Whenever you hear analysts or companies talking about the next big thing in consumer electronics, you instantly know that the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to get at least one shout out.

However, there has been a lot of debate around the actual size of the IoT market: more conservative estimates place it at about six billion devices by 2020. More bullish predictions claim that it could be as high as 200 billion. Obviously, there is a huge gap between the two extremes; but I believe it all starts with the actual definition of IoT.

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If we follow the interpretation offered by Wikipedia, the Internet of Things represents “a network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.”

This is where things get a bit confusing. Is a smartphone or a desktop PC an IoT device? Some companies and analysts would have you think so. However, I am not convinced (yet).

If we use the IoT label for any internet-connected system, including devices such as set-top boxes, smartphones and PCs, then we risk creating a great deal of confusion among the general public. Furthermore, this definition is not entirely correct since there will be many IoT devices that might not actually be connected to the internet; these devices will instead group in standalone ecosystems that are isolated from the public networks that consumers use for web browsing. In an article titled “Smart Homes?” Not Until They’re Less Dependent On The Internet, Jared Newman from Fast Company makes a very good case for how some electronic devices should probably stay off the public internet grid for a number of reasons, including better reliability and improved security.

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To get around the ambiguity created by the overuse of the IoT moniker, companies such as Cisco and Qualcomm have been promoting the term Internet of Everything (IoE) hoping that the Everything in IoE would signal a more inclusive definition.

In addition, they reason that IoT is just an idea whereas IoE has a positive financial impact on businesses. Joseph Bradly, then VP of IoE global practice at Cisco, had this to say about the difference between IoT and IoE back in 2015:

We think IoT is very important – connecting a ‘dark asset’ – as it starts the initiation of the discussion, but in order for an enterprise to extract value, you actually have to think about how you’re going to make that data usable and how you’re going to change decision making.

Rather than applying the IoT or IoE label to large established markets (i.e. mobile, connected home or automotive), I prefer to use it for new markets such as agriculture, energy, security or healthcare. This convention allows everyone to accurately estimate IoT’s true size and potential.

I also tend to use the phrase connected devices when referring to computing systems that integrate some form of connectivity. I believe this is a far better (and more accurate) way of defining and measuring the quantity of intelligent electronic devices in use worldwide. A connected device could therefore be a smartphone, a Wi-Fi-equipped lightbulb or thermostat, a large tablet, a small tablet, a desktop PC or a laptop, any type of wearable, a smart car, a connected speaker, and everything in between.

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Does it have some form of local processing and connectivity? Great! Then it is a connected device.

In conclusion, do I think of smart home, mobile and wearable devices as IoT? The answer is a resounding no – and neither should you. However, I consider that no matter how we call it, be it IoT, IoE or connected devices, these markets represent an excellent opportunity for semiconductor and consumer electronics companies to enhance people’s lives and make a positive impact on a global scale.

If you’d like to learn more about how Imagination Technologies views the IoT market, then download this whitepaper from our website.

For a comprehensive look at the range of solutions Imagination has to offer for any type connected device, have a look at this blog article I recently published.

About the author: Alex Voica

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Before deciding to pursue his dream of working in technology marketing, Alexandru held various engineering roles at leading semiconductor companies in Europe. His background also includes research in computer graphics and VR at the School of Advanced Studies Sant'Anna in Pisa. You can follow him on Twitter @alexvoica.

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