A Quick History of the Internet of Things

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How Did We Create Such a Rich Market?

Want to know how the “Internet of Things” became a thing at all? To do so, you must look back to the beginning: the birth of networking and the explosion of consumer technology.

The internet isn’t that old, so far as the world wide web. In 1974, the structure we know and love today was born. Just ten years later. that the first domain name system was introduced, allowing for easier networking. The first website actually came online in 1991. The “internet,” as a network of connected devices in consumer homes, was only proposed just a scant two years before that, yet it came crashing into our mainstream world.

In no time the internet took over. By 1995, multiple websites and systems came online. I remember watching crude bulletin board systems arise, then quickly be replaced by Geocities pages and early websites. The first business webpages actually came in the form of reproduced fliers, essentially scanned and put online to promote companies. All of these new ideas came from the imaginings of others that had taken place decades earlier.

The term “internet of things” or “IoT” is also not a new one. You can find references to it as far back as the idea of the Internet itself, but if you survey an IoT team, it is more than likely that few know this. The history, or at least the ideology, goes back a great deal further than most people know. This, of course, has ramifications on the marketplace, both in how older technology companies approach the space and how traditional product introduction processes operate.

Thinkers across history could be responsible for coining the term, depending on the story you read. Some point to Tesla and Edison as the first to lead connected objects. Others look at the literal applications by Tim Berners Lee and Mark Weiser, the latter of which famously created a water fountain synced to the activities of the NYSE. The founders of Nest could also make the list, one of the first truly non-computer connected objects.

Even the idealism and futurism of the 1950s and 1960s gave way to the Internet of Things thinking. Imagine a classic 60s technology ad, displaying the “home of the future.” Everything is connected and communicating, and people are never out of reach of their day-to-day technology.

Then, of course, is Kevin Ashton, a man who comes up when you Google “who came up with the Internet of Things.” Kevin is a frequent thinker in the space who is corrected attributed to a verifiable creation of the term, “Internet of Things.” Like most corporate lingo, the origin is likely impossible to pin down, but the idea that the term was born in a boardroom is not surprising. The leaders who would go on to actually take these objects to market in the 90s included “traditional” players like IBM and Sony.

The story is that, no matter what route you pick to decipher the past, the rise of Internet of Things thinking is ubiquitous. From the moment “networking” arrived into everyday life, people were thinking about how it would impact our world.

1998 itself is a turning point in many ways, when something changed. Apple returned to the market with the iMac, and the team that designed this platform would go on to design the iPhone and, most critical to IoT research, the iPod. Big name manufacturers that had for most of their development focused on the PC were now investing in everyday objects with connectivity and technological features. The smartphone era was planted, and with it would come the first real consumer-level IoT object based on existing computers.

The history of IoT is extraordinarily dense, and the reading of the history depends on who you ask. If you were to question a designer at IBM in the late 1980s, you would find ideas similar to what we now call IoT in constant use. However, if you ask an emerging startup from the early 2000s, you would find a wave of thinkers taking credit for the idea. The reality is somewhere in between: those who thought ahead about computers expected what we have today, billions of devices.

IoT has continued to grow and to evolve and projections are bright for this new methodology for using the internet. The future of IoT is now –with devices coming online every day. The world is reliant upon connected cars, connected medical devices and even connected homes.

Companies today are scrambling to get their own IoT systems online and moving and new recruits are being brought in every day to head up IoT systems in companies both large and small. How well do they know the history of the internet of things and exactly how broad it can be?