Four types of Internet of Things?

I’m currently pulling together a few slides to introduce Berg as a platform to a few manufacturers.

Which means I’ll be introducing the Internet of Things!

As I’ve mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about the term “Internet of Things”… it seems to mean everything and nothing. Like, is it RFIDs in airports to track luggage, combine harvesters driven by town-wide WiMAX, or web-connected receipt printers for the home? Too much.

So for consumer Internet of Things, it seems useful to make categories (I’m going to ignore agriculture, health, industry and whatnot). Each of the four categories seems to be aligning around a wireless technology… or a pattern of user interaction… or a marketing term… or something. But they seem like different things, at least in early 2014.

The idea is that the manufacturer should choose the user benefit they most want to enable, then choose the category that best fits. That will drive their technology selection, how their product is developed, etc. Much more useful than the general term “IoT”.

Here’s my slide so far (tap for embiggening).


For me these categories are driven by different things:

  • Wearables — battery-powered smartphone peripherals aligning around Bluetooth LE, but also devices that don’t require their own connection to the web
  • Media — music and movies
  • Home automation — low latency interactions (sub 100ms) mean round-tripping to the web isn’t possible; strong need for product interop
  • Connected productsSmart appliances — products requiring their own direct network connection, with a tightly coupled service (this is where Berg is)

There are other connectivity models, and I reckon that this time next year categories will have merged and others appeared. But for the moment… this is a good reflection of market reality.

Or is it?

I’ve opened comments on this post! Let me know what you think, either here or on Twitter. I’m @genmon.

21 thoughts on “Four types of Internet of Things?”

  1. I think the categories are pretty solid, but might suggest that wearables be split between ambient health monitoring (not always wearables, see Withings scale) and whole-body UI.

    Also, Home Automation is too limiting of a phrase. There’s a lot going on in commercial and public spaces that’s really the same stuff.

  2. I wasn’t sure whether wearables was the right name… Bluetooth LE in the consumer space seems to be enabling wearables, and a lot more besides! But the force of the technology is so strong (lots of tools being built for that particular platform) that it’s channeling everything down a “smartphone peripheral” route.

    Home Automation is interesting. I think maybe in the commercial space we might see other types of connectivity come along? And in the medium term, I think there’s going to be big demand for interop. But price/product-marketing forces are strong, and they tend towards requiring a home hub (at least until the package cost of wifi drops and it can be battery powered, not long now). And while there’s a home hub, there’s a gateway that can be owned. That’ll force it into a category, at least for the next couple of years I think.

  3. I think of Nest as a home automation thing, and to some extent Cloudwash too. As it’s connectivity driving the categorisation, maybe the naming should reflect the type of connectivity, rather than describing the things that are mostly in it.

  4. I’m on the fence re Cloudwash being home automation… seems to me that the three characteristics that bind together “home automation” are interop (you shouldn’t have to know who your lightbulb is from); low latency (gotta be quick when things work together); and user programmability (if this then that…). It’s fluid, the individual products come and go, you build up your automated home month by month. A bit like buying AV equipment.

    Cloudwash isn’t like that: It’s a tightly coupled product+service, and washing machines are replaced once every 10 years.

    Nest isn’t quite like home automation either — it doesn’t fit into anyone else’s ecosystem. However I think it has a pretty good chance of creating an ecosystem of its own. I reckon Larry will have sat down with Andy Rubin and set: “You know what Andy, we did a pretty good job with that Android thing. What’s the next thing we can Android? What else can we give an SDK to?” And Rubin said: First cars, then homes. Let’s pull the Android move on homes.

    So they bought Nest, and it’ll become an SDK competing with Revolv, Smartthings, and a bunch more.

    1. Nest bloody does fit into an ecosystem – it’s just a very old one, populated mainly by companies like De Dietrich. Nest injects networking and new thinking into a space, but that space’s protocols and interoperability have been established for decades.

      1. To clarify — at the moment I’m looking for the Internet of Things verticals.

        You’re right, Nest does indeed fit into an existing heating ecosystem. And when IoT is properly mature, we won’t see “connected” as a category just as we don’t see “electric” as a category. But for the moment, marketing and technology groups together products around types of connectivity… it won’t last.

  5. I think you are missing a great deal from these categories –
    You’re also mixing the genus of your classifications.
    I do like the identification of power source and connectivity styles / patterns
    I’d love to see a classification matrix of devices and device types
    wearables is really a subcategory of “portables or moveables”, some devices will be “static” some will be read only – some will have visual / audio sensors and output..

