If you’re following the fast moving developments around all Things, The Internet of, you’ve probably been struck by a) how much press coverage there’s been recently and b) how much supply side jockeying for position is going on. One example of a) was the lengthy piece Time magazine ran which included prime front page real estate. But it’s b) which is really interesting right now (Time missed this btw … doh!).
Put simply we are at a moment analogous to November 1980 when IBM awarded the then almost known Microsoft a contract for it to supply the operating system for the personal computer that IBM was developing.
With the stroke of a pen a “Kerching” machine was built that day that saw the then 25 year old Bill Gates go on to become the richest ever human being. (Suck it Elizabeth I!) Nobody remembers the name of the guy from IBM that countersigned.
Whether this was incredible far-sighted genius, or simply a good tactical transaction for a small smart up which then went on to have completely unintended consequences has been argued about and debated (and spun) ever since. What is undeniable though is that this single transaction went on to be the defining moment which subsequently shaped the nature of the computer revolution, to this very day. From out of the primordial soup of early stage technologies, companies, people, and visions, a blueprint of the architecture of competition for an industry that would be created around computers was established.
The IOT is currently at this primordial soup stage. New technologies, new companies, new people, and new visions are emerging by the day. Wink, Iris, Revolv, Vivint, SmartThings, ThingWorx, The Open Interconnect Consortium, Alljoyn, Allseen, Intelligent System Service … the list is beginning to go on and on. Which of these is any good? Which of these is the winning player? The winning standard? Which will be around in 10 months let alone 10 years? Who would you bet your badge on?
None of these questions has an easy, obvious answer yet. In fact, it’s almost hard to know what the right questions to ask are yet. Amidst this primordial soup the new architecture of competition has not yet been created.
But all of these companies know that the Gates like money that gushes forth from the IOT mother lode won’t come from selling “things”; it will come from annuity based license fees that the supplier of the IOT operating system charges the manufacturers and suppliers of the “things”. That’s why each of the “things” suppliers (and a bunch of others … Home Depot anyone?!) are also offering its own version of the IOT operating system. (Btw, the term “operating system” is hopeless old fashioned and unsexy and has been rechristened “Digital Fabric”).
The operating system (sorry, Digital Fabric) that standardizes how “things” interconnect is the crucial building block that has yet to be put in place. If one of my “things” can’t “talk” to another of my “things” (let alone one of your “things”) then it’s not a thing, it’s a fridge. Dumb, not smart.
The OS (sorry, DF) wars which are heating up clearly have a long way to go. And yet in the middle of this early period of, perhaps phony war, there is a very strong probability that a low-key, non-PR friendly deal will be signed by a Goliath and a David, which, though seemingly insignificant and left field, will come in time to be seen as another defining moment. A moment at which “things” fall into place and the IoT KerChing Machine (a “thing”?) starts pumping out Big Green. Or Bitcoins? (Ed- hat’s another piece for another day!).
Watching for the next “Microsoft Moment” is going to be great fun over the coming few minutes, hours, days, months (doubt it will be years). A final thought; I imagine Mr Nadella is hoping it might be a “Microsoft Moment” Redux.