What operating systems did for computers in the 70’s and 80’s, new application platforms will do for the Internet of Things. With an imminent explosion of connected devices expected how we connect, interact and communicate with these devices is the 64 million-dollar question.

Just how many connected devices and IoT applications are we talking about?

Whether we’re citing statistics from Intel, IBM, or Cisco, the fact is, the Internet of Things is going to consist of billions – if not trillions – of connected devices. The annual transmission of data from these devices is expected to surpass 2 zettabytes by 2019. That’s over 2 trillion gigabytes a year….I don’t even think there are enough iPhones in existence to hold that amount a data!

Put it another way, there’s a great Cisco infographic that explains it this way: “If the 11oz coffee on your desk equals one gigabyte, a zettabyte would have the same volume as the Great Wall of China.” Yeah, we’re talking about a lot of data coming from a lot of devices.

And IoT applications? What are they and what’s their role in this data tsunami?

Let’s take a look.

Internet of Things Applications

Decoding IoT Applications & Platforms

Just as the operating system allows for direct communication with the hardware components of computers and mobile devices, so too will IoT application platforms. Well at least in a manner of speaking. Let’s expand a little more without going too far into the weeds.

Hardware, OS, and Apps

Take the example of a computer operating system. At its core, the primary job of an OS is to handle all of the physical hardware instructions. What to do, how to do it, and when to do it. This allows an application programmer to focus their attention on writing application code and not have to worry about coding hardware functions into their applications.

So, what does this ecosystem look like?

IoT Applications

In the above diagram, we see a typical computer ecosystem. The computer is made up of a bunch of physical hardware pieces. Think, microchips, memory, processors, a screen, etc. In order to make each of these hardware pieces work in conjunction, it is the operating system that sends the instructions to each piece of hardware.

Now, a typical application will sit on top of the operating system. Here, the OS acts as an intermediary between the application and device hardware. The application itself is what the end-user sees/uses to take advantage of the hardware’s processing power. For simplicity’s sake think, Word, PowerPoint, Web Browsers, etc.. These are the end-user applications that sit on top of the computer’s operating system.

Shapes and Forms of the OS and Apps

To expand the concept a little further, let’s think about your iPad, Samsung phone, home computer, and work laptop.

Each of the devices above consist of various physical hardware pieces. The major difference is the operating system that each of them use to instruct their physical hardware pieces. In this case, your iPad would use iOS. The Samsung phone uses the Android operating system. And your home computer and work laptop could each use Mac OS or Microsoft Windows OS, respectively. Different operating systems for different hardware pieces that each run different applications.

Now what this means is for each operating system there are specific applications that were written to work on those specific operating systems. That’s why we can’t use, say the web browser Safari, on a computer running the Windows operating system. They’re simply not compatible. Or the fact you can’t achieve the same functionality of your iPhone Instagram application when you try to put it on your iPad.

Before IoT Apps, We Need IoT Platforms

Just as with our computer example we can’t have an IoT application without first having an IoT platform (i.e. operating system) for it to live on. A little different from a computer operating system, an IoT platform is more like a repository for IoT applications to dump their data.  We could, I guess technically, make the same comparison in our computer example in that the end-user applications  “live” on top of the computer operating system. And without the computer operating system, we computer applications would be useless as is.

Because the Internet of Things is far more focused on the digitization of our physical world, the IoT platform is geared to housing and analyzing these quadrillions of bytes of data. Versus being solely focused on sending instructions to physical hardware, like in our computer example. But the general context of computer OS and applications fits an IoT world.

So, who are the IoT platform players?

IoT Leaders

IoT Application Platform Leaders

Here is where things get interesting. The players in the IoT platform game is incredibly wide-ranging. Some of the largest tech giants are in the mix, of course. What’s surprising – or maybe not that surprising – is the inclusion of some industrial giants. A group that’s historically less thought of as tech innovators.

In fact, some research firms – namely Gartner and IoT Analytics – estimate there are hundreds of IoT platform development companies in the market as of the end of last year. We’ll jump into those a little later. For now, we’ll focus our attention on what I think are the largest players. Those with the most extensive IoT platforms today for some pretty comprehensive data analytics.

These IoT platform leaders include:

  • General Electric’s Predix Platform
  • Microsoft’s Azure Platform
  • IBM’s Watson Platform
  • Amazon’s AWS Platform
  • Cisco’s Jasper Control Center Platform

Each of these IoT application platforms house some incredible promise. With hundreds of industry clients and partners already working with many of these platforms, the advent of more IoT applications is soon to follow.

For example, let’s take a look at GE’s Predix platform. According to GE, Predix is the operating system for the Industrial Internet.

By connecting industrial equipment, analyzing data, and delivering real-time insights, Predix-based apps are unleashing new levels of performance.”

Through the use of GE’s Internet of Things platform businesses now have a “home” to place industrial IoT applications. Let’s look at an example. In this case, an example could include GE’s purchase of advanced lighting and building control manufacturer Daintree Networks. Daintree’s building automation solutions, once stand-alone web-based software, will now be transformed into an IoT application that lives on the Pridix operating system.

Who Else is Leading the IoT Platform & Application Game?

According to IoT Analytics, a market research firm, the top twenty IoT companies vary across multiple markets. In total, IoT Analytics estimates there are over 400 IoT platform companies in the market as of 2016.

Here are the top twenty as ranked by IoT Analytics:

  1. IBM – Software
  2. Google – Various
  3. Intel – Semiconductor
  4. Microsoft – Software
  5. Cisco – Hardware
  6. Apple – Consumer Products
  7. SAP – Software
  8. Oracle – Software
  9. Samsung – Consumer Products
  10. HP – Software
  11. Ericsson – M2M
  12. Amazon – Software
  13. GE – Industrial Equipment
  14. Qualcomm – Semiconductor
  15. AT&T – M2M
  16. Orange – M2M
  17. Blackberry – Software
  18. Facebook – Software
  19. Dell – Hardware
  20. Verizon – M2M