More than two years after we picked that name for the section, the meaning of the term Internet Appliance is still no better defined.
For two full years now, we've been supplementing each issue of Embedded Systems Programming with a column and one or two feature articles aimed squarely at those of you who are developing internet appliances. Which begs the question, what is an internet appliance?
Surprisingly, more than two years after we picked that name for the section, the meaning of the term internet appliance is still no better defined. Yet an informational need clearly persists. The section has resonated with many of our subscribers; and a recent poll of 393 visitors to Embedded.com found that approximately 43% of embedded programmers are currently “designing an Internet-connected embedded app.” That's a very large percentage, especially if the question is taken literally-with “Internet” in all of its capital-I glory-as it was on my last project.
What is an internet appliance? Is it any embedded system with an Internet connection? Or a name for only Internet-based products, like Internet radio and MP3 player components for your stereo system? Must an internet appliance have a browser and a display of some sort, like those in a set-top box, PDA, or cell phone? Or can it instead be only among the browsed, like a display-less router or firewall?
From the start, the focus of our Internet Appliance Design section has always been far broader than only capital-I Internet-connected systems. I like to think we've instead considered the design of “all things connected.” Networks are now just as likely to be part of a factory floor or an automobile as they are part of an office. As such, connected systems don't exist exclusively in the realm of TCP/IP and HTTP. In fact, they may use any mix of proprietary or standard protocols to communicate and share resources; and their “connections” may be wired or wireless, always-on or occasional.
Though themselves incredibly distinct and technically unrelated, all sorts of protocols-from TCP/IP to WAP, Bluetooth to IrDA, and UPnP to Jini-have been covered in the IAD section. We've also covered Java (virtual machines, processors, and compilers), web browsers, and embedded web servers there. And it's become the place within ESP for information about displays and user interfaces as well. As our publisher, Eric Berg, puts it, the IAD section is an extension of the magazine into the realm of higher-end embedded systems design, for those of you employing network connections, displays, and gobs of memory to get the job done.
So the big questions are: Does the name Internet Appliance Design aptly define this section? And, if it does not, what name would you suggest as a replacement?
After two years, it's clear the section itself is going to be with us for the long haul. Is it time we renamed it? How do you classify your connected products these days? Are you still building internet appliances or have you already moved on to The Next Big Thing. Drop me a line. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject.