Will China take the lead in IoT?

In our June 2013 paper “The M2M Ecosystem Recipe” we argued that the Internet of Things is ready for a broad developer ecosystem. We may have finally found a promising candidate in an unexpected corner of the world (or perhaps not): China. Stijn Schuermans investigates how the open hardware platform alliance of Baidu and JingDong stacks up against our 3 control point model. Is there reason to be bullish on this initiative?

Will China take the lead in IoT?

The Internet of Things is ready for a broad developer ecosystem. That was the key message of our June 2013 paper “The M2M Ecosystem Recipe”. Since then, we’ve been on the lookout for an IoT platform that covers all three crucial ingredients that are necessary for the ecosystem to take off: service creation, service distribution and service consumption. We may have finally found one, and in an unexpected corner of the world (or perhaps not): China.

Two Chinese internet giants are reported to cooperate on an open hardware platform. The first partner is Baidu, China’s answer to Google. The other player is JingDong (JD.com, formerly known as 360Buy.com), a major e-commerce player in China. Baidu and Jingdong will work together to create a technology platform for IoT. They will also leverage their expertise to provide distribution channels, marketing resources, and data to hardware developers through the open platform. Furthermore, the platform will serve as an incubator for smart hardware products with “Baidu Inside” and “JD+” branding.

Let’s see how the announcement stacks up against our three control point model. Is there reason to be bullish on this initiative?

the-platform-control-points-to-stimulate-network-effects

Service Creation The announcement mentions the open hardware platform, cloud storage, a substantial set of functional libraries like video, image processing, security and location based services, as well as technical and product assistance and data. The alliance can draw on two sources of expertise: the partner’s substantial in-house knowledge of internet technologies, and the manufacturing know-how present in China above all other countries. There is little doubt that our protagonists can cover the technical side of an IoT platform.

The other key aspect of service creation is building an active developer community that can provide support to its members and share expertise. Also here the alliance can draw from successful local examples like eoeandroid.com, an Android developer community that counts its members in hundreds of thousands. It has been done in China before.

As we know, getting the technology right is the easy part. What about the business side of the equation?

Service Distribution Service Distribution is about connecting developers to users, enabling choice for users and an accessible market for developers. JingDong’s e-commerce platform puts the initiative in pole position in this respect. To developers, it provides a significant existing user base to promote hardware products to, as well as monetization tools. Users already come to JingDong for the large variety of products that can be found there. JingDong also has the expertise to handle physical distribution and shipping – a notoriously difficult part of IoT to get right.

Service Consumption What remains is the nasty discoverability problem. Once again, a search engine and a retailer seem a match made in heaven to provide the necessary assistance to developers and users alike. Baidu promises to launch a “Baidu Inside” website to showcase products released by open platform partners. Jingdong will leverage its marketing resources and distribution channels to assist platform partners, as well as establish new product categories on its e-commerce website, such as “Trial Product” and “New and Exciting Product”. The “Baidu Inside” and “JD+” labels are an excellent opportunity to do quality gatekeeping. Both companies’ background in the internet business should give them ample expertise in personalizing the discovery process.

Meanwhile, in the West…

We are currently tracking 40+ Internet of Things and M2M platforms. While about half of them have a hardware component, the focus is overwhelmingly on cloud services. While this tendency to focus on the Western strength – software – is natural, shipping hardware products is a lot tougher than getting the data streams flowing.

a-selection-of-hardware-friendly-investors-and-accelerators

Western initiatives have arisen to help bridge the gap between software developers and hardware experts (we’ve listed some examples in the figure above). None of them, however, have the advantage of being so close to the hearth of manufacturing (China) and of being backed by two major internet ecosystem companies.

Are you still comfortable, Western IoT platforms?

– Stijn (@stijnschuermans)

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Stijn Schuermans

As a Business Analyst, Stijn focuses on visualizing and quantifying the business models of the different players in the mobile domain. His particular interest is in understanding how technology becomes value-creating innovation and which consequences this has for mobile company strategy. By applying modern economic theory to the mobile industry, Stijn supports the workshops, reports, presentations and blog posts of VisionMobile.

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