Day 1 – Defining Internet of Things (IoT)

Being connected has become an integral part of human evolution in the 21st century. Be it through the laptop or smartphones, or via smartwatches or the traditional landline phones. Cisco reports that by the end of 2016, global IP Traffic alone will hit the zettabyte threshold. Automatic refreshes and downloads mean that users are connected 24X7 across the globe. Digital connectivity has become more of a utility than a luxury in almost all continents.

Tracing back the evolution of connecting “things” has always intrigued me. Back in the days of personal computers, when the Apples and the Microsofts of the world fought to capture the markets, the idea of connecting “things” was restricted to desktops. And Ethernet cable plugged into the RJ45 connector on your desktop was how you connected to the “web world”. Then came the laptops. The need to fully utilize its mobility was perhaps what lead to the connectivity over the air or the WiFi. With the laptops and desktops hooked on the web world, the wise men from the mountains began to explore the possibility of connecting phones. And thus emerged the world of smartphones. And rest is history.

The term Internet of Things was coined back in 1999 by a British entrepreneur named Kevin Ashton, the founder of Auto-ID lab at MIT. In a layman’s terms, it can be viewed as a way to connect the physical world with the web world. Kevin defined it as a way in which the computers could sense things for themselves, before the humans told them what to do. In other words, a constant communication between the computers of the world to create a society amongst themselves.

Over the years the term took a different dimension of its own. The word computer began to take different shapes and forms – from smartphones, to smartwatches, from smart grids to smart cities, what all and what not. My quest to explore the intricacies of this vast subject came as a fascination during a company pitch session which I had participated in. Smart Cities were the theme of the pitch and that got me to delve deeper into the subject.

Over the next few sessions, I plan to write about different aspects of IoT. Each week I plan to cover one of the major areas of growth, from consumer applications, to corporate use cases and city planning. While I’m not a master at this field, I plan to write as I learn and hopefully paint an exhaustive picture at the end of it all.

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Is Apple playing catch up in the post Steve Jobs Era?

channel_3_section_110_panel1_0_fullsize-1349183829 There was a time when Google and Sony based their innovations and developments on every new product that Apple launched. Be it the first iPhone back in 2007 or the iPod back in 2001 or even the revolution in the digital music through the iTunes. It is true that the aura of Steve Jobs enthralled the crowd at every launch. But it is also important to note that these launches were followed with equal enthusiasm by their technology rivals. And it was not the aura of Steve Jobs that kept them on their toes, but instead it was his vision! The rest of the world just played a second fiddle to Apple – from the Androids to the rebranded Walkmans. Just like online search is now known as google search, digital music came to be knownn as iTunes and portable music players came to be known as iPods. In fact for a period of time smartphones were called the iPhones. As harsh realities of life started to take their toll on Jobs, things started to change… Over the past 3 years, the rest of the world has caught up with them. In fact some have even started to move ahead of Apple. Here are a few instances of those.

Case 1: Apple iWatch
Although it was being touted around for several years, the idea of smartwatches really started to gain momentum in early 2013. Rumors were several. Apple didn’t do enough to quell those rumors as well, with the 6th Generation iPod Nano with a strap around it showing promising signs. But in my view, what really made Apple take a step backwards, is the way they discontinued the “watchlike” nano and reverted back to the traditional “classic-style”. Not only did it send a rather indirect message for a smartwatch in the works, but it also set the think-tanks of the Samsungs and Googles to start working on one. And whats more, it took almost 3 years for them to announce the iWatch and another 6 months before it will finally be launched. By then, the Pebbles, the Motorolas and the Samsungs would have already reached their second and third revisions of smartwatches.

Case 2: iPhones with bigger screens
For long Apple avoided this question by stating small screens are what the consumers want. Well, they got the answer when the 5″+ displays by Samsung, LG and Nexus started to gain market share over the iPhone 5s. Even an Apple fanatic like me, started thinking about switching over to the “dark” side due to this. As tablets and phones started to converge into the “phablets”, they finally caved in and came out with the bigger screens. Yet another case of Apple trying to catching up.

Case 3: iTunes radio
Although the revolution in digital music was started by Apple, enough for it to dominate the streaming music space, they fell behind once again, mainly due to misinterpreting the consumers needs and wants. The result – an iTunes radio, way after Pandora, Google and Spotify took away all the market share.

Case 4: iWorks on iCloud
Yet another example were the emergence of cloud and its popularity was embraced rather late, that even Microsoft were way ahead when Apple finally did take off.

Not all of these can be blamed on the post Steve Jobs era. Some of those, esp. the bigger screen iphones can be atrributed to Jobs’ reluctance to accept the popularity of Samsung smartphones. But what Apple lacks now is a true visionary, who continously strives to turn every new product into something “magical”; that aura which enralls the audience to believe that everything that Apple brings out is revolutionary; a person who commanded respect and strove for perfection. I must admit the last few WWDC and product launch sessions were rather bleak in terms of the products and features. It almost felt as though they were still hanging on to those golden ages between 1997 and 2011. And it is rather painful for a diehard fan such as me to fathom!

Is the era of grandeur in product launching gone?

There was a time when product launches were a red carpet event. Be it the special invitees from the developer world and the tech news media, flocking in from all parts of the world to witness the “magical” opening of the iphone

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Or the Taylor Swift show at the Sony product launch

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Yesterday, at a quiet little press conference known as “Breakfast with Sundar” , Google announced a good chunk of products and among them was something really revolutionary , not because it was the first of its kind to the market, but more so because of its form factor and the pricing. They called it the “ChromeCast” And before you knew, it was sold out in every online store. Deemed as a direct competitor to AppleTV and Roku, and perhaps with a little edge due to its interoperability, looks like the battle of the giants has moved to the TV world now!

