The falling prices and shrinking sizes of computer processors and sensors, coupled with a proliferation of mobile connectivity, is spurring the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). As connected cars, connected homes, and connected workplaces join the IoT, devices such as smartphones, tablet computers and smartwatches will serve as the primary interfaces through which people interact with IoT devices and equipment. By Ernst Wittmann, Country Manager for Southern Africa at Alcatel Onetouch
The smartphone will be the centre of gravity for a growing IoT ecosystem.
The IoT is a network of intelligent devices and machines that can monitor themselves as well as gather contextual information (temperature or GPS location, for example) using sensors, and share it with other devices and services. It sees devices and items from watches and fridges to industrial equipment and even irrigation systems at farms become connected to the Internet.
Trends such as connected cars, smart home technology, and connected factories and offices are likely to change our lives dramatically over the next few years. Amid the hype, it’s easy to underestimate the role that a device most of us already own will play in the IoT revolution.
Equipped with numerous sensors and apps, the smartphone or tablet computer already gathers a wealth of information about its user’s context and is able to interact easily with a range of other devices, he adds. For example, most modern smartphones and tablets can collect information such as geolocation, device orientation, and even light conditions.
It also offers a range of connectivity options – including NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular – that make it easy to interact with other devices and sensors. These qualities mean that the smartphone has the perfect qualification to be the brain, eyes and remote control for the user’s IoT ecosystem.
By way of illustration, how smartphones can interact with fitness bands that track a person’s physical activity and indicators such as heart rate. Additionally, we are seeing hotels in some parts of the world piloting smart doors that replace key cards with smart devices. Simply approach the door and use a smartphone app to open it. In time, you can imagine office access control or even your garage door might work in the same way.
It is also likely that you will one day view data from – and control – an array of sensors in your phone, home or workplace from your smartphone. For example, you might have a smart air conditioning or alarm system in your home that you control from a smartphone app.
And at the workplace, technicians in the field might be alerted on their smartphones when a factory machine at a customer site is overheating and probably needs attention. So, what we see happening is that far from becoming less important, the smartphone will be at the heart of a growing universe of connected devices and sensors.
However, we also see a growing role for wearables, particularly smartwatches, in the IoT and the mobile industry. The International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker predicts wearable device shipments will reach 76.1 million units in 2015, up from the 28.9 million units shipped in 2014.
For now, smartwatches are largely complementary to large devices. But we agree with IDC that smart wearables will take in a life of their own as their processing power and battery life improves.
We see an exciting few years ahead as the business models for wearable computers shake out.