ReadWritePredict is a look ahead at the technology trends and companies that will shape the coming year.
The Internet of Things was all the rage in 2013, so it should be even bigger in 2014, right?
If you're talking hype, then there is little doubt that the Internet of Things will continue to vie for the center of everyone's attention. In terms of actual forward progress, don't hold your breath for a big event.
In reality, there probably won't be a big breakout moment for the Internet of Things in 2014. Instead, we will continue to see the inexorable move towards the interconnected network of devices that will communicate with each other via Internet protocols that will ultimately see us slapping our alarm clocks and turning on the coffee maker in the kitchen.
This may seem a bit depressing, but as we move forward in history, the change from what we have now and what we may have in the future will be gradual enough that it will be hard to point at a certain year ahead and say "this will be the year of the Internet of Things."
Though it sure as heck won't stop people from trying.
Speaking The Language
The biggest obstacle to the Internet of Things has been—and will continue to be for some time—the lack of a common communications method. Without a common framework with which to communicate, there is no way your alarm clock is going to robustly communicate with your coffee maker.
There can be rudimentary communication of course; the alarm's deactivation sends a straightforward signal to the coffee maker and it starts brewing. But what if you don't want coffee this morning, but rather Earl Grey to fend off the sniffles with which you awoke? Or you decide to sleep in an extra half hour? These are decisions that would affect the quality of your beverage, so a more robust communications system would be nice. You will also want to use different kinds of alarm clocks and coffee machines, and not be locked into one brand of either. This is where standards of communications come into play.
Unlike the actual Internet, where standards of communications were hashed out by academicians and technicians long before the Internet ever saw the public light of day, the standards of the Internet of Things will get decided directly in the commercial sector. And unlike the early Internet, where the military and university complexes were working towards a common cause, today it's every company for itself.
Some smarter companies have figured out that a Thunderdome of standards is just going to delay the oncoming money storm experts predict will happen. So we are starting to see more commercial consortiums like the AllSeen Alliance get formed.
Prediction number one for the Internet of Things in 2014: More commercial deals like AllSeen that will get vendors working towards a common communications platform through which devices can readily pass information along to each other.
Reaching Out And Touching Devices
Beyond the software that devices will use to communicate, there will need to be the physical medium devices will use as well. Wi-Fi seems like the likely choice, except Wi-Fi as it stands needs a lot of power to broadcast and receive the radio waves used to connect to the Internet.
Part of this is because Web and other Internet communications are built on the premise of "always on." Streaming video, interactive web sites and online gaming mean that Wi-Fi radios in devices are pretty much always connected to their routers. And, since modern computing devices have the power to spare, this is not such big problem.
But for much smaller devices, where energy availability is very scarce, "always on" doesn't cut it. Data sharing needs to be small, sent in "bursts" that rely more on stability rather than speed.
One of the most promising technologies for this kind of communication is Bluetooth Smart (also known as Bluetooth Low Energy), which can enable devices to communicate with each other in a battery-saving way. Wi-Fi Direct is another rising technology that enables a much easier establishment of communication between devices.
Prediction number two for the Internet of Things in 2014: Consumers will start to see more examples of device-to-device communication as more hardware vendors incorporate smarter communication devices within their products.
Stopping The Clone Wars
The recent security breach of credit card data from up to 40 million shoppers of Target just before the holiday season has brought home the face that one of the most important things in our consumer-oriented lives—our actual credit cards—need to get updated to the 21st Century.
U.S. credit cards vendors, for reasons that likely have to do with making sure their profit margins are as high as possible, have resisted updating U.S.-issued cards to have smart chip technology that would make such data breaches a lot less profitable for the thieves themselves.
Smart credit cards contain a chip that goes beyond the simple magnetic stripe form of data storage U.S. cards current have now. This chip generate a one-time encrypted password for each transaction, which would make it impossible for a data thief to clone a credit card from stolen information and use that card in a face-to-face retail transaction (though online transactions where numbers are typed in would still be at risk).
Updating cards to smarter chipped technology would not quite bring credit cards to the Internet of Things, but it would be a start. Once cards become chipped, the possibilities for expanding the capabilities would be there. Cards could communicate with a central server via your home router or another registered "safe" device could act as part of a two-factor authentication system.
Or more robust payment systems like Coin could start to step in and take the place of plastic cards altogether. Right now, Coin holds multiple card information in one convenient device. But there's already Bluetooth Smart technology built into the device—who's to say that future features won't include some Internet-direct payment capabilities as well?
Prediction number three for the Internet of Things in 2014: Payment systems, whether existing credit and debit cards, new systems like Coin or all-online systems like PayPal and Google Wallet, will become more integrated with the Internet of Things, smoothing the friction for transactions.
This last prediction will be a significant step for the Internet of Things: once commerce gets smoother, the Internet of Things will have more of an Internet of Getting Things aspect to it, which will in turn fuel much more interest in establishing the communications and security aspects of the Internet of Things as a whole.
These changes will be incremental: small steps towards what appears to be inevitability of the IoT. 2014 won't be the Year of the Internet of Things, but it will be another step on the journey.