Brace Yourselves, the IoT is coming.

The Internet of Things

Imagine waking up to your favorite alarm tunes being played, one for each day of the week . The number of miles you jog every morning is updated to a cloud service, which monitors your health and fitness. As you get ready for a shower, the smart water heater has already been triggered by the sensors in the alarm clock, which correctly estimates the time required using the data accumulated over a period of time. The smart oven has prepared your breakfast by the time you are dressed. The car has been put into ignition mode after the garage door is triggered by your smartphone. When you drive, real time data obtained using other ‘smart’ cars, lets you know the best possible route to your destination, helping you avoid traffic and other stoppages. Don’t bother locking your house, as your smartphone has done it, not before turning off the lights and asking the thermostat to lower the temperature for efficient energy usage. No, this is not part of the script from one of those futuristic Hollywood movies that are churned out at regular intervals. If things work out well, by 2020 this could be our way of life.

When Kevin Ashton coined the term Internet of Things(IoT) in 1999, he might have very well judged the impact of his proposition, in the foreseeable future. What had actually started as a bunch of sensors communicating and exchanging data has now evolved into this potential juggernaut that recommends an overhaul of our lifestyles. Technology surely does evolve at a rapid pace. The 21st century is a testament to that fact. But when technology evolves faster than the pace at which we can cope, it presents a unique problem. The IoT is one such disruptive technology. Disruptive, since it will possibly encourage a dramatic shift in consumer tastes with the promise of a smarter and technology driven lifestyle.

A technical perspective

Without delving too much into the technical jargon, it would suffice to say that IoT comprises of a huge set of sensors embedded into a wide range of devices. Over a period of time, the IoT has evolved into a much complex and messy system, interconnecting a variety of domains, protocols and communication systems. Imagine fitting every single electronic device in your vicinity with a bunch of sensors and assigning an IP address to each of them. The sensors exchange data over a network with a standard protocol, making use of a wireless ‘mesh’ network. In simpler terms, a ‘mesh’ network is a network topology where every node(read device) is connected to every other node. Data is exchanged between the nodes in real time, thereby turning the rather dumb devices into ‘smart’ ones. The philosophy of the IoT is to essentially connect every single device on the planet across a standard set of protocols, to make the isolated electronic devices smarter for an efficient lifestyle.

It is estimated that there will be 26 billion devices in use by the year 2030, a threefold increase in number considering the current 7 billion devices which are up and running. It essentially means that every individual will own at least 3.3 devices, all of which are of course part of the IoT.

Big Players warm up to the IoT

Less than two decades ago, the IoT was confined to paper presentations and the practical implementations seemed far fetched and unlikely. But the emergence of better semiconductor technology combined with massive infrastructural progress has given a necessary boost to the IoT community. Most importantly, the multinational corporations have been party to such an idea and their R&D investment and expertise has definitely helped. When Google acquired Nest Labs, a home automation company, in early 2014 for a massive 3.2 billion, it was further proof that IoT was gaining prominence among the biggies. Very recently, Apple launched Homekit, a framework for controlling home devices by automation. It is an addition to its newly released iOS 8, taking it a step ahead in terms of practical implementation.

For bigwigs such as Google and Apple, IoT is a jackpot. Google largely earns from its advertising service and now with the possibility of sensors being ubiquitous, every smart house is an information goldmine. A recent report suggested how targeted ads could appear on your refrigerator screen, prompting you to choose the local store to buy items whose supplies are running low. For Apple, it is part of a long cherished dream to make its devices at the center of an IoT universe. Back in 2001, it was reported that Steve Jobs wanted Apple devices to be at the heart of every home automation system. With the new features in iOS 8, it is a step towards achieving that goal.

Problems Galore

Although IoT has made significant progress over the past decade, it would be silly to assume it is well developed. The primary concern that bugs every security analyst is the little or almost no security in an IoT environment as most of the devices will be low key home appliances. Indeed lack of progress in security and privacy mechanisms is a hindrance to IoT’s evolution. Some of the devices like heart rate monitors and health monitoring devices might deal with acutely private data, which raises significant queries over its storage and protection.

Another inevitable problem associated with IoT is the heterogeneity in device manufacturers. It is quite obvious that each manufacturer will prescribe to his preferred mode of protocols. For instance, there are many wireless technologies in the market, most of them fairly new. Z-wave and Zigbee technologies have been around for a few years, but they are not yet compatible with each other in terms of communication. A new entrant, Bluetooth Smart boasts of better features than the above mentioned technologies, but is again isolated with very little compatibility. There is an urgent need to level the playing field by standardizing the wireless technology to be used.