    I admire your first attempt, but it’s a little like mapping the living world, except the taxonomy is constantly expanding

    1. Mixing genera doesn’t bother me so much… verticals arise for a combination of reasons: technology, proximity of shop shelves or Amazon categories, etc. What I’m interested in finding are what the clusters of products are right now, here in early/mid 2014, where a cluster is a group of products that compete, cooperate, share technology, partner, are thoughts of in the same way, share distribution or manufacturing expertise, etc.

      For a given product, it’s important to know: What am I buying this instead of? What does it sit next to on the shelf?

      I know I know, I’m being very market focussed.

  6. I see a Venn diagram of Person Place and Portability. That gives us seven different classes.

    A Place can be Portable eg in a car – carrying a Person
    A Place could be home, office or a car park

    The Technology has to be sorted for all combinations. I am starting with static IoT devices in the home. It is the simplest starting point.

  7. This is great! I think there is one more category which is sensors. Or the internet of things that watch you. Or use you. We have the kinect that physically watches your gestures. We have the Nest Protect that knows when you walk by and gives you path lighting. We have all kinds of monitoring devices in our environment that knowing and unknowingly monitor you and and do …. stuff with all that info.

  8. I was hunting around in this taxonomy for any applications that addressed public space, but this seems very private, domestic, and individual. Perhaps that’s a conscious filter, but I imagine much investment, for a few years yet, will be in devices and systems that engage in public space.

    1. Yup, consciously focusing on the domestic/personal/consumer space right now. Seems like while there is shared technology between consumer and public/industrial/city/etc (Bluetooth LE is a great example right now), the route to market is very different.

  9. Hi Matt, isn’t connected products a more generic term than the others? I’d put that in the title. Of course this does not provide a name for the fourth category. Maybe fuse it with home automation and split on a sub-level into local (low latency) and remote interaction? Fear it will be hard to split along a single dimension in a meaningful way, especially while mixing application domain and technology. Kind regards, Thomas

    1. Maybe “smart appliances” would be a better term for the category? It’s what some companies are using.

      For me “connected products” doesn’t quite work as a synonym for “Internet of Things.” One example: In home automation, it’s possible the product might actually be the organising hub – be it a physical thing or an app – and it’s best to think of the light bulbs, etc, as accessories or even consumables for that core product!

      I’d hesitate to merge connected products (smart appliances) and home automation because I think they’re marketed quite differently. Home automation is a bit like AV equipment, or Home Depot. With appliances, the manufacturer or retailer is attempting to own the customer relationship and treat the product-service hybrid as a marketing channel for cross-selling and consumables.

      1. I agree with tamberg, all of these items are connected products. Connected or Smart Appliances is a better fit for your 4th category although is a scale an appliance?

        The boundaries between these categories are blurry at best. Many products play roles in multiple categories.

        Sonos can now be the voice for your SmartThings apps. Jawbone activity bands can be connected to products in all categories via IFTTT. Revolve can control Nest.

        These may be edge cases now, but I don’t think these categories holding true for very long at all.

        1. Also agree. You can’t divide some connected products away from their ecosystem. It can get quite naming/wanky territory but so is is nothing without Spotify/soundcloud/iTunes/whatever. But nest can work as a relatively one to one dumb totem of the network.

      2. I’m not sure I follow why that example refutes connected devices as a synonym rather than reinforces it. Can you unpack that again? For a lot of us the greatest fault with iot as the grand label was the emphasis on stuff vs people and what they do with it. Connected Devices isn’t much better but at least it implies a myriad of connections (to a private network, to another product, to the broader internet, one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many social connections between people.

  10. Hey Matt.
    This is very close to my heart as I am expected to explain this kind of thing to people who should knew better on a weekly basis.
    But it’s very hard, and like maps they are often used politically rather than in any true accurate taxonomy.
    Things I think are important that you seem to be “missing” :
    1. Retail experiences like beacons are not “consumer interactions” essential but they have huge consumer interaction, and I think will become more and more important as retailers start to expect interaction with consumers and their personal networks as they move through their spaces.
    2. Automotive. The whole computers on wheels thing. Yes, this is pretty political when talking to certain parties, but again connected cars interacting with peoples perceptions of their now behaviours is interesting and a rich area to explore – from media, to navigation of spaces, to customisation, to actual full automation etc. tricky area but fun.

  11. I like your very practical approach to building a taxonomy. In that spirit, where would you fit Dropcams? Home Automation I guess, but as someone else mentioned in the discussion thread, sensors that just sense rather than actuate feel like they belong in a different class.

    Toby brings up Automotive. I just got an Android version of Automatic for my car, which from a function and technology perspective fits into “wearables” above, because it connects via blue tooth and makes my car a smart-phone accessory. But it aint being worn. I suppose you could argue that car is not home, but its definitely consumer IoT, so it should have a home in Matt’s framework somewhere!

Comments are closed.