The only limit to the Internet of Things isn't imagination or technology. It's the vendors. Will your Whirlpool, Maytag or GE washer be able to communicate with your Samsung TV or Apple iPhone, Sears' oven or any other device?
Without interoperability, consumer devices, electronic appliances and sensor-equipped wearables won't recognize each other and communicate. It will make scenarios, such as this one, difficult:
You walk in the door of your house from a five-mile run and biometric sensors in your clothing automatically connect to the home network. Your workout data and health information is uploaded and analyzed by a cloud-based app that may also add this data to your electronic medical records. Meanwhile, this information is also used to automatically adjust room temperature to a more comfortable-post workout setting. A stereo system suggests music to match your relaxed mood. You settle in.
Dinner goes into the oven, and the workout clothes are tossed in a washer. A TV is turned on and the room lights automatically adjust. A message appears on the TV screen alerting you that dinner is ready, and another informs you that the wash is complete. A cellphone text message from a friend inviting you to see a movie appears on any number of multiple home screens.
There is no consumer electronics vendor large enough to force the interoperability that can do all the things in that scenario. But there are vendors large enough to frustrate the path to it by building an Internet of Things mostly around their products.
Into this electronics disconnect steps the open source industry, which believes it has the method, the process and the clout to drive the electronics industry toward a true interoperability. But does it?
We may know in less than 12 months -- at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next January -- whether an effort by the Linux Foundation to bring interoperability to the Internet of Things is going anywhere.
In December, the Linux Foundation, a non-profit consortium that promotes Linux adoption, created the AllSeen Alliance. It took a code stack developed by Qualcomm called the AllJoyn Framework and put it under its open-source umbrella.
This C++ code supports the major operating systems, chipsets and embedded variants. Any electronics or appliance maker, or even an LED light bulb maker that uses the AllJoyn code will have a basis for connectivity with another product that also uses the code.
At the 2015 CES you may see, if all goes well, marks on various electronics indicating their use of AllSeen. There may even be Intel Inside-like stickers on products.
Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, believes that AllSeen will be adopted by vendors.
For vendors that want connectivity, the question is simple: Do device and appliance makers want to write software for every single product or smartphone "or do they just want to go download this code and put it into their product and know that it's taken care of?"
Having such code available will deliver the network effect and propel device interoperability, said Zemlin. "You are going to see a lot of products this year with this code in it," he said.