PS: you can read the first exhaustive review on it here

So let me leave you with a simple poll…

Project Mighty and Napoleon – Adobe version of stylus and ruler

Does anyone remember the ancient geometry box – the one that was a common sight in middle and high schools, back in the 80s and 90s? If not, here is something that could spark those memory cells.

tin-geometry

Now, fast forward to 2013 and to Adobe’s MAX Conference 2013 held this week at Los Angeles. Although the focus was mainly on the cloud offering of their wonderfully successful creative suite, something interesting sneaked in at the tad end – a project they called Projects Mighty and Napoleon . The names don’t reveal much, just as the website does not. But the concept talked about a stylus and a ruler (!!!). The idea is to let those creative elite to now use their iPads effectively; to connect directly to the cloud and to apps such as TypeKit and Kuler . Again, not much revealed, but these images do show some potential.

Project Mighty

Exactly how much the stylus would be useful outside the Adobe suite of apps is yet unknown. Having been a long time proponent of a “stylus-like tool for iPad, esp. while taking notes during meetings, this does come as a welcome delight. And of course, this could possibly change the way geometry is taught in schools!

Amazon Coins – The era of virtual coins begins here (?)

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Imagine a world where you trade your dollars for virtual money. You keep a track of the conversion rates as you move from one site to the other. Imagine what it would be like when credit cards show you credit limits in terms of virtual money. And what if your credit card itself is virtual?

Back in 2005, Philip Rosedale, the founder and CEO of Second Life, gave an interesting interview . He said “The GNP of Second Life in September 2005 was L$906,361,808 or U.S.$3,596,674, based on the recent L/U.S. exchange rate”. Now the interesting idea there is L/US Exchange rate. The rates varied just like the conversion rates for real money.

For this same reason, when Amazon announced their “Amazon coins”, I was excited. Now obviously, with spending amazon coins also comes earning amazon coins, a free ride for app developers on Kindle. And of course the whole saga of tax revolt could soon follow.

Now if you take a step further, lets say iTunes starts to go down that path, with Apple coins and so does ebay. And if the rest of the “world” follows suit, you now have a “real” virtual world, with “developed” sites, “developing” sites and “under developed” sites. You could have virtual banks, which loan Amazon coins at a 0.9% APR and of course as you transact between sites, you could watch a daily ticker of conversion rates.

I guess I’m overthinking here. Maybe it’s an overdose of caffeine taking its effect. But Amazon coins do seem like a promising step towards a virtual economy.

A garage for startups – A tidy one at that

Continuing on with the startups, here is yet another venture, known as the Startup Garage which provides guidance in a more informal way. While they do not help you get a sponsorship like the 500 Startups, what they do offer is an open forum for a rendezvous with likeminded people who have ideas that can potentially turn into a Google or a Facebook someday.

Started by a group of Indians, the first of such meets happened in Mumbai on 18th and 19th of June 2011. If calling it a success is a bit too soon, I will say I am really impressed to read about the myriad of ideas that came out of it – from social sedia to corporate tools and even education and entrance tests. I liked the way the mentors wrote about ideas being a business and not just a product. It really gives you a different perspective. You can read more about the Garage at Mumbai at their website. As the sequels continue in two more cities – Bangalore, India (on 25th and 26th June 2011) and Pune, India (on 2nd and 3rd July), I’m sure there will be a bucket full of ideas and a truck load of entrepreneurs born, of which atleast some of them can aim for the sky and still fall on cloud number 9.

For a mere $60 for a weekend long event, you couldn’t have wished for an easier way to refuel your ambitions.

Photo online – Adobe Photoshop Express

For long I had been a “self-proclaimed” photo enthusiast. Although capturing photographs were just attempts to freeze time on those moments which I wanted to take along with me for the rest of my life, I had been attempting to put them online from the very beginning. I’ve seen the launch of Picasa as just a desktop application and flickr in its formative years as a non-yahoo entity. Over the dozens of other attempts to go online such as the Kodak Gallery , Web Shots and Yahoo Photos , Picasa Web stood out simply for its ability to provide a 1GB space, through its infinitely expanding storage at Google.

But one of the factors which stood out on all these attempts was that, in every one of them, the photo editing had to be done “outside the web” and had to be uploaded later. As the needs of the internet grew, more blogs and social networks started demanding faster and user-friendly ways of “manipulating” photographs, once they have been uploaded. And this had to happen as soon as possible.

Adobe Photoshop Express , the little I’ve tried so far, has been extremely impressive in its attempt to provide user with an “online application” (non-OS specific) to edit photos once uploaded. It can, perhaps, be seen as a rather toned down version of the Photoshop CS3. With the 2GB space that it offers for free, the amount of editing features that it has already incorporated, looks like a promising step forward. And I’m happy with the little that I get to play around with the pictures for now 🙂

Gone are the days when, the grandeur with which Microsoft attempts to “prelaunch” its products is anticipated with a lot of interest. But I must admit that the idea of Photosynth , seems promising if it actually makes it to a common internet user, although the preview being restricted to just XP and Vista users can be annoying to “8% of the population” who use Mac OSX and of course the open source community in general 🙂 .