This announcement, from ARM, describes its own new offering in this area, and also details the way in which it’s a joint launch with IBM. The UK launch event was held in IBM’s offices on London’s South Bank, the PR was jointly handled by both companies, and there were IBM speakers present.
The kit itself, described here, is nice, and it’s attractively packaged – both literally (there’s a pretty box) and figuratively, in that it comes bundled with free access to IBM’s cloud services for the Internet of Things, including its BlueMix platform and its NodeRed application development tool. There are libraries, a variety of runtime environments, and a graphical user interface for building applications. The kit is closely related to ARM’s mbed platform, and to IBM’s IoT Foundation, an IoT development framework within BlueMix. It will be sold online and through conventional retail channels.
There are quite a few of such starter kits now. Intel has one, of course, described here. There’s this one, from TinkerForge, the delightful chocolate themed WunderBar from Relayr, this one from Ayla Networks, the Spark Photon, the Boy Scout-themed pinoccio…well, you get the idea. Many of the use cases for the Raspberry Pi, which this week reached the 5 million sales mark, are IoT oriented. And this is not IBM’s first foray into IoT starter kits, as this post shows.
They are all aimed at an important but ill-defined market – the space where the amateur enthusiast meets the start-up developer and even the corporate ‘intrapreneur’. The big guns in the Internet of Things (IoT) know that something important is happening in there, but they don’t know exactly what it is.
There is a perception that the imagination and creativity that are needed to develop the next big things are in there somewhere, and that the major companies themselves don’t have the secret spark that’s needed to make that happen. Parallels are rightly drawn with the early days of the internet, and also with the early days of the web, where essential tools and frameworks were developed on the fly by researchers and hobbyists. The commercial world, not to mention the standards organisations, caught up later.
The corporate world is desperate not to miss out a second time, so it’s devoting considerable effort into addressing this community. It is an open question, though, how far it understands the people that it is addressing.
ARM is at pains to distinguish its new offering from similar offerings which are aimed at the ‘Maker’ movement, for hobbyists; this is not like an Arduino kit, though the hardware has Arduino-compatible headers. It believes that there is a separate community of developers who are more focused on the corporate space, and who want enterprise-grade software tools.
But others cut the deck differently; an IoT platform company that I know well distinguishes between hardware hackers, software developers, and corporates. One colleague looked at the ARM announcement and thought that the real target of the offering should be education and training.
I don’t claim to have a definitive segmentation, but I suspect that the participants in the various sub-groups would feel the distinctions very keenly. There is clearly room for more than one IoT starter community, and more than one kind of starter kit. In the meantime, if someone is looking for a good subject for an Anthropology PhD thesis….