If devices could communicate directly, BYOD would be so much simpler

If machines could communicate at a fundamental level, it could change how we think about managing these devices. Credit: Samsung via YouTube

One of the big challenges facing IT in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) era is not just supporting each individual device's operating system, apps, and capabilities, but the fact these devices don't talk to one another.

To solve this issue, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs introduced a new open source specification called AllJoyn at Mobile World Congress this week, designed to facilitate device to device communication.

According the web site, "AllJoyn is an open-source application development framework that enables ad hoc, proximity-based device-to-device communication that is OS agnostic." Sounds promising.

As a simple consumer-level example, he showed a child holding an iPad with a guitar app interacting with a television show designed to teach young children musical concepts.

He said it could go much further though, allowing people to walk into a meeting room and share files across devices, to display texts and Facebook notifications on a television screen, or even to put your tablet on your desk and project a much larger display for a meeting.

If Qualcomm or somebody else could overcome the issues related to privacy and security to allow devices to communicate with one another, it would be huge step forward for BYOD. Many of the barriers related to using multiple devices would melt away.

Today, we have phone systems and networking systems. The devices can connect to these systems for the most part, but they can't communicate with each other directly across devices without help. For instance, if we want to share files we need to direct people to DropBox or Box or even a shared SharePoint folder -- or worse yet, we email them to one another. We cannot simply share data or files or conduct business because the devices are designed to prevent it.

Before I arrived this week at Mobile World Congress, I began receiving correspondence about M2M systems on display there. As a journalist whose job it is to keep up with trends, I thought I had all the acronyms there were to hear, but this one, which stands for Machine to Machine communication, was different.

M2M is often associated with the Internet of Things, and typically calls to mind sensors measuring traffic, pollution, or environmental changes such as temperature and precipitation, then sending data back to a server or database where it is processed and used. But we don't often think of M2M meaning your iPhone communicating with your buddy's Samsung Galaxy S3.

In a simple example, you can use Bump to transfer information from one iPhone to another, but you can't go across operating systems. Samsung shows off its similar S Beam functionality (based on Android Beam) in its TV commercials, in which two people share photos or music playlists. But in these instances, the devices and operating systems actually act as a barrier to communication and sharing.

Sure, you can call each other and send text messages, but the apps you are using are built specifically to work on that device in a particular operating environment.

Qualcomm CEO Jacobs called it a "Tower of Babel problem."  If you could get the devices to talk to one another directly, you would begin to break down a lot of the barriers around sharing information, and this could be especially useful in a corporate environment. Jacobs referred to it as building ad-hoc networks whenever we get together on a personal or professional level.

There are many questions about how such a system would work in practice if you had an underlying uber operating environment that could allow any devices to communicate with one another. It could solve one problem while creating a huge security and privacy issue. But just thinking about the notion of such a system is a first step towards solving a fundamental BYOD problem.

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