Let a Sleeping Baby Lie

By: Devon Biondi

As a first time soon to be mother you can imagine that I have been inundated with advice; some good, some odd and, well, a few things in between.  It’s fairly easy to drive yourself mad making sense of it all, but, like most things, I have been relying on my good ol’ iPhone for shortcuts and it hasn’t let me down.  The technology around child rearing has made incredible advancements in just the past couple of years.  It seems every aspect of rearing a baby from conception to pregnancy to monitoring has progressed in leaps and bounds - and most of it can be controlled from your smartphone.  

If we flash back in time for a moment, the first baby monitor was invented in 1937 by the Zenith Radio Corporation as a reaction to the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932.   It’s true, I can’t make this stuff up.  It was a two-part set: the “Guardian Ear” transmitter, which was plugged in near the infant’s crib, and the “Radio Nurse”, which was placed with the caregiver.  Unfortunately, it picked up quite a bit of unnecessary signals, so the monitor never became a must-have nursery item.  

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Fast-forward to today and no nursery is complete without a video monitor, allowing panicky new parents to carefully monitor every noise and movement from their little one’s crib.  Dropcam, which is not exclusively a baby monitor, but a wireless camera you can control from your smartphone, has taken it a step farther by not only allowing two-way talk, but also detecting any strange movements in your nursery.  You can live stream to your phone as well as the web so that eager grandparents can always be spying checking in on you.  I was lucky enough to receive one of these from my awesome co-workers and, with Dropcam’s beta API program, I am sure there will be lots of great mashups in the near future.

However, the monitoring advancements don’t stop there.  At CES this year, our very own Intel announced that the Edison Chip would be used in the Mimo Baby Monitor.  

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The Mimo is a onesie that you put on your infant to monitor breathing, temperature, the baby’s movements and sleep cycle.  The starter kit has a hefty price tag of $200, but, for peace of mind that your little one is safe, that seems like a steal to me.  While there are other similar devices out there, such as the still in stealth mode Sproutling and the slightly less well-designed Owlet, it seems that video monitors may soon be a thing of the past.  Again, as a new, slightly paranoid parent, the ability to monitor every aspect of my sleeping infant sounds amazing, but I’ll report back after my little one arrives.

Apple <3 Devs

By: Rahul Gilani

Monday marked the opening of the 25th World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) for Apple. Led primarily by Apple CEO Tim Cook and Senior Vice President, Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, the two-hour presentation focused on the newest versions of Apple’s desktop and mobile operating systems and the developers that will shape them.

The changes coming to the newest version of OS X 10.10 Yosemite featured more customizations and integration with Notification Center, creating a sidebar that allows users to receive alerts and updates with a glance. Apple also showcased tighter integration within Spotlight - OS X’s search functionality - by returning web results and other sources in search results. For example, users that search a movie title will receive showtimes and theaters playing the feature. The core of the OS X update encourages more integration with desktop apps and connected sources across the web. Of course, none of this would be possible without usable APIs. 

Apple unveiled a plethora of new features for its mobile operating system, iOS 8, which will be publicly released later this fall. One of the most telling signs that Apple sees the value in unlocking more functionality for developers is the announcement of introducing 4,000 new APIs for integration at the OS level.

One of the new APIs that iOS 8 opens for developers is access to TouchID, Apple’s proprietary fingerprint scanner that was originally limited to unlocking the device and authenticating app purchases. Don’t we have enough passwords and logins to worry about? Those who have an iPhone 5s (or, presumably, future Apple devices to be unveiled later this year) will experience this added functionality. Of course, new integrations will depend on developers finding use-cases where a fingerprint ID makes life easier with their respective apps.

Much like what iOS’ Passbook did with movie tickets, boarding passes, and Starbucks, Apple unveiled HealthKit and HomeKit to provide centralized functionality for connected health and home applications respectively.

With the Internet of Things bringing sensors to everything, and the exponential adoption of wearables, the resulting trove of health, fitness, and activity data has spawned a multitude of new apps that track your well-being. Apple’s HealthKit will act as a centralized repository for all these health-related metrics that can be used to, hopefully, lead us all to healthier lives. 

