With hundreds of choices, how can you pick an IoT platform?

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For those involved in the IoT space, it feels as if not a day goes past without the launch of yet another IoT platform, promising a seamless conduit between connected devices and user applications.

Talk to any platform vendor and they’ll all earnest declare that their platform is the best, providing features and capabilities that exceed those of other platforms.

See also: IoT and dev platforms — connecting the world together

German research company IoT Analytics recently released its current Global IoT Platform Companies List. The database now includes 450 IoT Platform companies worldwide, which marks a 25% increase compared to the previous year.  Of the 13 industries analyzed, most of the vendors now focus on supporting IoT Solutions in Industrial/Manufacturing (32%), Smart City (21%) and Smart Home verticals (21%).In previous lists, Smart Home had been the leading vertical.

 

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How to choose a platform

For any prospective customer traversing the platform landscape, differentiating between the current 450 plus platforms on the market is a bewildering. To help, IoT Network recently launched IoT Pilot, a free, completely independent, analyst-driven tool designed to help enterprises navigate and evaluate the IoT platform landscape. It was created in conjunction with IoT research firm Beecham Research and I spoke to Saverio Romeo, their chief research officer to find out more. 

He explained that Beecham Research had identified 25 key indicators against which to independently evaluate the performance of different IoT platforms. These include market experience, partnerships network, ease of use by system integrators, and advanced application development capabilities.

The consumer enters some information about their needs such as the purpose of the IoT device (for example, monitoring, predictive analytics and/or autonomous operability); the storage site of data (premises, cloud or hybrid location);  and whether the vendor wants to integrate with existing workplace enterprise systems. A list of suggested platforms is generated with their key advantages detailed. Romeo explained that the purpose was to “provide a starting point for vendors to find a suitable IoT platform.”

A saturated market without a dominant player

Romeo noted that the challenge of finding an IoT platform was complex in a saturated market where there are currently no specific platforms dominating the market (as with iOS and Android in mobile). “Currently there’s no market leader creating one industry standard”. Rather there are small industry specific platforms, those that are specific to particular regions and those that focus on particular devices and functions.  “Their difference might include security levels, their experience in the market or their level of support offered to clients.”

It’s a highly competitive space, Romeo noted:

“There are a good number of companies, specialized in a particular subsection of IoT or with specialized platform services such as prescriptive analytics. There will be some acquisition of smaller platforms by bigger ones but at the same time, I think  the key issue here is being able to create the right ecosystem which is flexible enough to move you from being a player into system leader into several sectors.  I think the management of ecosystems is really a challenging one but a key competitive asset in IoT.

Some people believe that the numbers will decrease we will end up with a small number of platforms able to do everything. But I’m not entirely convinced about that because of the context nature of IoT.”

Other focus areas for IoT analysis

The platform finder is really Beecham Research’s first foray into customer research with their target market typically vendors. Romeo sees many areas that need research and analysis:

“We need to understand more about the behavior of the network. If we have too many devices on the network we will start to feel the heaviness of all the devices on the network, so we will need to do network planning, we will probably need to prioritize traffic.”

Romeo also commented on two key complexities in the platform ecosystem: “Firstly, security. From a developer’s point of view, they say, ‘Somebody told me that I need to start using guidelines, but which ones?  Who should I trust? The other one is the evolution of analytics and primarily the analytics at the edge. So how clever the edge device should be- and when?”

Romeo believes that data privacy and data ownership need to be discussed industry-wide, noting that the incoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in Europe do not fully touch IoT but offer some indicators. He also believes that device security needs to be viewed not only from the consumer perspective but also the greater ethical issues:

“The experience of explaining design innovation to engineers has been quite extraordinary over the last 10 years. I think the next step is to make them aware of how the stuff they do has a social impact. We see some of this emerging in the Horizon 2020 research program.  There are a number of initiatives in which your organization can go basically and test the device from an ethical point of view, and so I think there is a move towards that.”

Anything that helps bring order, logic, and clarity of points of difference to the jumbled platform market can only be a good thing as the number of connected devices increases daily. It would be great to see other researchers provide their own similar pilots to enable the sector to have more independent analysis rather than self-regulation.

What platforms will survive in the next decade and which will fail? More than 30 of the companies included in the Global IoT Platform Companies List 2016 edition have ceased to exist-having either gone out of business or being acquired. Which kinds will become market leaders for specific use cases? These questions alone suggest that the IoT platform ecosphere may look very different in the future.

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Google finds its Glass after two years in the dark

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After two years in the dark, Google Glass has returned, launching a new enterprise edition (EE) that several major corporations have already deployed into their workforce.

Google Glass EE improves on the first model — sold to enthusiasts for $ 1,500 — with better networking, security, a faster processor, more battery life, and a higher megapixel camera.

See Also: Google slashes needs for YouTube creators working on VR content

The search giant has listened to complaints over the last two years, as corporations trialled the technology in secret. When recording video, Google Glass now flashes a green light, and the electronics can be unclipped from the frame and added to normal prescription lenses.

