A nearly existential search for meaning and direction is hitting the tech industry and its major players in a way that they’ve never truly experienced before. Why? It’s a combination of factors including market maturity, flattened growth in key categories and the lack of a clear picture about where things are headed.
One of the few directions most seem to agree on is the growing importance of the Internet of Things (IoT). Even here, however, the general fuzziness about what IoT really is, how to best approach it, and what the real opportunities are is leading to a lot of head-scratching and strategic adjustments.
Many companies, for example, initially tried to approach IoT with a more horizontal perspective, hoping to find solutions that worked across multiple industries and applications. Fairly quickly, however, most have found that they need to refine and focus their efforts across many separate vertical applications in order to find success.
In addition, while many companies see IoT as an opportunity to expand beyond their core strengths, most are discovering those efforts will likely take much longer than they first thought. Instead, they’re finding that creative applications of what they already do offer the shortest path to success.
For example, while connectivity and compute are clearly common characteristics across most all IoT applications, smartphone component leader Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is starting to find traction in IoT by creating an extended range of reference platforms using its components across nearly 25 different applications. From drones, to wearables, to smart meters and connected cars, the company has built and shared an impressive range of specialized designs, leveraging various members of its Snapdragon CPU and modem family of SOCs.
Qualcomm has found that many of the smaller (and even some larger) players entering specific IoT markets don’t have the in-house expertise to design the circuit boards they need to drive their creations. As a result, they’re starting to attract attention thanks to the extra effort of creating these vertical-specific solutions.
Data analytics is another shared characteristic of IoT and much of that happens in the cloud or corporate data centers. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has recognized this opportunity and is leveraging its strength in servers and data center infrastructure to become more relevant in IoT. Rather than generically throwing x86 hardware at the problem, however, the company is increasingly focused on more specialized solutions. In particular, it is focused on the growing use of its new FPGA assets (a result of the recent Altera acquisition), which allows Intel to create programmable chips that can be ideally matched to the different types of analytics needs from different IoT markets.
In a related fashion, the people at Dell have started to create a line of IoT gateways, which are essentially industrial PCs with additional types of connectors that allow them to easily integrate into many types of IoT environments. Their goal is to build a range of different solutions that allow them to create the kind of distributed computing architectures and “fog-based” computing components (closer to the ground than “cloud”) which IoT deployments are starting to use.
Companies like HPE are leveraging their strength in big data and analytics software and services to meet the unique needs of different IoT applications. In addition, HPE has built ruggedized edge-based servers like the EdgeLine series, which incorporate data acquisition hardware from National Instruments (NASDAQ:NATI) (NI) for industrial IoT applications.
Speaking of which, NI, best known for its test and measurement equipment, is also enabling specific IoT solutions. The company’s latest version of LabView offers a modular software platform design that incorporates a number of new elements, including some designed for data analytics. In addition, LabView Communications puts an emphasis on building and connecting together blocks of application-specific code for the radio and communications-level elements that are so essential to IoT.
Of course, these companies (and many others) also compete directly with one another in other aspects of the IoT market. But the IoT opportunity is so large that there isn’t a single answer about how to best address it. Eventually, companies can (and undoubtedly will) work to broaden their offerings across a wider range of the IoT market. In the short term, however, leveraging existing strengths across a range of different verticals seems to be the way to go.