An abstract view.

An abstract view.

With sensors invading every possible space available, the amount of data generated per day will be massive. Structuring and utilizing the data for use will require both infrastructural and capital investments. For a startup wanting to cater to the needs of IoT enthusiasts, it is bad news.

Another issue that might be instrumental in IoT adoption is the impact on environment caused by a massive overhaul of infrastructure. When millions of new devices flood the market, the non-degradable junk leftover by the old devices will be hard to manage. A non-smart device might be valid for several years but smart devices need constant upgrades which render them obsolete after a period of time. The costs incurred periodically might put off potential customers, who might classify them as an unnecessary expenditure.

A brighter future

Though IoT might receive its share of criticism for privacy and security violations, it is still a very good technology to bank upon. Yes, right now it is literally half-baked and messy, but then every emerging technology is such during its development. Technology has always found a way to refine itself over a period of time and IoT will possibly follow suit. The promise the IoT holds for better and efficient living is just too good to ignore.

 

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Google and the art of disruption

The giant of Silicon Valley

There are very few companies that have changed the way the world works. Ford Motor Company was one such company in the 20th century. It introduced low cost cars to the American market with stupendous success. At a time when owning a car was a luxury beyond the reach of the average American, Ford’s Model T bridged the gap and started a new era of affordable automobiles.

On the same lines, in the 21st century there have been certain technology based corporates that have altered the way the system works. Google is one such immensely powerful company. It is the world’s most visited website with an ambitious goal to “organize the world’s information”.

Disruptive Technology

Wikipedia describes disruptive technology as:

an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

Google, in its capacity as one of Silicon Valley’s giants, has been at the forefront of disruptive innovation. Google does not think and function on the same lines as that of an average tech based company. The concept of disruption has been at its core business strategy. Does it sound far-fetched? Not really. Let us analyse.

Adwords

As of 2013, the net revenue of Google was USD 59.82 billion. Around 90-95 percent of it was derived from Adwords, its golden goose in terms of revenue. In the past, when search engines like Yahoo were charging potential advertisers with hefty amounts to publish ads, Google came up with an innovative idea of Cost Per Clicks. According to this method, an advertiser has to pay only when his ad is clicked by the internet user. This idea sounded the death knell for many upcoming online advertising portals and effectively ended Yahoo’s reign as the most popular site for advertising.

Not only the C-P-C method sounded fresh and economical, it also contributed to the aesthetic look and feel of the search results pages. While Yahoo and other sites looked ridiculously cluttered with flash banners and popping ads, the clean interface of Google was refreshing. Since then, Adwords has grown on to become the primary source of Google’s revenue. This has allowed the company to be financially secure and constantly experiment with path breaking ideas.

The important aspect to note here is Google’s strategy to eliminate competition by introducing a risky yet disruptive business model. Though it is an altogether different issue that the model clicked perfectly, it highlights the way Google thinks.

Android

On August 17, 2005 Google acquired Android, a mobile software company for USD 50 million. Two years later, Google offered to give away the newly developed operating system for free to device manufacturers. A consortium of companies called the Open Handset Alliance was formed and the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) were exempted from paying any royalties for using the Android software.

Considering the market situation back then, it was shocking and sounded insane. Why would a company invest millions on a product for two years and yet give it away for free? During that period, Symbian and windows mobile operating systems were the dominant market players and were very well established. Competitors like Nokia and Microsoft shrugged off the impact of Android’s introduction and its threat was considered as null. Yet, Android is the most widely used operating system in the world today. For every iOS device being activated, in comparison there are three Android devices in the world. It has also pushed the once popular Symbian operating system into complete oblivion. As of 2013, Android owns 78.9 percent of the market share, a huge lead over Apple’s iOS, which is a distant second at 15.5 percent.

The important question to ask is : why did a search engine giant invest so heavily in delivering a mobile operating system? For starters, it wasn’t because they wanted to diversify their sources of income. It practically gains nothing from Android when compared to its other income sources.

Here comes the interesting part: Google realized that the world was swiftly transitioning towards mobile based searches. The percentage of users using mobile devices for searches showed an upward trend and this was a worrying factor for Google. It wasn’t imperative that a mobile user would always access the Google website for a web search. Google would lose huge amounts of search related data that is necessary to generate user specific ads. It needed a native application on the phone to facilitate quick and hassle free web searches and also accommodate its growing number of services such as Google Maps.