Likewise, the HomeKit API intends to make your home smarter and up to par with things we’ve seen since we were children watching The Jetsons. The idea is to encourage app developers to incorporate additional hardware that will be installed throughout the home to assist with locks, lights, cameras, doors, thermostats, plugs and switches. HomeKit helps developers securely pair to and control devices, group them together and integrate with Siri for voice commands. In talking about this last feature, Craig Federighi suggested a scenario where you could tell Siri to “get ready for bed” and the associated app would lock the doors, set the thermostat and dim the lights. Right now, I have an automatic timer for my outside lights. While that’s certainly helpful, it’s not very smart, nor can anything else integrate with that switch.

Something that has been foreign to Apple devices until now are app level extension integrations., functionality Android devices have had for years. A user on an Android device can bring up a photo and share it with any other installed apps that have told the system they can work with it. In contrast, Apple limited the information that could be shared between applications to whichever services they chose for that year. By introducing extensions, each of these apps can talk to each other directly, raising the iOS integration level to that of Android.

Notification Center was a welcome addition to iOS, but it, too, has been lacking until this newest version. App developers will now be able to create dynamic widgets that can be added to the Notification Center. An example of this is ESPN showing the latest sports scores with a quick swipe down, resulting in real-time updates.

But the biggest reaction from the developer community came when Apple unveiled its new programming language, Swift. The language’s scripting-like syntax is intended to make developing apps for iOS and OS X easier and faster than its predecessor, Objective-C, whose verbosity and complexity was seen by many developers a bottleneck to adoption. Apple kept much of that complexity out of Swift and demoed an impressive “Playground” to get developers up and running in no time.

With 4,000 new iOS APIs, extensions, widgets, and Swift, Apple clearly demonstrated its commitment to developers is as strong as ever. 

The Connected K-9

By: Kyle Riordan

I’ll admit, not being from Silicon Valley had left me a bit skeptical of the whole “quantified dog” phenomenon. I mean, was this really something people were starting to do?  I love my dog, but I don’t need daily read outs of her activity on my phone.  It’s not really a big mystery to me; when I’m not there she mostly sleeps (that is after all how most dogs spend the majority of their time) and when I am, she enjoys her walks and play.  And for those who ask, “Well what about people with dogs that are overweight?”  I suppose you may have something there.  I’m a big believer in the idea that healthy dogs are happy dogs but I still fail to see how an app telling me that the pooch is at rest helps me correct this inactivity.  Unless that app has some way of making the dog want to get up and run around, the benefit of that information still eludes me.  To me, the remedy is seemingly pretty straightforward; if the dog is overweight; less food, more exercise, some combination of the two and if that does not work ask your vet if further tests are warranted.  Maybe I’m just too narrow minded or simplistic in my views of our K-9 friends or maybe there has just been something missing from the value proposition. 

It seems now though that Whistle may have an answer to this last point.  That answer is provided through what it is calling an “evolution” in its product with the WhistleGPS.  No longer will the monitor and accompanying app merely track your dog’s activity, now it will actually track your dog; as in its location.  That’s a value proposition I can get behind.  Sure you can always chip your dog, but not all those chips provide real-time location and many require someone actively scanning the dog to verify identity.  And besides all that, it’s pretty invasive on the pup.  With this update from Whistle you can always know where your dog is, even when it gets loose and is off to explore.

As you might be able to tell, I kind of like this update; I think its pretty cool.  But what I really find interesting about it is how Whistle is doing it.  If you are like me you’ve probably assumed it’s being done one of two ways, Bluetooth/WiFi or some form of IOT traditional wireless carrier integration.  The answer though may surprise you as it comes in the form of a new sub-GHz technology from Sigfox (when outside of Bluetooth/WiFi range).  The benefit of using this new network technology is that it exceeds the range provided by short range networks like Bluetooth but does not have the same burdensome costs that come with traditional carriers.  In other words, it’s the best of both worlds and could potentially be a revolutionary way of bringing data up into the cloud.  

If you’ve kept up with the Strategy Services blog in the past couple of months the excitement for this new technology may come as a surprise.  I personally have written a number of posts lauding traditional telcos as the potential answer to connecting more devices.  In many instances these providers are still the most effective solution.  For one, just like with your cellphone there’s the issue of network coverage and speeds.  The new sub-GHz technology only transmits 100 bits/second and is deployed in limited locations (unless you are in France) so might this new wireless connectivity work for your new “connected car?”  Probably not so much; at least not right now.  What it will work for though are fixed objects or ones with a relatively small variance in location.  The benefit is substantial; having that expanded range with lessened costs could be the launch point that gets more devices into the Internet of Things. 

