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Connectivity

2013: The Year in Internet Stories

Fitness bands, watches, smoke detectors: what will be put online next?

By Rachel Metz

The Internet of Things has long been on the rise. But in 2013 it soared in prominence, with the release of several devices whose functions were augmented by online connectivity. These gadgets were geared toward making everything from toys to your home more useful and accessible.

Newcomers this year included Automatic, which connects to your car’s computer and sends its data to your smartphone to give a picture of how efficiently you’re driving. Nest followed up on its smart thermostat with a smoke and carbon monoxide detector called Nest Protect; it gives more detailed information than traditional detectors about the location and type of emergency it’s sensing. Meanwhile, Microsoft Research’s Lab of Things software can simplify the monitoring, automating, and controlling of all kinds of “smart” devices in your home.

Fit bands: From top to bottom are three of the latest fitness-tracking wristbands that sync wirelessly with your smartphone—the Jawbone Up 24, the Nike+ FuelBand SE, and the Fitbit Force.

We also saw a new wave of wearable Internet-connected gadgets: smart watches like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, and fitness-tracking devices like Jawbone’s Up 24 that work with phones to gain additional features such as the ability to receive calls and e-mails. According to Gartner, 900 million connected devices were in use in 2009 (excluding smartphones, PCs, and tablets), but by 2020 the market research firm expects the number to climb to 26 billion.

This rapid growth could lead to major compatibility problems, as “smart” devices made by different manufacturers often abide by different rules for transmitting data—that’s why you can’t just plug in a “smart” coffee maker and expect it to coӧrdinate with your “smart” toaster. In December, a new industry group called the AllSeen Alliance emerged. The group will work to ensure the development of Internet-connected devices that can work together. Its members include the Linux Foundation, LG, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp, and HTC.

The rise of the Internet of Things also ushers in a new era of security issues that came into sharper focus this year. At the annual Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas in July, security researchers David Bryan and Daniel Crowley discussed several flaws that they had uncovered on gadgets such as a smartphone-controlled, music-playing toilet.

Another key Internet trend this year: the rise of messages that quickly disappear after they’re viewed, an app phenomenon popularized by Snapchat, which lets users share video or picture messages that self-destruct in just a few seconds. The spread of Snapchat indicates that even as we share countless details on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where they are catalogued for posterity, there’s still a desire for digital media that has a short shelf life. Snapchat was founded back in 2011 by two Stanford students, but it was this year that it really took off. Last December, users shared 50 million snaps per day; that figure is now north of 400 million.

A slew of other companies are trying to capitalize on the trend, including Wickr, Gryphn, and Blink.

Nonetheless, Twitter continues to expand in popularity and importance. In November, the company’s shares went public, with a debut that was much smoother than that of Facebook in 2012. That could help foster IPO dreams in 2014 for other large social Internet companies, such as Pinterest—and someday, for Snapchat.

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