The software has also been improved to work in multiple workplace environments. DHL, General Electric, Samsung, and Volkswagen, amongst others, have built software on-top of Glass, which employees use as step-by-step guides on how to perform a task.

Building employee performance

Results over the two years show a significant increase in performance by employees that wear Google Glass. According to Backchannel, AGCO, an agriculture equipment manufacturer, is so impressed by Glass that is plans to order between 500 to 1000 devices in the next 18 months, enough for its entire workforce.

Glass was touted as the possible successor to the iPhone when it was first revealed, but that seems very unlikely now, and Google has seemingly settled on its usefulness in the enterprise.

That said, Apple is exploring ways to make augmented reality palatable to consumers, launching ARkit at WWDC this year. IKEA will launch an AR app as one of Apple’s launch partners this fall.

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Scientists create comfortable e-skin wearable that lasts for a week

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A group of Japanese scientists have created an “inflammation-free, lightweight, stretchable” e-skin sensor capable of lasting for up to a week, published in Nature Nanotechnology this week.

The new development could open the way for medical wearables that track heart-rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar throughout the week, without being invasive to the user.

See Also: For new e-skin products, plastics are still the future

At the same time, it could be used for commercial purposes, like a temporary tattoo that allows the person access to different zones in a museum or quick-track at a theme park. The focus is on medical applications for now though, say the scientists in charge.

“It will become possible to monitor patients’ vital signs without causing any stress or discomfort,” said Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo. “What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease? In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate.”

Comfortable, not creepy

In a controlled test, 20 participants found no discomfort when wearing the plastic e-skin, some even forgot they were wearing it. The scientists said while there is no physical discomfort, wearing the e-skin for elongated periods could harm the natural breathing of skin.

A lot of progress has been made making electronics thinner than plastic, but actual deployment into the medical industry will still take time. It will take even longer for these sensors to monitor health conditions for extended periods of time, which is required for medical home monitoring solutions.

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Fitbit confident smartwatch will arrive on time, despite rumors of delays

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Fitbit’s next smartwatch is “on track” to launch at the end of this year, according to chief executive James Park, who denied the multiple rumors of delays.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Park said the smartwatch will be the company’s best yet, sporting “industry leading” GPS performance, a music player, and new biometric sensors that may find use in the medical industry, if Fitbit receives FDA approval.

See Also: Study hints that wearables are terrible at counting calories, just like their users

One thing that won’t be in the next Fitbit is cellular options, which Park says requires too many tradeoffs, the most important being battery life.

Even though Fitbit has one of the better records for accuracy, in a report last year the Apple Watch was deemed far more accurate when it came to heart-rate and high-intensity exercise. The improved GPS may help reduce inaccuracies, alongside the new sensors.

Customers say “Where’s my jam?”

The company has also been hounded by customers that want to control music through the fitness tracker. The acquisition of Pebble late last year has helped them add third-party applications to the new wearable, according to Park.

Entering into the medical market has been rumored for a few months, and Park confirmed the company’s intentions: “Getting approved by the FDA and going down that pathway is something we wholeheartedly embrace. The exciting thing about larger form-factor devices is it allows us to have those capabilities and unlock them over time.”

Fitbit is in a tricky situation, if the FDA approval doesn’t come in and the smartwatch doesn’t work wonders, it could be seen as same old to Wall Street. The company’s stock has halved in the past year, and it recently lost its position as the most popular wearable manufacturer, now third behind Apple and Xiaomi.

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Oculus may soon offer consumers choice in VR headsets

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Following on from a report yesterday that said Oculus may be launching a $ 200 standalone virtual reality headset late this year, rumors now suggest that several headsets, capable of working with a connected PC or mobile, are currently in development.

Oculus is “exploring multiple options in a ‘spectrum’ of standalone devices for the future,” according to Ars Technica. The standalone devices will be sold in tandem with the Oculus Rift.

See Also: Facebook slashes price of Oculus Rift for second time

At least one of the device in development has “six degrees of freedom” full motion tracking, similar to the Santa Cruz prototype demoed at the Oculus Connect conference last year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said inside-out tracking was “one of the most difficult computer science problems” only last year, so it seems unlikely that the company will have reached production stage this year.

The expansion of VR to mobiles has already propelled it to millions of customers that would have otherwise not tried it, but the technology is still niche when compared to mobiles and consoles. Oculus and Facebook obviously see cutting the cord as the next move to propel VR forward.

Oculus stands as the most well placed company to make the wireless headset and succeed. It has the technology, the marketplace, and the brand identity. Facebook also supplies it with enough cash to make the next VR headset — which will most likely be aimed at everyday consumers instead of enthusiasts — a loss leader, possibly lowering the price to that of a portable game console.

The field is starting to get crowded however, with Google and Samsung both reportedly working on wireless VR headsets.

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