Hey if we are already doing it for our dogs is it really that far fetched (get it?) to think we’ll start using it to connect our gas pumps, farms or bicycles?  All this (potential) connectivity opens up a new world of APIs and apps to enhance our lives.  With new connectivity models making the collection and cloud storage of data easier APIs become increasingly important.  APIs are how we put all that new data to good use; we can use it to find our lost dogs through our phones, find available parking through an app, better evaluate water/electric/natural gas consumption by a household, a neighborhood, even an entire city!  This new network technology can help make the data obtainable, APIs are what will make it useful.

So a post that starts off with quantified dogs ends up in smart cities and connected bikes.  That’s really one of the most amazing parts of the IOT; just how expansive it all really can be.  Virtually any device can be connected, and with more network options joining the fold those devices might all start getting connected sooner than we had anticipated.  Putting all that connectivity to good use requires good APIs.  And with the right APIs in place the IOT can enrich not just our lives but also the lives of our pets giving even our dogs something to smile about.

     

Hey, It’s Rahul

By: Rahul Gilani

Greetings!

I’d like to introduce myself as the newest contributor to Mashery’s Strategy Services blog. My name is Rahul and I have been with Mashery for just over two and a half years as a Client Solutions Manager (CSM) completing dozens of customer implementations across various verticals and industries.  As a CSM, I was the technical subject matter expert and implementation “Coach” to customers utilizing Mashery’s SaaS offering. My sole responsibility was to ensure any API program I was involved with achieved success.

I am excited to announce that I am joining the Mashery Strategy Services team as Manager, Platform Strategy. With comprehensive knowledge of Mashery‘s API Management Platform and exposure to numerous API programs under my belt, I am excited to bring additional depth to an already outstanding team. 

I truly love technology. APIs are driving the ever-evolving landscape of how technology interweaves with our daily lives. I’m excited to be at the forefront of things to come with the Internet-of-Things, as everything is quickly becoming connected.  On a personal side, I am a die-hard ice hockey fan, a gamer and an amateur photographer.  I recently earned my Master of Science degree from Boston University in Computer Information Systems and have an extensive background in multiple areas of the IT ecosystem ranging from mobile/telecommunications to web development. With all that being said, I hope to put the many facets of my background to good use as part of Mashery’s Strategy Services team. 

I look forward to posting more on this blog and communicating more with the technology community. Please feel free to say hello on Twitter (@rahulgilani).     

Cheers.

Stay In and Vote

By: Kyle Riordan

On my T ride (or subway, metro, tube whatever your vernacular) I spotted a notice among the ads alerting riders of a town hall meeting to discuss a proposed raise in fare prices.  Yes I live in a city that still has town hall meetings - I know, “How quaint.”  This being yet another hike in price, my initial reaction was boy I’d like to go down there and give them a piece of my mind. But then I remembered I have a job, girlfriend, dog, friends and family that occupy just about all the time that I am not sleeping; really the likelihood of me following up on this (and casting a vote if there is one) is pretty minimal.  Let’s face it, I’m not going to do it and the proposition will likely pass forcing riders to dole out more cash…again.  Then I thought, there has to be a better way.

If you have read any of my, or other Strategy Services members’ blogs  you’ve probably already guessed the way, APIs.  Now before you dismissively say, “Sure, sure, APIs are always the way,” let me take a step back to explain.  My sentiment of being too busy to engage is by no means unique.  I bet you have missed numerous local elections and votes due to work, travel and prior engagements.  One look at the voter turnout rates for the last presidential election really bears this out.  Are we really that apathetic?  I don’t think we are; I think we are that preoccupied. 

So how can APIs help?  In short, APIs specifically telco APIs, can help bring the polls to you.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to cast your vote if that vote was presented to you on your mobile phone or connected device?  Telco APIs can help deliver this invaluable service by providing messaging, location and user identification information.  

