Why The Internet of Things Has To Be Open Sourced

In a world increasingly shaped by software, developers are market makers. Nowhere is this more true than in the burgeoning Internet of Things market. 

See also: The Internet Of Things Will Need Millions Of Developers By 2020

Currently riddled by a mess of competing proprietary standards, the winner in the Internet of Things will be the one that goes furthest to make developers’ lives easier. 

Sourcing Developers

Though VisionMobile estimates put the total Internet of Things developer population at 3.2 million today, only a fraction of those are dedicated to IoT. Even so, this dedicated core of developers will more than double by 2015, and increase more than tenfold by 2020, according to VisionMobile:

For those trying to reach them, there is no particular center of gravity:

This presents both opportunity and challenge to those hoping to harness developer productivity, as VisionMobile points out:

[Internet of Things] developers are everywhere—from Silicon Valley to Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur, from small towns to mega-cities. There is no single area that dominates [Internet of Things] innovation in terms of developer population. This is good news for entrepreneurs all over the world. You don’t need to be in the right spot, because there isn’t any.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that with such a diffuse developer population, most of which is sequestered in startups of fewer than 50 people, reaching them becomes extremely difficult. In a recent survey, 50% of developers told VisionMobile their primary way of getting information is through online communities.

Which is just one more reason to believe the only way to reach Internet of Things developers effectively is through open source.

Opening Up The Internet Of Things

Developers have turned to open source and cloud computing to escape artificial constraints on their productivity, and the same will be true in the Internet of Things.

Big companies hoping to compete for Internet of Things dollars clearly understand this. Among the various technology standards competing for attention, various open source alternatives are on the rise, including one from the very promising AllSeen Alliance.

Bosch, a significant contender and a member of AllSeen, describes why open source is so important in its proposal for the Vorto project, which aims to standardize IoT information models:

Drilling into those assumptions, Bosch notes:

  • Consumers want to use a large variety of devices in their ecosystem and don‘t want to be limited to using devices of one specific vendor. 
  • Vendors of IoT devices want to increase the number of ecosystems where their devices can be integrated. 
  • Vendors of IoT platforms want to integrate as much as devices as possible into their ecosystem without major effort.
  • Application developers want to support a broad range of devices without a need to develop vendor specific code.

All of these reasons point to open source. And yet, as ARM’s Bill Curtis has pointed out, “Because most Internet standards are too complex for the constrained devices in the [Internet of Things], these devices tend to run proprietary protocols, creating data silos.” Because of the proliferation of “standards,” proprietary and open source, device manufacturers are tightly coupling proprietary sensors into proprietary networks.

This can’t last. 

And The Winner Is …

It’s way too soon to declare a winner in the Internet of Things. It’s too new and there’s far too much noise around competing standards.

Ironically, most of the noise today comes from competing open source standardization efforts, with a recent ruckus caused by Intel refusing to join AllSeen and Broadcom dropping out of the Open Interconnect Consortium. Both bailed the respective consortia because of IP issues.

But let’s be clear: None of these companies lining up to join this or that foundation will prove dispositive in cementing any particular standard as the open source standard. Developers do that.

And developers are attracted by tools and platforms that make them more productive, fast. Getting a marquee list of donors to a foundation is meaningless if the foundation doesn’t generate code that appeals to developers. (Just ask OpenStack, which continues to attract more vendors than buyers/developers, as Jack Clark highlights.)

Companies will win over Internet of Things not in the boardroom, but on the command line. The consortium that gets excellent code to market first, with a community that provides great documentation and an inviting atmosphere, will win. So far, only AllSeen has done that, with code available for download today. Whether it will retain that advantage is for developers to decide.

Lead image via woodleywonderworks

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