Is Embedded Going Net-Crazy?
This commentary has prompted response from the industry. Check out what consultant Ed Steinfeld has to say about the proliferation of Internet technology.
The Internet was on the lips of vendors everywhere at the show. Companies were offering chips and modules that made Internet connectivity a plug-in commodity. Board vendors were highlighting the hardware and software that made their products Internet ready. Most telling, the smaller companies at the periphery of the show had changed character. In past years, these spots were occupied by small RTOS and tool vendors. Now, protocol stack vendors dominate the show's perimeter.
There's no question that the Internet represents the next major trend in consumer electronics. Already business practices have adjusted to that reality. If a company doesn't have a web presence, then it lacks legitimacy in some eyes. Even government agencies are embracing the Net. Entering a small seaside town near my home I noticed the "Welcome to..." sign included the city's Web address.
Still, I have to wonder if all this activity is well considered. Perhaps I'm becoming a Luddite as I get older, but it seems to me that making a thing Net-enabled just because you can is not necessarily a good thing. Not everything, nor everyone, is suited to be Net-centric.
Consider some of the visions that appliance companies have for their products. For instance, your refrigerator would have a net connection so that it can call for repairs if it needs them. That has some merit. But it also will use the connection to let you order food online when you notice you're out of milk or something. And in the plans are devices that scan the barcodes of foods as you take them out and automatically orders replacements if you run out. It also lets the oven and stove know what you have in stock so that they can recommend recipes when you're trying to decide what to have for dinner.
In another case, your bedside clock has an Internet connection that allows it to look up the current time after having lost power and then sends that information over the household network to your coffee maker, VCR, and everything else that has a built-in clock. Never a blinking 12:00 again.
These are alluring visions of a world where technology simplifies every aspect of daily life. But it assumes an upper-middle-class existence, comfortable with technology and occupying newly constructed homes with new appliances. There are still a lot of people in this country that don't fall into that category. Neither does much of the rest of the world. These visions may simply be pipe dreams for decades.
Don't get the idea I'm knocking the Internet. It's a wonderful tool, and it is accelerating the flow of information across the world for both good and ill. It's the application of the technology to gee-whiz gadgetry that has me shaking my head. "Find a need and fill it" no longer seems to be the goal of many companies. Instead, they seem to be following the maxim "If it's sexy it'll sell."
That never lasts long. Already the stock market is turning cold on Internet startups that have exotic visions with no business model. Embedded Internet could follow the same path if developers have no clear idea of what need is being fulfilled. It's time to calm down, take a serious look at the true value of connectivity, and work to provide that value. "Just because we can" isn't a good enough reason.