A case for making it easier to personalize IoT devices

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Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist, Built.io

Arguably the first Internet of Things (IoT) device in the modern era, the The Trojan Room Coffee Pot was developed in a computer laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Three times a minute, a computer program would upload an image showing the amount of coffee left in the pot to the university's server. Faculty and staff could log on to check the coffee level. The year was 1993, and no one knew what the invention of a "connected" coffee pot would usher in.

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A long way from a coffee pot

In the last 20 years, the industry born out of a coffee pot miniaturized the hardware, created an entire architecture surrounding data (the "Internet of APIs"), and refined real-time communication technologies, such as the MQTT protocol. What the industry hasn't quite figured out yet is how to make it easier to personalize your new IoT devices.

On the physical plane, personalization has already happened. For example, you can buy cases for your cell phone that show off your love of Hello Kitty, but when it comes to setting up your new IoT device, everything is different. If I get a new Nest, I have to log into the device with my Google account and then spend time setting it up and telling it my preferences. If I buy a new Apple TV, I must log in to every service I want to use with it (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc.) and then arrange them all on my home screen. Even then, it won't tie into Google services. And if I buy a new August Lock, I have to go through the same routine and create a new account just to manage all of it.

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Time to simplify

It's time for the industry to come up with a solution to this problem by putting in place an infrastructure that manages and connects personalization and identity APIs for users. Each individual's personal API would allow automatic personalization whenever a new device is set up (such as by managing their existing OAuth connections).

Simple personalization isn't enough, though. The industry is going to need to develop microservices to enable the IoT device platforms to easily talk to each other. McKinsey estimates there will be 20 to 30 billion IoT devices available by the year 2020. With that many devices?and since all of them won't be empowered to talk to each other directly?the industry will increasingly rely on microservices that allow IoT devices to communicate with each other efficiently.

The industry already has all the tools it needs to offer personalization as a service:

  • Back end-as-a-service (BaaS) lets you easily create and standardize the microservices needed to connect IoT devices with existing infrastructure.
  • DevOps tools enable developers to speed up the development, workflow, and deployment of these new microservices.
  • The Internet of APIs is a network of APIs that can be used to aggregate all the structured information needed to connect, coordinate, and exchange information.
  • The maker movement, whose goal is to empower people to build and personalize whatever they can imagine in the comfort of their own homes.

All the tools needed to make this happen are already available, and the Internet of APIs is growing at an explosive rate. ProgrammableWeb, one of the largest API directories in existence, currently has over 13,000 APIs listed in its database. Indeed, many industries are already working hard at integrating the IoT directly into their technology stacks. There isn't much left to do but get moving on mainstream direct integration and personalization. What are we waiting for?