Word on the street is that developing an Internet of Things device can be difficult. Many IoT projects hit delays or go over-budget. "But it's worse than that," says Zach Supalla, co-founder and CEO of Particle (San Francisco). "Most IoT initiatives just fail. These projects often don't ship because the teams are responsible don't overcome the technical challenges they are facing."
This has become Particle's mission: help make it easier to get IoT projects connected so developers can ship their products. In that vein, the company is launching an enterprise IoT platform to help streamline product development.
Supalla says that most IoT products don't get off the ground because developers focus on the data application before tackling connectivity.
But if you break down an IoT device into its main elements, there are four essential ingredients:
- The physical device itself.
- The connection between the device and the web services including device management.
- Business logic with algorithms.
- The data layer, which includes the collection, analysis and visualization of data.
"One of the confusing things about this space is that nobody solves all four of these problems—ourselves included," Supalla says. "We do the first and second."
It is common for companies to focus on business logic and the data layer because this is where the value is. "But it is not the hardest part of the problem," Supalla says. "The reason we have gotten widespread adoption is that we are not solving the problem that creates the most value for you in the long run; we are solving the problem that will be the biggest barrier to you getting there in the first place."
"A big part of the reason we have with the most widely used IoT platform has to do with user onboarding," Supalla says. "When you create a platform, if you simplify the value proposition down to its simplest form it is: 'this was hard, we've made it easy,'" he adds. "We can say: when you buy our platform, you are getting this Broadcom chip, you are going to run our software stack on it, plug it into the network. If you are using the cell platform, it could be powered by some combination of Telefónica, T-Mobile, and Twilio. And all of the data is going to stream into the Google Cloud. Particle will be providing the management communications protocol and all of the reference design and bits and pieces you need to get your device online."
Still, ease of use may be the raison d'étre for most IoT development kits.
"But when you get started with Particle, you plug in the kit and that device is online in 30 seconds. Then, you are writing code and pushing it out to the device, sending data to other web services within the first several minutes. Our approach to user onboarding has helped us get 70,000 engineers who are using our platform," Supalla explains.
Companies like Keurig, Briggs Healthcare, and French utility firm Engie are already using the platform as are 20 crowdfunded startups such as Grove and CleverPet.