The Internet of Things or 30 years behind the bitmask.

I've got at smartphone. But I think of it as a pocket computer. Before people began using the term smartphone I already had a POTS line (not to be confused with a POTUS line) plugged into my computer, a modem, various networking protocols, and was experimenting with voice over IP. To me a phone was an integral part of a computer. And it was already obvious (to a Byte subscriber anyway) that the future of telephony was digital and wireless.

So I never really thought of my cell phone as just a phone. To me it was always a pocket computer. After all it had a CPU! Even before Blackberry, before Palm, before Treo, I was very annoyed that my cell phone had some kind of processor and software inside, but in a form that was mostly worthless and inaccessible to me. Despite having concluded that I wanted a pocket computer, it wasn't until Apple's iPhone that I was able to visualize a true accessible pocket computer.

The Post-PC era is being used to describe the current computing market. But as far as I am concerned, there is nothing "post" about the post-PC era. It has just been about one thing: Pocket Computers. After several false starts with portable computers including a Newton and a Magic Cap I finally settled for Palm and then Treo. But by that time it was obvious that what was needed was a pocket computer. iPods? I used to play music on my Mac from CDs and I really wanted it to be portable. Problem solved when disk drives reached a capacity that would hold all my music and a size that I didn't mind carrying. Soon phones had the capacity to carry "enough" music - provided you were willing to carry only a playlist, or a subset of your music collection until you could sync. But by then I expected syncing of my contacts, and my calendar too. The next step is logically syncing of everything and anything. And then comes wanting to sync at any time. Shortly after that the Cloud was born. (The birth of the Cloud is more significant than the Post-PC idea.)

Now the iPod is nearly dead because everyone realizes they only need the one pocket computer. It is a personal computer in miniature and so I can hardly call it a post-PC device. IBM used to sell a PC Jr. That product was an overpriced and under powered IBM PC and a marketing gimmick. It's unfortunate that IBM and Microsoft hijacked the initials "PC" and the personal computer category and turned it into a commodity like pork bellies. In those early days after IBM joined the fray the media would just leave Apple out of any discussion of the market like they never existed. There were plenty of pie charts in the media that left Apple's slice out of the pie entirely. Why? Because if it were included back then it would have made obvious the lies they were telling everyone. In the end post-PC is only useful when describing the end of that commodity market and the beginning of something better.

In 1983 Apple used the slogan "The Most Personal Computer" to describe its Apple //e only a year before the introduction of the Macintosh. The most personal computer today is the iPhone. Post-PC just doesn't describe what is really going on. The movement from desktop, to laptop, to pocket (wrist, glasses, ring?) - that is the journey personal computers are taking but each stop on the way is still a personal computer. The only real distinction so far in the post-PC era seems to be how we interact with the device and how much compute power it has. The compute power keeps increasing. And even the types of interaction are not entirely new but simply better technology that we have learned and applied to the same concepts of keyboards, trackballs, touch and voice. The real breakthroughs and innovation in human interaction were distilled and written down 30 years ago in the first drafts of Apple's Human Interface Guidelines. Everything since then has been an act of refinement. And Apple has been making refinements steadily for the last 30 years.

But now a new piece of technical terminology, buzzword if you will, has been created. The Internet of Things or IoT, is the new definition of what it is to be post-PC. The idea is that just about anything will be networked. So we are no longer looking at a computer network but a network of many other things, many of which are not personal computers. In the worldview of IoT the pocket computer is perhaps not a pocket computer but only a smartphone. Looking at the internet of things allows us to look beyond computing to the webcams, the thermostats, our car keys, our cars themselves, our kitchen appliances as a huge network of post-PC devices that are beginning to consume address space. Our pocket computer then becomes the keys to a much larger computing space.

This point of view is a good one for visualizing what new hardware devices are needed, and what kinds of networking and embedded computing will be required as we move to a world of smart products. But it is an engineer's or technologist's point of view. To me the truth is simpler. The cloud of personal information we all gather around us, that we use and to which we want access is growing. And a lot of this cloud is no longer the semi-static cloud of bits on a server's disk somewhere. Because more and more we want our personal cloud of data to include asking questions, and real-time answers about things. And we want ability to change that thing from a distance, remotely, by changing it's data. In this way the IoT is merely extending the cloud to encompass this need for immediacy.

Right now I can check my bank balance from my pocket computer. But tomorrow (even today) with the right devices I can check my current blood pressure, or the pressure in my tires while I'm driving. Will I think of that as the IoT? Perhaps while I am setting it up I might think about how each thing fits into the network. But hopefully setup will be a bit more automatic. Security too. I certainly am concerned about my personal cloud of data being on the internet. These devices amount to the same thing. Do I want my house cam secure? Do I want to buy my house cam from a company that makes its money by selling whatever it can learn about me? To me the IoT is something which will simply enable a better and more real-time cloud of information. It is extending my personal cloud into more of my stuff. But if it extends the corporate or government's "cloud" down into my own then maybe I don't want it. Still I expect the actual future we face will be a mix of things (or MoT).

But meantime if you are in the computing business and read its media prepare for the next wave (or the Nest wave?) of buzzword which will be the Internet of Things.


Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Only images hosted on this site may be used in <img> tags.
  • You can align images (data-align="center"), but also videos, blockquotes, and so on.
  • You can caption images (data-caption="Text"), but also videos, blockquotes, and so on.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.