Why the 'Internet of Things' may never happen

It's also a lousy name for a great idea that is doomed from the start. Here's why.

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His "basket case," if you will, is the ugly fact that most TV owners have a "basket of remotes" that remain forever confusing, incompatible, unprogrammed and mostly unused. Even technical users who can, don't, Gassée pointed out in a recent blog post.

The industry came up with multiple schemes, products and standards to usher in "universal remotes." But this dream has gone mostly unrealized.

If we can't figure out a simple problem like self-programming TV remotes, how are we going to build a self-programming, universal and compatible "Internet of Things"? If we can't make one TV remote communicate with three home entertainment devices, how are we going to get 26 billion devices to all talk to, and work with, each other?

Gassée points out what is obviously true: The dream of the "Internet of Things" isn't going to happen without universal standards for discovery and communication between devices.

One project looks promising, at least on the surface. Super-genius and mathematician Stephen Wolfram, he of Wolfram-Alpha fame, proposed this month a "Connected Devices Project."

His vision is to add every "Internet of Things" device to a detailed database that tells what it is, what it does and how it does it -- a "definitive, curated, source of systematic knowledge about connected devices."

He goes further. The data output from all connected devices would be applied to the Wolfram Data Framework, uploaded to the Wolfram Cloud and would be visualized and analyzed by the Wolfram Language.

Wolfram, Wolfram, Wolfram.

Stephen Wolfram is brilliant and capable of doing all this. His intentions are good. But this is a first salvo of a powerful person or organization saying: "Hey, we're doing to do the "Internet of Things" OUR way.

Other geniuses and other organizations will step forward and say: "No, we're going to do it OUR way." And so on.

Another organization launched this week with its own vision of how to create a universal system for connecting, a kind of DNS system for the Internet of Things.

In the same way a website has an assigned and universally agreed-upon name -- say, computerworld.com, for example -- "Internet of Things" devices can each register and receive a unique identifier for addressing and communication by other devices.

Called The Wireless Registry, the service is already selling participation in the scheme. The first registration is free, and after that it's $4.99 per year per device.

Hmm, let's see. Multiply 26 billion devices by $4.99 and The Wireless Registry is looking at a $130 billion business. Per year!

Does anyone think the rest of the industry is going to cede this market to a faceless startup? There will almost certainly be others stepping forward to establish their own incompatible systems of device registration.

It seems to me that the so-called "Internet of Things" will be littered with multiple, warring, incompatible standards, protocols and systems for connectivity, making it very unlike the actual Internet and looking more like Gassée's basket of remotes.

These divisions will split industries and alliances within industries. Nations and regions will disagree. The U.S. will try to control the global system, and the American models will be rejected out of fear of NSA spying. China will create its own set of standards in order to maintain control. The EU will regulate the standards to death, stifling innovation. Google will spend billions establishing its own vision, which Apple will reject in its totality. All that will happen if tomorrow's industry acts anything like today's.

Unless something changes, there will be no "Internet of Things." Just a lot of things that connect over the Internet, but not necessarily to each other.

It's too bad, because the "Internet of Things" would have been really awesome.

This article, Why the 'Internet of Things' may never happen, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at http://Google.me/+MikeElgan. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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