The messaging aspect is likely pretty self-explanatory.  Instead of you leaving work early or missing whatever other engagement you had to schlep yourself over to the polls and check some boxes with your vote, those check boxes can be delivered to you on your phone or connected device using telco SMS/MMS messaging.  Using telco messaging APIs would allow for states and districts to engage not just smartphone users but standard mobile phones, delivering poll questions in text form and allowing users to text in responses to cast their vote.  It might be a bit more clunky than the smartphone alternative, but its definitely less clunky than waiting in a long line in the rain to mark a piece a paper and deposit it in a voting machine that looks like it was made in the 1970’s. 

People want to vote, but they need an easier way to get engaged. Look at the mobile device saturation rates in the US; with this additional conduit into the voting booth the voter turnout rates are bound to go up.  Voting would not only be easier but more reflective of the general public’s will. 

Of course there are some concerns.  What happens when you have voters outside their designated geographies, or my pesky nephew seeing the voting prompt picks up my phone and casts my vote for Taft?  This is where some of these other telco services like Location and User Identification information come into play. 

With location information provided by telcos ballot questions can be presented to voters only for their district.  If for some reason voters roam outside of their district’s boundaries while casting the vote the telcos could power notifications both to the voter and district to enable shut off, or designate the vote cast to the absentee ballots, now counting it only if in district voting margins could be swayed in one direction or the other by absentees.  Better yet, now with the expanded level of voting enabled these votes could be considered in district votes as opposed to absentee, limiting absentee ballots.

But how can the districts be sure that the people actually sending their votes from their phones are who they claim to be?  That is where User Profile information comes into play.  The telcos’ already have data points like our names, addresses, credit card information and probably in some instances our Social Security Numbers.  We’ve given that information freely (more or less) so now lets make it useful for us as citizens.  When submitting a vote through a connected device users could be required to input some sort of identifiable information that either telcos or the state itself would then be able to verify. 

Delivering this information to the state opens up an array of input options: Social Security Number, driver’s license number, passport, you name it.  And for those states with their newfound photo identification requirements, telcos can deliver that too via MMS.  Submit some sort of photo identification number in conjunction with a picture (no duckface selfies please) taken at the time of the vote that the state can cross-reference and voila you’ve met even the most stringent of voter identification requirements.

It’s 2014, we have connected cows, internet ready egg trays and even smart homes that can recognized us as we approach.  Why then are we still voting like we did when powdered wigs and tricornes were in style?  We need a ballot box that comes to us not the other way around.  Let’s demand it from our local and state governments now so one day soon we can all, “Stay in and vote.” 

Smart Farms: Planting the Seeds of the Future

By: Kyle Riordan

It seems that the Internet of Things (IOT) is infiltrating every industry (and in this blogger’s humble opinion, that’s a good thing).  We have seen this concept take hold in some familiar places, our homes, our cars, our cities and our factories; but what about our farms?  That’s right farming, one of the few industries that many of us probably assumed to be relatively stagnant in terms of technology is seeing its own revolution in what Forbes has dubbed the “Internet of Cows.”  As a people we have moved from the agrarian age to the industrial age to the digital age, and no longer shall our farms be left behind.

You may be asking yourself, “How can two so seemingly different concepts, digital technology and agriculture, find synergy in the ordinary moocow?”  The answer is of course data.  Data that can be derived from the fields, the water, the air and yes even the livestock to keep farmers better informed of their land, crops and animals. There are soil monitors, atmospheric monitors, aerial drones and animal tags being deployed on farms around the world to help farmers make better decisions.  Soil monitors can detect variables like ground temperature and moisture levels.  Atmospheric monitors can detect weather conditions in pinpointed locations.  Flyover drones can indicate if seeds have sprouted and animal monitors can track not just location but also provide indicators of potential illness.

At an industry wide level, the goals and benefits of all this is substantial.  Smart farming is actively trying to make our farms less detrimental to the environment by increasing crop yields, reducing water consumption, and streamlining farming processes.  Lofty and noble endeavors no doubt, but it can also help farms improve the bottom line. 

Let’s take the example of the connected cow.  A study conducted by the Cow Tracking Project found that each case of mastitis (a potentially fatal infection of the udder) costs farmers somewhere around £300.  With a smart tagging system used to monitor individual cows and their behavior farmers can be alerted to early indicators, make adjustments and hopefully avoid the illness.  This not only saves the farmer some money but also keeps the cow healthier and happier.  Multiply this out across a herd and the savings (in terms of both money and suffering) really start to add up.

