Monday, November 3, 2014

Enchanted Objects, the Internet of
Things, and Software Developers

Book Review of Enchanted Objects - Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things by David Rose, published by Scribner

Too many software developers believe that desktop and laptop software are today's news, and that software as a service (SaaS), cloud computing, and smartphone apps are the next major technology hot buttons. Truth is, SaaS, the cloud, iOS, and Android are all mature markets. The next big trend on the horizon is the Internet of Things. And it's time for software developers to begin thinking about how they'll be profiting from this new movement.

In this July 2014 book, David Rose states that by the end of the decade, the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to change all of our lives as much as the Internet changed our lives beginning in the late 1990s. While lots of journalists are trying to predict the future of technology, Rose has hands-on knowledge of this new movement. He spent the last 20 years developing toys, furniture, jewelry, and other objects that are connected to the Internet. He teaches at MIT's Media Lab, and has started a number of IoT companies. And he sees a bright future in the creation of what he calls "enchanted objects."

In Rose's vision of the future, the connection between people and machines will have a lot less clicking and dragging, and a lot more enchantment. He believes that ordinary objects will be turned into extraordinary ones, without our having to navigate menus or learn a new system of gestures.

The author is fascinated with the magical objects that have captivated humans for centuries, from ancient legends to today's pop culture. He believes that the future of computing lies in the creation of enchanted objects that will change our lives.

Rose was concerned about the personal tragedy and the skyrocketing costs that are caused by people not taking the pills that their doctors have prescribed for them. Depending upon which study you believe, people take between 40 and 60 percent of the medications that have been prescribed.

Rose invented the GlowCap. "It looks like a regular, childproof, amber medicine bottle, but has a special cap that glows...It has enchanted users enough that people who own one take their medications over 90 percent of the time."

In addition to reminding users visually to take their pills, the GlowCap is connected to the AT&T Cellular Network. It texts or phones the patient with a reminder to take a pill. It also notifies their friends, relatives, and doctors who can encourage them to take their medicine. The GlowCap even contacts the pharmacy when a refill is needed.

Rose envisions a future in which "small amounts of computation, connectivity, and interaction" can transform our lives. Simple, enchanted objects can make us healthier and happier.

Enchanted objects will compete with three other visions of the future. The current marketplace leader, of course, is what Rose pejoratively refers to as the glass slab. Rose believes that smartphones, tablets, and computers will "continue to expand, consuming everything in {their] path." He poo-poos Google Glass, for example, as yet another glass slab with its tiny screen and its new gestures for marching up and down menus.

The second movement is the prosthetics and wearables trend. Since the creation of the cochlear implant in the 1960s, people born without hearing have been able to recognize at least 90 percent of spoken words (and 100 percent when combined with lip reading). Many of today's wearables are costly and bulky. Both of these flaws should diminish in the future. While there is a lot of merit to wearable devices, Rose prefers a future in which stand-alone enchanted objects help us solve our technology-related problems.

The third alternative to enchanted objects are social robots. Rose will grant you that the Roomba vacuum cleaning robot is cute. But he doesn't believe that robots that resemble humans will be accepted by most people.

So enchanted objects it is, Rose advises.

Rose shares a few dozen stories about specific products - specific enchanted objects - that have changed people's lives. I found some of them to be compelling, and others to be measurably less so. But I'm sure that I'll have the same reaction to the countless "Top Applications in 2014" articles that will be published by consumer and business tech magazines in the coming months. I doubt that Rose expected all of his readers to fall in love with all of the enchanted objects that he describes.

There's an in-depth discussion about human drives, and how enchanted objects can help us deal with these all-too-human needs. Rose discusses solutions to our need to know what is going on around us, our desire to be connected to our friends, loved ones, and colleagues, our need for safety and security, our need to be healthy, our desire to travel from place to place, and our need to express ourselves in many ways.

Rose discusses the seven "abilities of enchantment." They are glanceability, gestureability, affordability, wearability, indestructibility, usability, and lovability. For today's software developers who will be designing tomorrow's Internet-enabled technologies, Rose's discussion presents an in-depth analysis of which design elements work, and which failed to engage a significant segment of the buying public. It's hardly a blueprint of what needs to be developed in the future. But it's the best roadmap that's available at this early stage of the IoT.

The three things that I love about this book are (1) Rose's clear vision of how technology should change in the coming decades, (2) his analysis of the marketplace and the way he delivers his analysis in logical, bite-size pieces, and (3) the enthusiastic and optimistic view of the evolution of the human-machine connection.

According to the latest news from ABI Research, as reported in the September 19, 2014 issue of Processor Magazine, the Internet of Things is poised for a huge growth spurt in the next six years. ABI predicts that the IoT will pass the 16 billion mark for connected wireless devices by the end of 2014. That number will grow to 40.9 billion devices by 2020. Only 32 percent of the connected devices will be smartphones, tablets, and PCs. The opportunities are promising for microISVs who embrace this new technology today, and prepare for the future. There may be a lot of enchantment in the future of microISVs in the software development industry.

Learn more about David Rose's book "Enchanted Objects" on amazon.com.

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