Notes From TechCon

What works and what doesn’t for the Internet of Things depends on what it ultimately becomes and how it gets used.

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ARM CEO Simon Segars put a different twist on the Internet of Things at this week’s TechCon 2013. He put it under the heading of the ‘mobile Internet,” which may prove to be a much more accurate description.

This isn’t just about things talking to things. It’s about people and things interacting in ways never before possible, regardless of location. That sounds great in theory, but it can create enormous problems—zetabytes of data, overloaded infrastructure, security breaches, and an insatiable need for more energy-efficient designs. On a fundamental level, it’s hard to comprehend how and how fast all of this stuff will be used and adopted by consumers and businesses around the globe. At the start of a technology shift there is no way to tell.

The classic example is Thomas Edison’s voice recorder. He thought it would find a home as a dictation device for businesses—the electronic version of the handwritten note. Instead it became the foundation of a multi-billion dollar music industry. Edison also thought direct current would be the future. It nearly bankrupted him.

Segars compared what’s going on in semiconductors and electronics these days to what happened in the automotive industry. While the car became an important staple in everyday life, it also created side industries ranging from drive-in restaurants to supermarkets. The sale of 1 billion smart phones this year and the introduction of $50 tablets will be even more far-reaching.

“We are in the infancy of the era of mobility,” he said. “It will have a big impact on our lives and society.”

This has given rise to some cool gadgets already—opening doors with smart phones, wearable sensors for health care and all sorts of new services. And it provides a huge new opportunity for the semiconductor industry as networks become far more diverse.

But, as Segars pointed out, it also will require a lot of collaboration, software, bandwidth, lower latency, and a deeper understanding of what gets processed and stored locally or in the cloud.

“Generating data is simple,” he said. “Making sense of it is harder.”

Making sense of the IoT isn’t possible yet, either. It takes time to understand why and how people will use it, what things they connect and whether some of the issues that will loom up will ever be effectively addressed—notably security and power. But it’s something no one is letting slip by these days, either. Those who missed the value of the Internet are still paying the price, which may explain why the ARM-Economist study showed that only 4% of companies won’t be using the IoT in their businesses by 2016.