

First, developers are your friends and the driving force of your business if you are trying to build anything using data. They look for well-supported APIs, easy implementation (don’t make them go through a rigorous approval process unless it’s absolutely necessary) and an established community of other developers.

Some of these criteria mean that developers will flock to the largest and friendliest services that already exist, which means it’s tough to start out with a new product. It leads hardware-focused companies trying to fill a market at the same growth rate of a software company (which is almost impossible). That means that existing consumer device and appliance vendors have an advantage when it comes to attracting developers to support consumer products.

Second, many companies are looking at the internet of things with a large focus on the things, as opposed to connecting those things to people. Predictive maintenance only goes so far; it’s not enough to notice a problem developing unless you can get someone out to fix the problem before it starts.

Finally, everyone is on board with this idea that the value of the internet of things is about data. Most presenters were obsessed with it. Several offered practical solutions on how to think about it, how to use it and even how to analyze it.

By the end of the two days I was overwhelmed with facts about handling data, statistics, pleasing developers and underwhelmed by the use cases and options presented for the internet of things.

That accurately describes where the market is right now.


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