All Things Online

How the Internet of Things Changes Everything

A map of the Internet in 2005 by the Opte Project. Mike Lee / Flickr

As models wearing Google Glass tromped down runways in New York earlier this month, it might have been tempting to see wearable digital devices -- including experimental headgear (what looks like a pair of eyeglasses without lenses that immerse the user in the Internet), smart watches (Web-surfing computers in the form of wristwatches), and running shoes and athletic apparel with built-in data sensors -- as just the latest fad. In fact, they represent a more profound change that is reshaping major industries, even as it blurs the lines between humans and computers.

What has made such devices possible is the interplay between two of what the McKinsey Global Institute has identified as among the most disruptive technologies of the coming decade: the mobile Internet and the Internet of Things. The mobile Internet is the ability to access the Web on mobile devices. The Internet of Things is a set of technologies that incorporates the physical world into the virtual one through networks of electronic sensors and devices connected to computers. The applications of a mobile-ready Internet of Things go beyond clothes: Tiny detectors that can gather and relay data about location, activity, and health (how well an object or device is holding up) have already been incorporated into everything from bridges and trucks to pacemakers and insulin pumps.

The more intimate our relationship with the wired world, the greater the possibilities for harnessing data to make life better. And it is hard to argue that these changes will not be disruptive -- that is, it will have a profound, widespread, and transformative impact on how we live and work. All told, the estimated economic value of these technologies is in the trillions of dollars.

To understand why the combination of the mobile Internet and the Internet of Things is so potent, it is worth looking at these technologies separately. First, the mobile Internet: As the past few years have made clear, the extension of the Internet to mobile devices has made

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