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Who Lost the RFID Industry?
Just as Xerox could have owned the personal-computing sector, several major IT companies are missing the opportunity to make billions of dollars from radio frequency identification.
Dec 05, 2011—On page 98 of Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, the author quotes Jobs as saying, "They just grabbed defeat from the greatest victory in the computer industry. Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry."
Jobs was referring to the fact that engineers and software experts at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) had developed the first graphical user interface and mouse for manipulating data on a computer screen. Apple wound up being the first business to come to market with a computer utilizing the concepts developed by Xerox PARC, after Jobs visited the center and convinced Xerox to let him see how the system worked.
IBM was the first to develop ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID systems, which offered a longer read range than high-frequency (HF) solutions, but then sold its patents to Intermec in the mid-1990s. IBM also developed some middleware for linking RFID readers to back-end systems, and could have developed RFID applications and pretty much owned the market—but the company has not been active in the RFID world for the past few years, though it continues to work on projects when customers request that it do so. (IBM probably has the most to gain in this market, since it sells business-consulting and software-integration services, software and middleware.)
SAP was an earlier pioneer in radio frequency identification. In 2002, after I had just launched RFID Journal, I was invited to SAP's Sapphire event in Orlando, Fla., to see a prototype application that employed intelligent software agents from a company called BiosGroup to react to RFID data and make inventory decisions in order to avoid out-of-stocks (see SAP to Demo RFID Replenishment, SAP's Supply Chain of Tomorrow and Agents Key to RFID Supply Chains). The idea was that the software would "learn" as more events occurred and additional data was captured, and then intelligently respond. But BiosGroup was sold to NuTech Systems in 2003, and SAP never did much in the RFID market beyond developing middleware that could allow its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to send and receive data to and from RFID devices.
Oracle has not done much in the RFID arena either, aside from enabling its warehouse-management application to receive RFID data (see Oracle Speaks of RFID Plans). And Microsoft, after developing its RFID BizTalk Server (see RFID News Roundup: Microsoft Releases BizTalk Server 2006 R2 and Microsoft Announces Availability of BizTalk Server 2009)—a popular platform on which other companies have built RFID applications—has largely been a passive player in the market for the past several years.
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