It seems like almost every day, another smart, connected device comes out. Examples include the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, the Fitbit, Nest thermostats, Samsung smart refrigerators, Amazon Echo, Google Home, smart lighting fixtures for homes, etc. The Internet of Things is the growing network of interconnected machines online working in the cloud. There is a lot to unpack there, so let's jump in.
Let's start by first looking at an Internet of Things product that we can use as an example throughout this discussion. Consider the Amazon Echo.
I could write an entire series of blogs on the Echo alone, but I will attempt to summarize it in brief. Check out the image of the Echo I provide above. What you are looking at is a cylinder shaped device that you plug into a power outlet and connect to your home WiFi. Once connected to power and WiFi, the Echo 'talks' to you through speakers and microphones built into the device. Echo can do everything from telling you the weather or playing a song on Spotify to ordering something for you from Amazon. Moreover, if you have other smart devices in your home, such as Wi-Fi-connected lights or thermostats, you can use Echo to control those aspects of your home. Now, using Echo as an example, let's unpack the definition I provided of the Internet of Things.
Network of Interconnected Machines
The Internet of Things is a network of inter-connected machines. Joined by an internet connection (WiFi in most cases), these devices are just as capable of communicating with each other as they are with you. In a fully-decked out 'smart home', you could easily have your baby monitors and home speaker system all coordinated by a central device like Amazon Echo or a similar product. These devices are both interconnected to the devices you own and to the world outside of your home. Within your home, as I have described, smart devices connect to other smart devices within your home to coordinate functions and work in synergy with each other. Additionally, they connect outside your home to the databases of the companies that made them, sending back usage data and reports, generating Big Data (check out my article on Big Data) for these companies to allow them to constantly improve their products and services.
Online Working on the Cloud
Internet of Things devices perform most of their computations, including storing your data and fetching data you ask for, in the cloud. Quick definition of the cloud -- data and programs stored digitally on the internet instead of locally on your computer's hard drive. This is an incredibly important aspect of Internet of Things devices. Imagine how physically large Amazon Echo would need to be if it had to have every song on Spotify physically downloaded onto its hard drive, or be able to predict weather patterns every day for the next 100 years. Instead, Echo's on-board hardware is largely dedicated to communicating with you (via mics and speakers) and staying connected to the internet. Through the internet and cloud computing, Echo can stream music from Spotify without having those songs stored locally, and it can get weather data from any number of services online. Cloud computing allows smart devices like Echo to be physically very sleek and attractive, and lightning fast as most processes are outsourced to the cloud instead of being executed by onboard processors and hard drives.
Perhaps most notably, and as I alluded to in the intro, the Internet of Things is growing -- fast. Both genuinely new and substitute competitive devices are being released nearly every day. By genuinely new devices, I mean the Amazon Echo when it first came out, for instance. By substitute competitive devices, I mean the recently released Google Home, which is basically just Google's attempt to glean Amazon's Echo profit margins. Either way, the number of Internet of Things devices available to you right now is gigantic, and that selection is growing exponentially.
If you want to learn more about what a smart, connected home powered by Internet of Things devices would look like (and cost), check out: https://www.smartthings.com