Tag Archives: iot

New product opportunities for the Internet of Normal Things

We sent out a bunch of Little Printer for Business evaluation kits yesterday. Lots of parcels!


These are the Berg-enabled receipt printers made by Martel Instruments. More details here. It’s the easy-to-hack-on Little Printer back-end, in robust off-the-shelf housing for commercial use.

We’ve had a ton of interest in these receipt printers with a web API. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why.


My question: Why – given there are ten thousand networked receipt printers on the market – do customers want the one that you send HTML through a web API?

Here’s my take…

Businesses used to be built around Windows PCs.

You’d have a Visual Basic app that tracked stock. You’d use it for data entry. It would generate pro formas for ordering. It would print tickets on a receipt printer, connected by serial or USB or something, and the tickets would go down to the stock room or warehouse to give a paper trail. The printer would come with a special print driver. The system would have been built a decade ago and worked okay. It would never get touched.

Businesses don’t run on Windows PCs anymore.

The back-office is an intranet. On the web.

You can’t install print drivers on the web. The intranet doesn’t have a USB port to plug a printer in.

So with our Berg-enabled printer, our HTML cloud-renderer is the print driver. The web API is the USB port.

It’s easily integrated, so companies can simply print from their intranet direct into known locations. With future dashboard features, they can check prints have actually be done, and monitor for Out of Paper warnings.

image 2

Which leads me to a thought.

In the last 60 years, the biggest software platform for interop and integration – for new products, services, businesses, and value creation – has not been Android, or iOS, or Windows, or the PDP-11. The biggest and best platform has been the web.

The Internet of Things, by allowing devices to connect directly to the web – using platforms like Berg – takes the PC out of the picture, and lets us create products directly on that platform.

Wherever there were Windows PCs in businesses, there’s now the web.

Wherever there were peripherals connected to that PC, there’s a need for a new peripheral… just the same, but with a simple web API.

Every time you see a dated PC, only running the back-office because of the peripherals hanging off it, there’s a product opportunity.

Nothing crazy, nothing ocean boiling. Very normal.

But huge.

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.