How Apple boosts the real Internet of Things

We are entering a new phase in the Internet of Things. It is a promise for years, but it seems that we are heading to a tipping point. And Apple’s new iOS5 could be a accelerator. Tomorrow the new version of the mobile operation system for the iPhone will be introduced, and one of the most interesting speculations on the news is the integration of Twitter deeply in the OS, together with the introduction of iCloud. The real difference of a Twitter integration comes not with the sharing your pictures directly from the tools, but will be the way Twitter will evolve in a notification platform for smart objects via your phone. How does this could work?

First of all. The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is all about smart objects. Just like a lot of other technological developments, the difference is not made by the technology itself, but by what it accomplishes. And for the IoT is that the fact that object will be smart and social. Using the knowledge available in the cloud and the context awareness of the object makes it a smarter object. All the examples, how cheesy there are sometimes, are on smartness. See for instance the examples in this article of BBC from last week.

Second. Smart objects will operate in their own ecosystems. Think of your car that will be collecting different data from stream it needs to be smarter. Or your smart scale creates its own ecosystem with other fitness related products like a Fitbit. Those ecosystems are valuable on its own, and the smart objects need a ecosystem to be valuable. Building these kind of ecosystems are vital for the success of a smart object. The ecosystems are not necessarily interconnected. To obtain differentiation, the ecosystems will be even more closed than expected.

Thirdly. We are in a transformation, and we will for a long time. Some things are smart, some are not. It is like the development of a car, or the television; it will take years for the whole system to change. Therefore isolated value per object-ecosystem combination is key for success. But to make these valuable it is important to have a system to connect the objects to ourselves. We need a hub to receive all the sensors.

The phone is a strong possible candidate for this hub function. It is already happening with things like Google Goggles where real objects are connected, or shotcodes, or even augmented reality. But all still only as a sensor, sometimes as part of the object ecosystem. What is missing is a connection between the ecosystems. And there are two existing platforms with great potential. Facebook of course, an extension of the like-system to real objects can be expected. But the like-systems is focused on persons, connected to my own profile. That is its power, but also a barrier for inter-object-communications. On the other hand we have Twitter. By being so basic it has more potentials. We see it already happening with bots that live on themselves on Twitter.

So, Apple teaming up with Twitter on the integration of the platform in the OS, could be an indication that there is a strategy to play a defining role in the object-Internet. Object ‘sensored’ with the phone can interact with other objects via an open platform, and services can be built on the platform. Twitter may get a new role next to the peoples communication platform. The API will be more important for object services. Maybe Apple can help Twitter with the deep pockets to add the necessary data storage from their new cloud center.

As always others will react and follow quickly. Facebook maybe first by letting objects have profiles. And maybe it is a good idea for Google to acquire Pachube? But Apple can set standards for a usable implementation to boost this. I’m very curious if we will see this development in the announcement of tomorrow. Directly or between the lines.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

9 thoughts on “How Apple boosts the real Internet of Things”

  1. We definitely agree there’s a big opportunity in the space you’ve defined. What’s exciting for us is that we dont think you can just re-spin a twitter or facebook into an IoT company – there’re distinct challenges, both experientially and technologically. we’re in a good spot and are starting to build our own critical mass.

  2. Hi Ed,
    Thanks for your reply. I think the Pachube platform is definitely the front-runner in the development in the Internet of Things field, or even the only serious player. I could not write a post on this topic without mentioning it!

    So I can imagine your doubts, and maybe you are right. I still think it an interesting thought that Apple is doing the system-level integration of Twitter for something like an IoT platform. If they do, we still have to see if they created (or will create) a solid platform.

  3. Hi Iskandr,

    Twitter might be used for some IoT things, but is definately not suited. When you start to attach systems to Twitter other than coffe-machines stating @petersCoffeeMaker: @peterkaptein – I made some delicious espresso just now you will get “machine spam”. Think of doors opening in the house, stating everytime they are opened and closed. “I am open!” – “I am closed again!” “I am open!” I am closed again!”
    For the IoT services similar to Twitter will emerge, using WebSockets (relevant for some implementations because they use port 80) or “regular sockets” possibly problematic as they do not use port 80 and might be blocked by firewalls – making connecting things to such real time systems – like a “IoT Reader” – more difficult when you are at the office.