The key is connecting all this data and delivering it to farmers in a manner that is both easily consumable and actionable.  The connectivity is precisely the area where telcos can fit in (and some already have with Verizon very much leading the charge through its Powerful Answers initiative).  There is an abundance of monitoring tools out there but not all of them offer the same level of connectivity.  Some require specific transmitters to transfer data, others require farmers to physically check stations, and some even require farmers to call in to toll free numbers to get current readings.  This lattermost instance is one where the telco use case fits in two fold.  Firstly providing the connectivity to transmit the data over the carriers cellular network and secondly by offering SMS and MMS APIs to deliver useful messages and alerts to farmers on any of their connected devices.  With the proper analytics tools evaluating the collected data the messages that are delivered can go beyond mere data readouts to active alerts warning farmers of potential problems. 

Like so many other industries, farms are getting smarter.  There are more tools than ever at farmers’ disposal to help them monitor their fields, and track their animals.  But just harvesting the data is not enough, it needs to be delivered in a time and manner that is actionable to help farmers make better decisions about their land and livestock.  With both their networks and APIs telcos can be a key enabler here helping the agricultural industry join the IOT.  Moo-ve over (sorry had to do it) old farms, the connected cows are coming home.   

Smart Homes Require Smart APIs

By: Kyle Riordan

As Google’s $3.2b purchase of Nest has made abundantly clear, the arrival of the “connected” or “smart home” is here with widespread acceptance seemingly imminent.  In many ways, connected home has already arrived with a myriad of connected devices specifically for our homes: smart thermostats, lights, locks, security systems and even refrigerators.   And the industry is only picking up steam -  a conservative estimate by Juniper Research estimates the smart home market will reach $71b by 2018.

In a way, a well thought out and well-managed API program is a lot like a smart home.  Take for instance letting people in to your house when you aren’t home.  Traditionally, this would require you to stow your key in a hideaway fake rock, the one that really looks like a rock, and then telling your friend where to find it; or physically handing over your key.  Sometimes this even meant going through the trouble of getting to the hardware store to have copies made (and if you are anything like me, returning home to find the they do not work).

With a smart lock like Goji at your front door, this hassle can essentially be eliminated.  Smart locks with integrated mobile applications can show you who is at your front door and allow you to let them in even when you are away.  You can even go so far as to assign entrants a “smart lock key,” letting them enter your house during designated days and time periods (perfect for a house cleaner if you are fortunate enough to have one).  

Cool gadget, but what does that have to do with my API?  Well, onboarding developers to your API is a lot like letting someone into your home.  You can go the traditional route, waiting for a partner/developer to come knocking at your door and (assuming you are there to hear it) hand them a set of instructions telling them how to get in; or even worse make the trek to the hardware store and build that integration yourself (then hope that it works the first time).  Or you can have a “smart” API management layer that lets the developer apply for a key that has specific controls for what he is able to access and how often.  When he does, all you have to do is click a button to let him in.

And once they are in, it is nice to know what is going in the house even when you are not physically there to see it.  With a home, this can mean simple cameras with connected mobile apps that let you get a live look into your house (or view what happened during the day).  For getting that same sort of view into your API, analytics and reporting let you see right down to the individual developer level the calls developers are making and the returns they are receiving, keeping you informed at all times.

Similarly, knowing that your API is up and running is as important as knowing that the heat is still on in the winter (forgive me I’m from New England).  In your home that could mean an automated text message letting you know the heat unexpectedly shut off.  With your API that means monitoring services that alert you that your API is down.

APIs can act as a key enabler to creating a smarter home.  Sure its cool that my smart electrical socket can communicate with a centralized hub over Z-Wave but when that communication interacts with the location of my phone turning a light on so I do not trip on my way through the door is when the connected home starts getting exciting.  With our phones tightly tethered to us, often no further than an arm’s reach away, these sort of location triggered events are ones telcos can best help create and make a part of your home. 

The big players like AT&T and Verizon have already secured their seats offering comprehensive solutions but there are still seats to be filled.  Think of the smart lock companies that want to be able to send the pictures it takes to a users phone.  Or if instead of just getting a notification within my app that monitors my heat/electricity my electrician received an automated text message detailing any issues.  MMS and SMS APIs can be the solution to giving your home its voice.