Thus, the entry of Android into the mobile hemisphere was significant. With an open source API and a large base of developers contributing to its app store, Google could lure users into buying android based devices and yet subtly enforce their services upon them.

Protect the golden goose

The final equation in every move Google makes ultimately strips down to one single entity: the web search. All said and done, Google is an internet search engine company and majority of its revenue comes from search based advertising. With the wide usage of Android devices, at Google’s disposal is a huge database of user data that can be used to generate user specific ads and deliver better results to the advertisers. With location based and personal data about each user being recorded at Google’s servers, it is literally an information goldmine. The more accurate the user specific ads, better the advertising performance and ultimately better revenue.

It is fascinating to know the lengths to which Google can go to safeguard its principal entity : the web search. In order to maintain dominance in the area of web searches, it has even launched the flagship Nexus brand of smartphones and tablets. An attempt to demonstrate the power of Android and reinforce the faith in potential customers.

Not just Android, potentially every move Google makes is to safeguard its dominance in the area of web searches and advertising. Be it Google Maps, Google Docs, Google News or the other multitude of services that are offered for ‘free’, they all add the enticement factor and keep the users hooked onto their ecosystem. This is market disruption to a new level. A stroke of genius driven by astute business thinking and strategy.

But then again, Google was never your average tech company and it never will be. To quote an article headline:

Disruptive innovation is not a tactic. It is a mindset.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

It’s About YOU!

What is Youtube? The question brings a spontaneous answer from anyone who has visited the website – the third largest on the internet. It is a video sharing website, on which users can upload, view and share videos. This definition is a rather modest way to talk about something as powerful as Youtube, which has commanded a ground-breaking change in the face of mass media.

Youtube was created by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim in early 2005. They were formerly employees of PayPal. Youtube has been owned by Google since late 2006. The story of how it began is a peculiar one. One night Hurley, Chen and Karim were frustrated at having difficulties in sharing a video which they took at a party, with their friends. On that weary night, the three of them realized that the world was short of a place where people could share videos with ease. But the real inspiration for the website came from the rather frivolous rating and dating site called hotornot.com. What fascinated them the most about this site was the fact that the website ran purely on the user’s terms. The users submitted pictures for other users and rated pictures posted by other users. In a conventional website, the developers would have to regularly update the website with content that their users could relate to. But this website was different – the users generated their own content, and the developers were brought down to mere onlookers.

Founders of Youtube

The trio found the concept to be divine. It challenged a certain status quo in the internet world. It shifted the purpose of a web entity from being a user-developer interaction to a user-user interaction. Interestingly it was a similar concept that inspired Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook.

Youtube was born when the three friends decided to pool in their resources to create a website that solved their problem and satisfied their ego. It allowed people to share videos easily and at the same time, it made the user the centre of the website. The results were surreal.

Over the years, Youtube’s stronghold has been the way it has effortlessly connected itself with all kinds of audience. It a literal sense, Youtube has a place for everyone. The developers would consider it a success to have had their website withdraw itself from the convention of displaying movie trailers and music videos, and instead, branch out to various other precincts in the world of visual entertainment – some of the more famous and yet common ones being fun videos and podcasts. Padilla and Hexcox’s experiment with Smosh is a good case in point. The college duo used the name Smosh to upload video content related to their day to day activities. The popularity of these videos grew to a point where they became viral. Today, although Smosh’s Youtube Channel has just 323 videos, it has amassed an affluent 13 million subscribers. It makes Smosh more popular than traditional bands, film studios and music group channels. Such is the potency of Youtube – it has broken tradition barriers and quite literally imposed a certain freedom of expression, in the form of videos. Anyone can be a creator.

But the strength of Youtube, as of today, cannot be merely accredited to the diversity of videos it displays. The brand Youtube stands for much more. As the tagline puts it, Youtube urges you to “Broadcast Yourself”. The brand intends to be a place where people can broadcast and express themselves. The user centric identity of the website which inspired the PayPal trio a decade ago has been an essential part of Youtube’s strategy to ascertain its dominance ever since. That aspect of the user being in control of the viral trends in video expression is an uncompromising factor for the Youtube developers. It makes the brand stand a cut above the rest.

Although Youtube does face a few problems like censorship and streaming issues, no other website in the world had displayed such potency in excavating user involvement in their website. More than anything else, Youtube is a tool which can be used to better the lives of potentially millions. And it all starts with You!

