The difference between the IoT and Ubicomp

When you talk about the IoT, it helps to have some history. Knowing where the IoT sits in relation to other developments, and how this buzz-word is different to the last can help define the idea.

Perhaps the most closely related term/movement to the IoT is Ubicomp (Ubiquitous Computing).
Just as humans evolved from chimps but share 99% of our DNA, so too has the IoT evolved from Ubicomp. That said, there are some pretty big differences between humans and chimps. For starters, one really took over the world compared to the other..

In a nutshel:

The defining point for Ubicomp is: Having computational capability in many different (perhaps all) objects.
The defining point for the IoT is: Having these objects all connected to an internet.

Yet since it’s hard to see how you could connect an object to other objects via the internet (IoT) without having some sort of computation in it (Ubicomp), being an IoT device doesn’t stop an object from being Ubicomp as well.

Therefore I’ll say they the IoT in many ways extends the ideas of Ubicomp, but has branched off to somewhere else. Somewhere much more special.

To muddy the waters a little though, while Ubicomp does not require an internet connection, it does not preclude it either. So where do we draw the line between the two?

Ubicomp is:

Ubicomp is: the annoying bell that chimes when you walk into an old shop. ..where a tiny computer that works out if you have come through the door and chimes a bell. It does not use the internet to connect to any other computer outside of itself. If however you added in internet connectivity to the device, and allowed it to make connections with different devices, you start to build the IoT.

Ubicomp is: an intelligently programmed doll that speaks when you move its leg. Whereas the IoT would require it to have an internet connection that could interact with at least parts of the doll. This could be the control of the voice, measuring how the leg is moved, or more.

IoT is:

What the IoT refers to in my mind is not simply the technical combination of internet and object, but the possibilities that exist when numbers of these objects are networked together.

“The value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system” – Metcalfe’s law

If a Ubicomp device included the ability to connect to another device, it was traditionally much more of a ‘remote control’ model, where one server connected to one device read data, to change it’s settings, to update it’s state.
Whilst this falls within the scope of the IoT, the IoT would also (I argue) suggest that that device could be ‘used’ by many other devices. By that I mean that the data a device generates needs to have the potential to interact with many other objects and services.

In a similar vein to differentiating between an ‘ad-hock’ network of a few devices and the ‘internet’, so to do I differentiate between Ubicomp and the IoT. They may both sometimes use the same ‘tubes’, and they may both have the ability to communicate.
However the scale, the intention, the interconnectedness and the possibilities are order of magnitudes higher.

I’m looking forward to thinking this through a little more. If you have some thoughts, drop me a line!

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