The connected home is coming and there are many roles to fill.  With such a young industry there is still opportunity to carve out your space.  No matter where your company fits in, make sure its API is as smart as the homes it powers.

 

SXSW 2014 Recap: Security & Wearables

By: Kyle Riordan

With an entire convention hall filled with exhibitors, a seemingly unending list of parties to pursue, free flowing drinks, and more food trucks than vehicles registered in the state of Montana it is easy to get lost in chaos that is SXSW.  But if we take a step back (a well rested step back after a week to recover) there seems to be a number of trends that spanned the panelists, keynotes and exhibition hall.  With participants like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Glenn Greenwald its no surprise that one of the major themes from the interactive week was privacy and security.  Privacy and security was the meatier topic no doubt, but on a lighter note there was yet another big push for wearables.  A walk down any aisle of the convention floor and you were bound to run into some new devices to measure your heart rate, a new iteration on motion controls, some form of augmented reality and of course at least one techie sporting Google Glass.  And finally there was the ever-present question of big data and how it can best be utilized. 

On the topic of privacy and security much of the sentiment touted by Snowden and echoed by Greenwald was the need for individuals to actively protect themselves as opposed to being reliant on false expectations of anonymity and security.  Snowden and his fellow panelists took the opportunity to address the obviously technically focused individuals in the audience urging them to think about security whenever they build their applications; and more importantly to think about security and its implications intrinsically as a part of the foundation of what they create as opposed to something secondary to their product.  Greenwald chose to focus more on the individual and the responsibility to encrypt their data but the overarching message remained the same putting the responsibility on the audience and not on some unrealized expectation of privacy.  Whether talking to developers though or non-technical people the message was the same, security is something we all should be thinking about.

This message on security is one that should not be lost on the API providers. There may be no way to prevent the advanced algorithms for decryption utilized by some of the worlds most powerful intelligence agencies from tapping into our data but it still needs to be protected from the rest of the world.  Users and companies still need to know that their information and data is safe, that only the right people are accessing their APIs and accessing them through the appropriate conventions.  Doing so means thinking about things such as OAuth, SSL, PCI Compliance, and HITRUST when thinking about how to roll out APIs, not simply bolting these things on after the fact.

But onto the lighter yet still prevalent topic of wearables.  At this year’s SXSW wearables were just about everywhere you looked.  Some of these devices were just fun, like an inexpensive wristband that could be set to pulse different colors depending on projected frequencies within its range.  Epson showed off its answer to Google glass showcasing a “shoot’em up” space invaders game.  A fun little game, but one that will undoubtedly send your eyes crisscrossing in every direction.  And Brivo Labs showed off a wrist worn QR code that could be used to replace paper and e-tickets.

While some focused on fun, others looked to tackle more serious needs.  Companies like Azoi chose to focus on the connected health market with a case that could be connected to your iPhone to analyze health indicators such as blood pressure, heart rate, and oxidation levels.  There are of course alternatives in the market to fulfill these functions but a lot of the selling points here spoke to design and price point. 

Cue the broken record.  These devices are cool, all of them.  Everything from the ring used to control screens through simple gestures, to the iPhone case that could tell me about my heart rate by pressing my fingers on a couple of sensor pads for a few seconds.  That information is great for me to have, but it becomes exponentially more powerful when that information from my health-monitoring device can be integrated with my health care provider. 

Having APIs that can pull that information, store it in the cloud, and combine it with other health records to give not only me, but my doctor, and any hospital that I may need to visit greater and more contextualized insight into my health is when devices like these become more than just a toy.  Making that connection is when these devices start to become an integral tool to health and well being. 

This speaks not just to individual health but our collective health as well.  With the proper privacy and security controls to truly make that data anonymous when necessary, we can leverage that big data hose derived from these wearables to study broader patterns and possibly uncover new indicators for certain health conditions.  Are there challenges to doing this?  Of course, but the willingness to take on those challenges is what will elevate these devices from mere toys to essential medical instruments.

The whirlwind that is SXSW seemed done in an instant.  But now, having taken a moment or two to step back from the craziness, clock in more than 3.5hrs of sleep, and reflect, some of its themes have started to become clearer.  Privacy, security, the items we wear on our sleeves’ and tote around in our pockets all have an enormous impact on our lives both now and in the future.  Though APIs may not have been at the forefront of these discussions they are an essential component to empowering these trends and making the SXSW’s of the future that much more exciting.

