Commentary

What Does the Internet of Things Do to the Internet?

In the 1990s, my home page was AOL. It’s how I began every single Internet session. Like so many others going online in the early days of the Internet, it’s where I started. The colloquial “You’ve got mail!” was so well-known, they named a movie after it.

 The colloquial “You’ve got mail!” was so well-known, they named a movie after it.

As the Internet grew and my Internet activities evolved, I moved to Yahoo. There, I was offered a similar one-stop shop for much of the information on the Internet, but for me it catered better to my tastes and preferences around the changing Internet environment.

Around 2000, I was introduced to a still nascent company named Google, which offered a new way of tackling the now burgeoning Internet, and my home page changed once again: it was simplified and tailored to accessing information on my terms – what I wanted to search for. These days, Reddit has become my home page. Despite all of the benefits of search, Reddit provides a curated experience to navigate troves of constantly updating data.

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These sites all made sense serving as the home page of the Internet during the Web’s different iterations. As the Internet evolved, so too did our portal to it.

Now, as we enter an always-connected, mobile first world, how will the Web keep up?  Is our homepage our smartphone screen? Our smartwatch face? Our in-car dashboard? Or, perhaps something as yet imagined?

Smartwatch sales are growing, from $542 million in 2014 to an estimated $2.4 billion in wholesale revenue in 2015. The demand for smartwatches isn’t driven by time keeping. We buy them to count steps, measure heart rate, answer calls, send texts and who knows what else in the next few years. Devices like the Apple Watch, the Samsung Gear and the Pebble Smartwatch are designed to do so much more than simply tell us the time.

The opportunities inspired by smartwatches also apply to innovations such as autonomous vehicles, connected appliances and smart homes. Is a car still a car if the driver doesn’t actually drive? Is a fridge that reminds you to pick up milk on the way home more like a personal assistant than an appliance? These are all examples of how technology is changing the way we think about the things around us in this “smart” era.

The name for this new world, of course, is the Internet of Things (IoT).

Regardless of the specific applications, IoT hinges on the first word: Internet. Our next-generation Internet, built to power the IoT and its billions of connected devices, will look vastly different from the Internet of the mid-‘90s — or even that of today. We must ask, even if there is no real answer, whether the Internet is still the Internet if our primary means of interacting with it won’t be on a screen?

Today, there are about 1.7 billion computers in use in the world and 2 billion smartphones. But only recently did the number of smartphones surpass the number of computers, and the way we approach the Web has already changed noticeably as a result.

We use apps to retrieve micro-sized — and micro-defined — information. No longer do we need to surf the broader Web. Apps drive to us the exact information we are looking for, relative to all that is available to us. The Internet, slowly but steadily, is transforming from a monstrous world of billions of pages to something entirely tailored to our individual and unique selves.

The question before us, then, is this: What will the Internet become, and what will the landing page of our Web look like as we move from 2 billion smartphones to 50 billion digitally-connected objects that will form tomorrow’s IoT? What information will be relevant to us in this not-so-distant future?

Of the Internet of Things, it truly can be said that we’re looking at a Brave New World. Everyday objects take on new meaning and become something else entirely — while still remaining the objects we know. For 20 years, we’ve known what the Internet was — only to find out that someone connected a fridge to it. Now, we’re not so certain anymore. 

 

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