Gadgets from Alphabet’s Google, Apple, Qualcomm, and Fitbit don’t form a network at all. They’re just a way to expand their own ecosystems.
One of the most popular buzz terms in tech today, the Internet of Things, is a misnomer, and that’s a problem for tech.
The IoT, as it’s called—made up of a gaggle of gadgets such as the Nest home thermostat from Alphabet (ticker: GOOGL), Apple ’s (AAPL) Apple Watch, and the humble Fitbit (FIT) step trackers—doesn’t really constitute an Internet, not in the sense any dictionary would frame the term.
The Internet is a means to connect lots of disparate computer networks so that they can communicate. It brings things together, which is its great power. The IoT, in its present form, is a jumble of electronic devices that don’t really connect anything. They’re just dead ends.
The name is ironic because the IoT is rather like the computer systems that prevailed in the 1960s, before the Internet. One person who, in a sense, can be considered the father of the Internet, computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock of the University of California, Los Angeles, sent the first messages over what would become the Internet on Oct. 29, 1969. (Al Gore was just 21 at the time.)
That seminal event led to decades of rising electronic communications, from the World Wide Web to electronic commerce to Facebook to apps on a smartphone.
Dead ends like the IoT, in contrast, hamper the evolution of personal computing—as this column pointed last week. One reason is that Fitbits and Apple Watches don’t have the mass appeal of the PC and the smartphone.
But another is because they are not devices that connect. They are appendages to smartphones, sold like accessories, diminishing the payoff of owning them. They don’t open up whole worlds, the way the Internet did. They siphon customers into ecosystems, the term popular today to describe the trap laid by Fitbit and Apple and Google to mine their customers for recurring revenue.
There are efforts to make such gadgets talk to one another, but those efforts are themselves a jumble of broken networks. Google has one, called Brillo. Apple has another, HomeKit. Chip maker Qualcomm (QCOM), which is powering many IoT devices, has something called AllJoyn. These various parties, well-meaning as they may be, are trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and it won’t work....MORE