 

The Internet of Awesome

By: Rob Zazueta

The hype around the Internet of Things (IoT) keeps heating up, with several pundits already calling this the “Year of IoT”. Companies like Philips, Belkin and Quirky - who is working in partnership with GE - are racing to get their connected devices into your home.

The folks at Mashery have been keen on the Internet of Things for some time, and joining the Intel family has only amped our excitement. I mean, have you seen the Quark chip? It’s a Pentium-class computer on a single chip, which means it’s capable of running a full-sized operating system like Linux with little extra circuitry. Look at your thumbnail. Now imagine a small, black square sitting on top of it, but not quite covering it. THAT’S how big the Quark is. Just imagine what’s possible when you have desktop-level computing power crammed into something you can practically inhale!

The capabilities the IoT promises are not new. Early Web users might wince upon recalling the annoying, flashing, ubiquitous X-10 ads that popped up on every site. X-10 was a communications protocol that connected your entire home - lights, appliances, security cameras, etc. - using nothing more than the wiring in your walls. It wasn’t a simple out of the box solution - it required a fair amount of fiddling to set up - keeping it squarely in the hobbyist market. But it inspired many of those people to continue finding ways to make it easier to connect, control and communicate with their homes. 

The Nest Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat was among the first of the most recent batch of consumer-friendly connected devices to hit the market. The Internet-controllable LED lights produced by Philips have also received a fair amount of positive press. And Quirky’s series of devices - which includes an Internet-ready egg tray for the fridge - look both attractive and easy to use. For some, these represent just the beginning stages of an amazing, connected and controllable future. For others, like Pando Daily’s James Robinson, they represent humanity’s further slouching toward complete laziness

"If I can turn a light switch on using my phone," Robinson writes, "in the same amount of my time it takes me to reach over and switch it on, it doesn’t make it more impressive that I used an app to do it." 

I completely agree. It’s interesting that you can use apps to control these devices from wherever you may be in the world, but there’s minimal utility in that. It’s small thinking to believe that’s the power of the IoT. Don’t just think “connectivity”, think “interconnectivity”. 

Simply receiving an alert when your eggs are about to go bad or run out, as the Quirky Egg Minder enables, is not that useful. Unless, of course, you’re at the store. And your phone knows you’re at the store so it communicates with the Egg Minder to check whether you should buy eggs - all without requiring your input. Or, even better, when you’re planning dinner for the week and come across a soufflé recipe you’d like to try. Do you have the eggs the recipe calls for? A message hovering at the corner of your browser could tell you how many more eggs you need to buy. A push of a button and it’s added to the grocery list app on your phone. Another push, and the groceries are ordered and either ready for pickup or on their way to your house. 

Is this laziness? It takes my family no less than 20 minutes to run a few blocks down the street to pick up a couple of things from our local Safeway. The weekly shopping trip itself takes about an hour and a half. Forget the eggs - a crucial ingredient in a number of the recipes we enjoy cooking - and we’re looking at a weekly total of almost two hours. That’s time I could spend playing with my son, preparing the other components for dinner or writing a blog post for you.

The real power in all of these interconnected devices will be in the behaviors they enable. When my lights and thermostat are talking to my Tripit account and know that I’m out of town, they can switch into a low power mode, saving me money and conserving energy. When my garage door opener detects my wife’s cellphone in the driveway, it can open the garage, then turn on the lights leading her to the front door. If I’m concerned about security, I can require she enter a four-digit PIN on her phone that I’ve programmed directly from the garage door opener itself.

Perhaps these uses don’t interest or affect you. That’s fine - imagine what you might want to do and, eventually, you’ll be able to do it. It’s not the devices themselves, but how they communicate with one another and with other sources of information that will drive real innovation. And how will they communicate? With APIs, of course! Giving developers access to the APIs that drive this communication will be a boon for device owners and will spawn the same kind of skyrocketing opportunities we first saw with the Apple App Store. 

But it would be a shame if we left this solely in the hands of developers. If interconnected devices powered by APIs and controlled by application developers are the now, consumer-friendly device programming is the future. Sure, you could browse through an app store for the application that comes close to what you need, but what if you could program that behavior yourself? I believe this is the next, next thing in terms of interconnectivity and APIs - user friendly development. Programming interfaces like Scratch and the growing movement to teach programming in schools as a part of basic computer literacy already point to this user-programmed future. What finally emerges will need to be incredibly intuitive and user friendly, as easy to use as a word processor or a social media app. 

