Reid Carlberg

Connected Devices, & Other Adventures

Internet of Things: 5 Easy Steps to Understanding Our I Dream of Jeannie Future


The Internet of Things — IoT for short — is the new black, but most people still can’t explain what it is or why the average person, developer or CEO should care.  Let me break it down in 5 easy to understand steps.

#1 Nobody Wants Your Product

I want to start off by setting the stage with a very simple fact: nobody wants your product. I don’t care if you make smart phones, cars, houses, bathroom scales, pens, pencils or chairs.  A priori no one wants your product.

This is confusing.  We often conflate the effects of marketing and advertising with inherent desire and generally that inherent desire just isn’t there.  Now, if your products are food staples, or maybe art, I’d open that up for discussion but once you get beyond those basics – once you get into the very specific realm of, for example, prepared sandwich cookies, desire isn’t natural, it’s manufactured.

#2 People Want Outcomes

People want outcomes.  Smart phones provide connectedness. Cars provide safe transit from point A to B. Houses help us feel safe.

Products and outcomes are different.  Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that they’re different while caught up in the day to day world of making things and selling them, but that’s why people buy products.

They want outcomes.

It’s always important to ask, what are people getting out of this product? Why are they buying it.  It’s the why that matters.

#3 Technology Enables Better Outcomes

I’ve been in technology most of my career.  The reason I like technology is simple: technology enables better outcomes.  The has been true for a long time, since long before we called it “technology” (a term that joined us in the 17th century) and long before there was a tech industry (coined in the 20th century).

Think about Gutenberg’s printing press (from the 15th century). Gutenberg’s printing press was the quad-copter drone of it’s day. It made “printing” a thing. Before Gutenberg, creating new books meant copying by hand.  For centuries, control of the printing presses conferred a huge amount of power.

Computing power is the same. It started with mainframes, went to PCs, then the Internet and now everyone carries a wildly connected supercomputer in their pocket that fundamentally creates better outcomes for them every day.

Importantly, these better outcomes still require a device, an intermediary, something that separates the user from the computing power.

#4 IoT Breaks Computing Power’s Fourth Wall

The fourth wall is a metaphor describing the relationship between the performers and the audience in a theater. The fourth wall keeps the actors on the stage, safely separated from the audience in their seats. Breaking the fourth wall, a concept that started in the 19th century, is all about engaging observers in the performance.

IoT, as a technical architecture, is fundamentally about eliminating computing power’s fourth wall. IoT embeds computing power among the diverse devices a user might rely on to improve outcomes and reduces the intentionality required for a user to engage it.

IoT is a great marketing term right now as well, which means it’s sometimes used out of context. That’s OK. Marketing terms, even those lacking precision, can be useful organizing principals that help people talk about similar ideas in a similar way.

#5 All Estimates of IoT’s Impact are Too Small

You’ve probably heard 75 billion devices and $14 trillion in revenue opportunities. These are huge numbers — mind boggling — which is great — but kind of insignificant when you switch your default mindset to assume every thing you come into contact with every day will soon have incredibly rich computing and communication capabilities.

Think a decade out, or two decades out, when the standards are agreed on and the technology stack is mature.  Suddenly, I Dream of Jeannie is the new normal.  But instead of Barbara Eden crossing her arms and nodding her head, it will be you, conducting the technology embedded everywhere around you, without thinking about it.

Sensors, robotics and technology we’re not even talking about yet will turn I Dream of Jeannie into brilliant speculative fiction instead of a quality sitcom.

IoT is the organizing metaphor that will help us get there.

…And We’re Just Getting Started

I hope this paints a clearer picture of IoT.  This architectural style is just getting started and people are thinking about it in many different ways.  It doesn’t matter that we don’t agree on all of it yet, or that we don’t have all of the technology worked out.  That will happen.

And it’s going to be a lot of fun!

One thought on “Internet of Things: 5 Easy Steps to Understanding Our I Dream of Jeannie Future

  1. Pingback: Internet of Things: Six Requirements for Your First Project | Reid Carlberg

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