Jim Xiao is the founder and CEO of Mason, innovator of the fastest way to take smart devices from idea to end user.
Smart devices are everywhere — such as your smartwatch, mirror or bicycle that’s replaced your gym trainer to your thermostat that can control the household temperature from your phone. Cisco estimates 75 billion new IoT devices will come to market by 2025.
Commodity hardware is fueling the proliferation of smart devices and access to cheaper hardware drives democratization. Piggybacked on this are technological innovations that make it possible to collect critical data and apply ML and AI to improve the lives of people around the world. Today’s smart devices can be used to move physical-world problems — like equitable access to healthcare, clinical trial data collection and air quality monitoring — into the digital world and solve them there.
How do we achieve the true democratization of smart devices? The answer lies in which approach will win in the “battle for the edge.”
The battle between technology vendors, including public cloud providers, hardware and chip manufacturers, content distribution networks, telecom operators and startups looking to break into a high-potential market, seeks to “bring [an] intelligence-everywhere world to life.” The traditional approach is composed of an ecosystem of IoT devices, the connectivity and data flows that bridge edge computing to life and the hardware and infrastructure that link the edge to the cloud.
Three trends are at the center of this battlefield: reliable access to commodity hardware, widespread prevalence of 5G and the adoption of low-code application development.
It’s Easier Than Ever To Take An Idea To Market And Build A Company
Recently, pioneers have invented new smart devices, with competing products nipping at their heels shortly after launch. We’ve seen this in the fitness space (e.g., Peloton, MIRROR), home security (e.g., Ring, SimpliSafe) and merchant services (e.g., Square, Shopify). It’s becoming easier to turn a new idea (or a copycat idea) for a smart hardware company into a billion-dollar business.
This stiff competition stems from cheaper hardware, which lowers the barrier to entry for startups and creates opportunities for individuals and companies to innovate.
However, the software and supporting infrastructure necessary for smart devices and related services are currently playing catchup to match market demand. There’s considerable fragmentation within the mobile infrastructure space, presenting significant challenges to innovation and inhibiting a company’s ability to get its products to market quickly.
Anyone can come up with an idea for a smart device — what makes it a unicorn is expertly marrying the hardware, software, services and support into the best solution in the market. Industry leaders are set apart from competitors by their ability to craft multiple different devices and services into a complete ecosystem — commoditized hardware plays an integral role in developing this ecosystem.
5G Means More Capacity, More Bandwidth And More Devices On The Edge
The second critical component for delivering next-gen smart devices is 5G, which will create more base stations, coverage across the world and airwaves that can be utilized for connectivity. 5G adoption will result in extra capacity and significantly reduce the cost to service devices — it’s basic supply and demand.
There are challenges to the widespread adoption of 5G, including a lack of current global availability, a lack of sophisticated network architecture and platforms to support 5G deployments and scarcity of 5G compatible devices.
Once fully available, 5G will make connectivity on the edge ubiquitous and create a stable capacity to handle orders of magnitude more in device bandwidth. This new era of low-cost data transfers means companies and consumers can more economically utilize devices on the edge, essentially “filling up” the extra capacity. Excess supply and lower costs will enable more software to proliferate at the edge and drive demand for low-/no-code applications to run these devices at scale.
The Proliferation Of Low-Code And No-Code
As streamlined supply chains make it easier to make dedicated devices and 5G lowers the cost to service these devices, simplified software development will be the last piece to fall into place.
Custom-designed hardware devices require less intensive development resources to build out the accompanying custom software. This means companies can capitalize on low-code and no-code development platforms to speed initial application development and update rollouts.
It’s important to acknowledge that the low-code/no-code application development market is still experiencing growing pains. These tools often lack flexibility and lock out developers when additional customization or debugging is required.
Best-of-breed low-code mobile app development solutions need to offer developers the ability to switch between low-code and pro-code interfaces. This provides engineers with templated options for quick programming and a backdoor into the programming interface if they need to change the initial application framework to better fit their unique use case.
The proliferation of low-code and no-code application development platforms empowers developers to minimize scripting software programs from scratch and instead provide easy instructions on what functions they want the application to perform on the device.
Conquering The Edge For The Betterment of Society
Current examples of smart devices on the market include remote patient monitoring (e.g., fall alerts and blood glucose monitors), smart retail management platforms that offer easy payments and inventory management and smart thermostats that help homeowners reduce energy usage.
A comprehensive smart device ecosystem influenced by the availability of more commoditized hardware, omnipresent 5G coverage and low-code application development will usher in new levels of “consumable” AI and ML innovation benefiting both end users and businesses. This perfect storm makes it possible for innovators to create next-generation smart devices and game-changing solutions that will reshape human experiences and provide a better standard of living around the world.
The first two steps toward this goal should include seeking a flexible approach for procuring and designing smart devices that provide access to both customizable hardware and software IP, as well as partnering with an organization that can help manage these devices from creation to deployment and ongoing maintenance.