Imagine what happens when you put a tiny computer into everything you own. Now, imagine what happens when you - not a developer using esoteric code, but you - can program those computers to do anything you want. This is what’s coming. And it’s going to be awesome.

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The author - in lego form - still dwarfing the tiny Quark chip (circled in red).

Hit the Road with Telco APIs

By: Kyle Riordan 

The car has gone mobile.  Well, alright, more mobile with telcos like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint entering the space to help make the car smarter.  The mobile car goes well beyond seemingly mundane hands-free calling and texting to include full diagnostic systems keeping the drivers more in tuned with what is happening internally with their cars, infotainment systems linking popular social applications, music and video services, GPS which not only gets you to your destination, but also tells you where you might want to stop along the way, and the ability to communicate with emergency services even when you physically cannot.

2014’s CES saw a myriad of exciting new partnerships and updates to the mAuto industry.  Audi even went so far as to take this marriage between cars and mobile literally, unveiling a 10.2 inch display Android tablet that has been specifically designed for in-car use.  The display connects with the car directly over WiFi and allows for passengers to interact with the infotainment system.  GM, not wanting to be left out in the rain, announced its newest partnership with AT&T to provide its 4G LTE bandwidth powering the Onstar HTML5-based platform “Connected”.  Available apps go beyond the expected infotainment to include a Vehicle Health app offering insight into vehicle diagnostics that can automatically schedule vehicle service. 

With cars getting smarter it only seems logical that the automakers would look for ways to connect that intelligence to the outside world.  Providing that linkage is an essential value the telecommunications companies can provide.

Telcos though are moving beyond just providing the wireless signal.  AT&T for instance is providing its “Drive” platform, which gives automakers the ability to select from a number of capabilities such as voice enablement, firmware updates, diagnostic tools, and global billing to settle charges between the automaker service provider and user.

For telco APIs, the use cases abound.  Take for instance the scheduling an appointment scenario offered by GM.  The in-vehicle app allows the user to select a day and time period (AM or PM) when they would prefer the service to be scheduled.  But what if I want more flexibility than that?  Telcos can offer SMS APIs to send me a text message later in the day reminding me to schedule an appointment.  Now I can schedule the appointment at a specific hour when it is convenient. 

Or even simpler, just let app builders leverage telco’s billing APIs to settle in-app purchases for their vehicle specific apps (or the bill associated with the connectivity to the car).  On its face this may not seem like that big of a value proposition, but with emerging platforms fragmented across different brands having this function ready to plug in can help developers become early entrants capturing the attention of users as they navigate an otherwise sparse landscape of in vehicle apps.

The tools telcos can provide could go beyond convenience to enable safety.  For example, a connected car outfitted with the right sensors could count the number of people in the vehicle, contact emergency services in the case of a crash, let them know where it happened and the number of people involved, even when the victims cannot verbally communicate.  Such an initiative is already being undertaken by companies like Rave Mobile Safety but to add telco specific value in this scenario, cars could determine the identity of the passengers by making a request to telcos’ user identity APIs, pinging the devices inside the vehicle and matching them back to their owners.  Now rescue workers can arrive better informed and more prepared knowing the identities of the people involved and (with linkage to medical systems) their medical histories and potential complications.

As telcos look more and more to offer these services, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that they have well managed APIs.  Just as in-vehicle displays require an intuitive interface, telcos need to provide an easy to understand portal presenting developers with the information they need, analytics to run diagnostics and check the health of their APIs, and access controls to ensure that they are in the driver’s seat of the API program at all times.

Telcos are helping the automakers drive toward the future.  The car is rapidly becoming a smart device and telcos are providing not just the connectivity, but some of the building blocks to that innovation as well.  The direction that innovation can take has as many possibilities as there are roads to drive.  Everything from turning your car into an on demand mobile cinema, to creating a safer network of roads by leveraging aggregated crash location information.  With so many avenues to take telcos, just like drivers with their cars, need to have full control over their API program and a clear vision of their roadmap.  Plan the journey, then hop in and buckle up, the smart car is going to be a fun ride.