IoT has already enjoyed a next-big-thing status for several years now and all signs point to continued growth as homes, cars, and nearly every piece of hardware in our lives gets connected. But that doesn’t mean the industry isn’t facing challenges. In fact, rapid growth and its status as the new kid on the block, make IoT perfectly poised to face two particularly big challenges in the years to come.
Given the high demand for connected products, we need to solve these problems as quickly as possible. Late last year, Gartner analysts estimated that 2016 would see about 5.5 million new IoT devices connected every single day. But that’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Back in 2013, Cisco made headlines by predicting IoT will be a $14.4 trillion dollar industry by 2022. So what does the future of IoT look like? And what can we do now to better prepare for the connected future?
Developers aren’t ready for IoT
The first and perhaps easiest challenge to overcome is the talent supply problem. Most developers were not taught to write software for connected hardware. And up until very, very recently, developers were set in a desktop mindset. Speaking to our CTO at Mokriya, Pranil Kanderi, there are a few exceptions to this rule: “A small market share of embedded devices has been around for a while now,” Kanderi says. “But they were such a small segment that, for the most part, software developers kept the focus on desktops.”
Now, as consumers eagerly buy up new IoT products as quickly as they hit the market, the demand for developers who can write for connected hardware is growing fast. Moving from this desktop-first mentality to different kinds of hardware has been a slow process, Kanderi says. Too slow for an industry releasing new products every single week.
Here at Mokriya, our IoT business is a majority of the work we do. “If I have to guess, more than 70-80% of our projects so far have some kind of a connected device or hardware,” says Kanderi. “And that’s in addition to the mobile device itself.”
It wasn’t until IoT exploded in popularity that developers began to realize there was a lot of demand in the space with few developers ready to fulfil that demand. Now that we’re seeing this demand balloon, how much trouble is the industry in? How likely is it that developers can learn the new skills and approaches that engineering hardware to software challenges will require?
Kanderi says it’s probably not going to be as dramatic as it looks right now. “Developers now have physical hardware — Raspberry Pi, IoT kits, etc. — on their desks that they can write software for,” he says. “The real shift will be learning to think in terms of smaller distributed networked components.”
But the majority of software developers still rely on just a few platforms, like Java, .Net, and ERP. “As the connected devices grow, there will come a time when a lot of these developers will need to transition to write software for connected devices,” Kanderi points out. And that time is approaching. So, developers should start learning the most important software development skills in IoT immediately.
Fragmentation in connected hardware
What’s more worrisome in the long term is the unsolved issue of fragmentation within the industry. There are thousands of devices — with new products launching every week — and very few of them can communicate effectively. In order to really take advantage of the possibilities in connected hardware, we’re going to have to create a way for these products to come together.
The problem isn’t that this challenge has gone unnoticed, the opposite, actually. At this point, the larger issue is that too many tech enterprises have spotted the opportunity to become IoT’s universal hub and are currently fighting to build the budding industry around their own ecosystem. Google is expanding Google Home while Amazon is finding new ways to connect IoT products using Echo/Alexa. It comes as no surprise that these two giants have begun a very public initial battle to rule the smart home. And then there are organizations, like Chronicled, that are building open databases to connect IoT products. Earlier this month, even the giant consortium, AllSeen Alliance, announced a partnership with rival Open Connectivity Foundation.
There’s no way to tell how this will all turn out, partially because connected devices are still in such a nascent stage, but also due to increasing instances of tech brands partnering up with multiple IoT alliances at once. The fact that brands are hedging their bets is not a huge surprise, given the newness of the mainstream IoT industry, yet it does point to a greater uncertainty as we look toward the future of IoT. And while it’s in everyone’s interest to solve that problem together, the temptation of becoming the hub for all connected hardware in the future is too good for many brands to pass up altogether.
The lack of a common standard to communicate across various devices could be a major problem if we continue on this path. But either way, if you are developer its high time that you should look towards getting your hands on an IoT kit and start connecting with the future.