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How Microsoft thinks of wearables and smart devices

Mary Branscombe | Sept. 3, 2014
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has talked about the opportunity of connected devices and the more than 200 billion sensors he expects to see. But so far, Microsoft has stuck to handing out developer hardware kits to build your own Internet of things devices. Those kits are currently based on Intel's Galileo board -- a cut-down PC system with no video and the ability to connect Arduino shields.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has talked about the opportunity of connected devices and the more than 200 billion sensors he expects to see. But so far, Microsoft has stuck to handing out developer hardware kits to build your own Internet of things devices. Those kits are currently based on Intel's Galileo board — a cut-down PC system with no video and the ability to connect Arduino shields.

What developers can do with Windows for IoT is still something of a moving target, and it's limited by the CPU Intel has put into the Quark system-on-a-chip (SoC) on the Galileo boards, which doesn't have the full set of instructions you'd need to run full .NET (instead of the.NET Micro Framework it currently supports).

Intel is promising to make future Quark systems more powerful and far smaller; at the Build conference this year Terry Myerson talked about something "the size of a pencil eraser or mouse cursor" and speculated about "what kind of devices are possible when a PC is the size of an eraser." What Microsoft wants is a low-power SoC that's small enough to fit into a mug or a child's car seat or any other everyday object and make it smart. Few of those have a screen, hence the lack of video.

Unlike many of the companies churning out hardware designed to build smart, connected objects for the Internet of Things, what Microsoft hopes to bring to the table (or the back seat of the car and all the other places we'll use smart objects) is a familiar developer model. If it can get .NET and C++ and JavaScript running on Windows IoT hardware, developers could create a universal app that runs on Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox, and IoT — and the interface for your smart object can be on the object if the form factor allows it, and on any of your other devices if it doesn't.

Really, the interface should be on whichever device makes sense and is most convenient. We already have multiple devices — phones, tablets, PCs, entertainment devices. That's going to get far worse with smart objects. Wouldn't it be nice if working multiple devices got easier the more of them you have rather than more complicated?

Too many devices mean digital indigestion

When Nadella laid out his vision about productivity at the partner conference this summer, it reminded me of what Microsoft principal researcher Bill Buxton has been saying about ubiquitous computing for a while. Technology doesn't always make things simpler, Nadella pointed out. "In all this abundance of computing power, what is scarce? It's human attention, it's time. ...with all this abundance of applications, data, devices, also comes complexity."

 

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