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Are Smartphones Internet of Things Devices?

For the next article in our series about Industry 4.0, we want to examine a question that is being asked more frequently with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT): Are smartphones Internet of Things devices?

What makes a thing an Internet of Things ‘Thing’?

In our article “IoT”, we explored the broader topic of what the IoT means for the manufacturing sector. We explained what the Internet of Things is and presented the statistic that the number of IoT devices exceeds 7 million. However, we did not discuss the specifics of what makes something one of the ‘Things’ in the Internet of Things. The ‘Things’ that make up the IoT are ordinary objects that have embedded sensors and have the bare minimum ability to convey status without assistance. The latter is crucial, as the device must have the capability to communicate its data entirely autonomously.

So, are Smartphones an IoT ‘Thing’?

No. Perhaps more accurately, not yet. If you read our previous article, you know that the over 7 billion IoT devices in use today do not include smartphones. Currently, your smartphone contains up to 14 different sensors recording a wide array of information, such as acceleration and GPS. This data can be sorted into two types: structured and unstructured. For an explanation of the difference between structured and unstructured data, look for our next article where we take a focused look at Big Data. As vast as the collected information is, it cannot be communicated or shared by your phone without human interaction. This makes it more comparable to a computer in terms of capability.

As we hinted at before, the answer to this question may soon change. Although smartphones are not a ‘Thing’ just yet, they have the capability to be part of the IoT. Much of the information your smartphone captures is done so autonomously, such as light, temperature, and acceleration data. While the device uses sensors to collect this data, that is only half of the equation for an object to be a ‘Thing.’ The sensors status must be communicated entirely without outside input. While your smartphone shares this information with specific application such as Google, fitness trackers, or navigation, the data is not shared between these applications.

While smartphones are still not quite at ‘Thing’ status, many everyday objects are becoming part of the IoT right before our eyes. By examining some of these items and understanding what makes them IoT devices, we can get a better understanding of why smartphones have not crossed that threshold just yet.

Chances are, at least some object around your home has recently become ‘smart’. Thermostats use temperature sensors to check climate conditions and communicate that information, without assistance, to your HVAC system. Alarm systems incorporate a number of different sensors, including light and motion detectors, to monitor an environment and autonomously alert homeowners or authorities in the event of a crisis. Similarly, the same functionality is being integrated into smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, enabling them to autonomously call for help in the case of an emergency.

A more unusual application of an IoT device is Near Field Communication (NFC) Rings. This IoT technology integrates two sensors into a piece of wearable jewelry. The two sensors, one dedicated to personal data and one dedicated to public data, work together to seamlessly convey this information and automatically perform certain tasks for you, such as unlocking your car or adjusting the climate when you enter your home.


AutoCrib is no stranger to the IoT. For over two decades, we have been pioneering cutting-edge smart vending technology to make data from the manufacturing floor flow seamlessly to the rest of the operation. Contact us to learn more about our state-of-the-art smart dispensing solutions.


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