  4. Hi Peter, I cannot completely follow the second part of your reaction. In general I certainly agree that there are some nuts to crack (but if Apple is on this, they probably did already).

    The example of tweeting objects like the coffee machine: I was not directly thinking on that kind of concepts. Machine to people contact should be more intelligent and relevant. On the other hand there could be a M2M contact that uses Twitter as possible connection to services we create to have the high level instructions.

    A service like sfpark can use its own ecosystem to connect data from parking lots to the iPhone app. But to notificate and to connect the findings with the local public transport advice from another service could be build on the new Twitter messaging layer. With this build in the iOS it would be very easy to connect those different services.
    But it remains all highly speculative of course till we heard the real plans of Apple…

  5. So the keynote is done. Steve et al have announced the new stuff in Lion, iOS5 and iCloud. And did it match this predictions? Not literally, as expected, but I think you can see some parts between the lines.

    The Twitter integration is presented as a purely human conversation focused service to make Tweeting more easy. Interesting is that with this integration Apple and Twitter together are creating a similar system as Facebook did with the like-system; all content objects you use on your mobile device can now be shared. And of course this can add up to your profile that Apple stores. They can easily connect the choices by the tweets to the other interest profile stuff of music, video and even content categories on sites or mail. No ads, like Steve says, but the gold are not the ads, but the profiles.

    Much more interesting even is of course iCloud. We knew a bit what to expect, but it is done in a way that only Apple can do. The biggest lock in is the free and easy back-up of all stuff, including photos. Who wants to think on back-ups… So we will be fully attached in the Apple ecosystem.
    What I find interesting is the iCloud Storage API. Every app can use the potential of the storage in iCloud. And there lies the basic toolkit for connecting all kind of stuff to the cloud. Just like all apps you have on the phone will be cloud-enhanced, so can new stuff.
    Most interesting is the fact that Apple did not create a storage solution in the cloud, but offers a hub to make a seamless experience possible. Just like the Internet of Things is not on connected devices, but is on smart devices by using connections, so is iCloud the hub between all you experiences with apps on different touchpoints. And with that concept it will be able to connect the smart object ecosystems to each other.

  6. Iskandr, thanks for the post and it got me thinking about authentication and the IOT. It seems like Apple’s integration with Twitter is about the obvious human to human connection now, but overall the big players Apple, Facebook, Google are all trying to nail down the identity layer for the web and the physical world. This became more obvious with Google’s NFC wallet and I’m sure Apple is not far behind (they probably are have more credit cards on file and personal data than anyone else).

    The idea you bring up with Twitter acting as a natural platform for objects is interesting and even the “Follow” of twitter seems to be more natural for IOT objects, where you would authenticate your identity using your phone/social profile and then could control/query the object through @commands, etc. Obviously, this would only be useful for a select range of IOT objects but the familiarity of Twitter, Apple, etc could make the idea adoption of interacting with the environment that much faster than everyone becoming familiar with a completely new and specialized platform like a Pachube.

    I’m curious to how you and others would envision this future directory “hub” of your objects looking like…..public, semi public, one for home, one for yard, a separate for health? It seems like it is asking for a completely separate service just for the fact that how public do we want our fridge contents and lighting fixtures to really be :)

  7. Interesting point indeed, maybe only the private messaging of Twitter will be used? ;-)
    But seriously; I don’t want to put the communication of the object central in the concepts, but the smart objects and their service experience. The messaging is facilitating richer services. As the telephone is an important interface to the examples of smart objects already, the messaging layer will be more a technical enabler for the designers and builders of the services. In that sense it is interesting to have a kind of public marketplace for existing streams that will find your service and suggest connections. So the whole messaging system around objects can have different levels of authentication, and can be facilitated by different ecosystems: from public (open for connection to others) to semi-public (for creating new mesh services) to private (for the use of the smart object).

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