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Google’s Doodle Strategy

Google doesn’t need to prove a point to anyone. It is the biggest and best search engine that the world has ever seen. It is one of the top ranked websites in the world - a feat that only a handful of websites, among the billions of them, are privileged to have. For more than a decade, it has been the face of digital knowledge for mankind, and has revolutionized the way we hunt for information. All in all, Google is one of the world’s biggest brands.

To maintain its position of strategic dominance in the web industry and otherwise, Google introduced the concept of Google Doodles. While the Doodles is a fascinating innovation, one wonders how it fits into the branding strategy of a company as big as Google. The purpose of the doodles isn’t to provide uniqueness to the brand. Quite certainly, Google doesn’t need the doodles to do that for them. Then of what relevance is this concept of celebrating every day of the year with a newly scripted form of the word ‘Google’?

Google Doodles

Another problem that the Doodles have faced is the question over their relevance on certain occasions. On 31st October, Google had a highly interactive Doodle to celebrate Halloween. It was breathtaking to say the least. A couple of days later on 3rd November, the Doodle showed a bird flying across the traditional Google logo. It was to celebrate the Panama Independence Day. While the act would have certainly kept the average Panamanian happy, there is a good population of the Google audience which neither knows nor cares about the little country’s independence. One could argue that the Doodles have brought to light a lot of things that the average man wouldn’t know - which is most definitely a positive. As an example, on November 4th, the Doodles celebrated Shakuntala Devi’s 84th birth anniversary - a move which is certain to make the legendary human calculator famous among those who didn’t already know her.

A bigger problem that the Google users (read: the whole of the literate world) find with the Doodle is the matter of relevance. On October 22nd, the Doodles celebrated the 216th anniversary of the first parachute jump. The first question that flashes across a commoners mind is why the number 216 is anymore relevant that the 215th or the 217th anniversary. Certainly Google doesn’t repeat these Doodles every year. Then how do they choose which event makes it to their homepage at the cost of the other ones? Similar events have been celebrated like Leyla Gencer’s 85th birthday, Will Eisner’s 94th birthday, Jane Addams 153rd birthday, John Wisden’s 187th birthday and so on.

While Google has to take note of the rising number of complaints from its ever-growing database of users, it cannot underestimate the value that the Doodle has added to its name. Not only does no other company have such an initiative, they are not capable of producing it in the near future either. In a world where many companies struggle to make amends to their existing logo, Google has managed to seamlessly change its own on a daily basis.

Google may need to get its think-tanks to sit together and make those minor tweaks to the Doodle idea. Whatever they come up with should be intended at getting something new yet relevant to the users everyday. After all, the Doodle is all about being unpredictable, not knowing what’s coming next. We just hope that the next Doodle is more fascinating than the previous one.

 

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Elixirs of life gone missing

The terrible power crises across Tamil Nadu has kept me wondering if we were the unlucky generation.  Well, until I googled it, I was wrong .  The contemporary power and water crises are reminiscent to the year 1975. Back then, Tamil Nadu was worst affected. With the generation of mere 2,254MW, it did not suffice to meet the needs. The then chief minister of the state, M.Karunanidhi announced a 100% power cut for high tension users, 25% on hospitals and complete supply only for irrigation purposes for farmers as dispatched by wikiLeaks. The air conditioning was highly restricted and five star hotels like the Taj Coromandel were charged only from 6pm to 6am and during lunch hours. This had a negative impact on tourism in the state. The supply of power to domestic consumers was rationed and they were fined if they exceeded limits.

Power Crisis in Tamil Nadu

The power in the state was generated from hydro industries and the droughts further worsened the crises. Supplying just 189MLD’s of water to the citizens, the city of Chennai was parched. The factories across the state were forced to shut down to supply power to 7 lakh pump sets across the state for farmers. The employment of working staff was now affected and the entire state and its capital city now seemed to stagnate in growth. Many took to feet and considered migrating to other places. The remedy to the malady of Tamil Nadu was the project of cloud seeding introduced by a California firm with a whooping budget of $550,000.The air crafts were made to fly for 140-150 hours over Nilgris and Poondi and seed 10,000gm of silver Iodide and there was in improvement in the crises within 3 weeks with 700million gallons flowing into the reservoirs.! Though the state of Tamil Nadu can boast of its quick recovery back in 1975, it seems that its still marching on the very similar road to peril. Even with the generation of 10,000MW and a water supply of 800MLD, many cities and towns still suffer from 16 hours power cuts. Its high time they young minds and the administrators of the state take a serious stance on this issue before it gets too late and may leave us realizing we are in the cave man era yet again! Atleast there was sufficient power for me to type this article down!

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather