Following the recent IoT Developers Conference in Santa Clara, Connect2Me has launched the “first Internet of Things (IoT) Marketplace and API Directory”. As the IoT device and API market continues to expand rapidly, vendors will face difficulties in getting their APIs and devices discovered, and will face growing competition to build loyal and evangelistic developer communities. So why does Connect2Me’s long-term model focus on a developer pays business model? ProgrammableWeb spoke to Founder Yasser Khan and IoT developers about the potential of the new marketplace platform.
Education Marketplace for IoT
“Phase one of Connect2Me is an education marketplace that will help developers find IoT devices. We have launched with approximately 100 companies who have signed up and we are listing their APIs. You can even invoke the API in our API console,” Yasser Khan, founder of Connect2Me told ProgrammableWeb. “So our aim is to help developers learn and rapidly develop on top of it.”
The service is exciting IoT developers who see potential in the marketplace approach. Marc Pous is founder of theThings.IO, a social media-like platform currently in beta that lets you manage and connect your devices to a single dashboard. He also works with the P2PU School of Internet of Things. He sees an important role for Connect2Me:
“Nowadays, when the Internet of Things is getting real, directories like Connect2Me are necessary to understand the technological magnitude,” Pous told ProgrammableWeb. “The development of APIs and SDKs on the networked objects is necessary to create innovation and new features, so platforms like this are much needed.”
One of the challenges Connect2Me will face is the difficulty in clearly defining exactly what is the ‘Internet of Things’. Already the API directory lists a range of content services not usually associated with IoT including Buffer, Pocket and Bitly.
“We are looking at the integration of devices with software that creates business value,” explains Khan. “So IoT is not only machine to machine, it’s about physical objects connecting in one single environment so that developers can create an app. For example, the integration of IoT devices and sensors with enterprise and social APIs can create other types of value propositions.”
To overcome the potential to move too quickly from a marketplace for the Internet of Things to the Internet of Everything, Connect2Me is focusing on five of the more mature IoT sectors to start.
“We are focusing on different segments within the IoT portfolio, focusing on smart phones, green tech, the connected car experience, and home automation. These are the four or five categories we are going after at the moment. That’s because most of the emerging use cases are in this area. For example, the connected car is going to be a huge experience. We have a number of active market customers coming in with a value proposition. The way you would manage a fleet or an individual car service, the whole loop from purchase to maintaining a car will become more automated,” Khan says.
Connect2Me hits developers current top-of-mind interest: the Internet of Things. A pre-conference workshop being held by API Strategy and Practice as part of Gluecon next week demonstrates this popularity. Participants who registered for the workshop zeroed in on IoT as the topic they most wanted to talk about. 64% of workshop attendants chose IoT as their priority interest, and 62% of those attendants are developers, CTOs and data architects. So there is definite proof that developers are actively seeking out the latest information on IoT today.
A Developer-Pays Business Model?
But will they - or should they - pay for their interest? A recent infographic by Wearable World shows how cluttered the IoT space is in just one of the sectors (wearable technologies), while there is also stiff competition in the connected home market, and - as was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show this year - an increasing level of sophistication in the connected car industry.
Khan believes developers will be willing to pay for additional tools and services that help with app creation and monetization. “We have multiple phases going forward. So anyone who wants to build an IoT application will be able to do a deep introspective, evoke some of the APIs, and see what value is being provided, what sort of handshake/authentication they have, and then start to build their applications.”
While the Connect2Me marketplace is free to join, Khan is creating a multi-tiered business model where additional developer services will be available for a subscription fee.
Some IoT industry observers are unsure this is where the best business model lies. Holger Reinhardt is a leading IoT developer, works as a Product Architect and Business Developer at Layer7/CA and is co-founder of the business model service Launchd.io. He will be speaking at ProgrammableWeb’s APIcon on “Is there an API that IoT?”. He is hesitant about the viability of a developer-pays model for an IoT marketplace.
“It seems to assume that the service will have a large developer community just continuously looking for new gadgets to write apps against. But isn't it equal or more realistic that as a developer I have an idea for a specific gadget and that I would go to that gadget vendor and sign up for that?” Reinhardt asks. “If I write apps for a living, I want to go after gadgets which have a large market penetration. If I write apps as a hobby I will not pay for information I can get freely.”
Connect2Me’s business model value will be dependent on the quality of the multi-tiered developer services that they introduce. Khan is confident that the added services will find a developer audience: “We will have multi-tiered developer stages in future, where we will be providing an environment with more enhanced value for developers, storing of data and dynamic connection management with devices.”
Reinhardt agrees with the need for a value proposition beyond the directory marketplace. “If I just want to get an overview of the available home services I can use Postcapes, but to monetize, they would have to offer some value to the developer - they need to solve a problem or make the job easier for me. IFTTT and Temboo’s Device Coder offer me easy drag and drop integration between devices and services to use their platform. The equivalent tool from IBM is called Node-RED. None of this seems to be in the scope for Connect2Me,” Reinhardt says, but to be fair, I asked him to comment on the site as it now looks and not on the future multi-tiered service model. So Reinhardt and Khan may have a similar service model in mind.
Khan believes developers will pay, perhaps not for device and API discovery, but for the tools that the platform promises are coming next. “We are enabling discovery of these APIs and these products in order for developers to be able to find the value proposition of their application ideas. We are building a massive community here. And within that community, we are going to be providing more tools for them to test the devices before they make a big investment in the applications they are creating."
Dynamic Developer Tools
The platform is gradually adding APIs to the directory and enabling a sandbox environment for each.
“Our platform is based on a patent-pending technology that allows you to invoke any API dynamically. I can invoke any API that supports REST or SOAP protocol directly on the site. We can also dynamically connect devices that support Zigbee, TCP, Wi-FI and other protocols. We have that capability in the platform to onboard those instances.”
But why so developer-pays focused? It may be the device manufacturers and API providers that have the most to gain from paying for a service that connects them with a strong developer community.
Already, vendors are investing in hackathons to try and build developer communities willing to integrate their device APIs into application use cases. Meanwhile, other sectors have proven that vendors are willing to pay for a cost-per-impression or cost-per-click fee for customers who initially access their portals via a third party marketplace.
Reinhardt has one suggestion for a vendor-pays aspect to the Connect2Me business model: “They could maybe monetize companies wanting to road-test their APIs by adopting the Amazon Turk approach of having companies post challenges to a developer community and developers being paid to solve those challenges. The challenges could be testing scalability, usability, documentation, etc. That could actually be a neat idea to easily get iOS and Android makers to give your API a spin and report back on if it works or not.”
Connect2Me is an exciting idea and for device and API discovery, it may join existing discovery marketplaces - including ProgrammableWeb and Mashape, as well as the good old search engine - in helping developers identify the potential of the IoT connected world. To become a viable, authoritative resource however, it will be essential to build a viable, paying customer base in order to continually expand its directory as the IoT sector grows.