Mobile vendors set target to dominate home automation and IoT
As part of the consultancy work I do, once in a while I run into things that are not pure VoIP & WebRTC. That is always a fun thing to do as it gets me into new markets and technologies; it also helps put things in perspective. Something I touched when I reviewed the 2014 Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. This time I got into devices in our homes and how the latest IoT related announcements, specifically in the Smart Home and Home Automation environment, would impact existing markets.
IoT is high on the hype cycle for a few years now, 2014 and the 2015 CES event were an important milestone for IoT and specifically for the home environment as a few market influencers made strategic moves.
What we see is that different market players are trying to become the market place for applications and services that will manage our homes and things.
The immediate suspects for this are mobile device and OS vendors, service providers, home network device vendors and independent IoT vendors.
In this post I would like to take a closer look at the mobile device and OS vendors and what they are offering in this space.
The well-known step by Google was the acquisition of Nest in Jan 2014 but the Nest digital thermostat and smoke alarm were not a good enough reason for Google to acquire the company at a price tag of $3.2 Billion. Nest brings Google into the smart home market, an area Google made its first steps into back in 2011 when they announced Android@Home but products were not released since that announcement.
The acquisition of Dropcam by Nest (Google) in June this year makes it clear that Google is after much more than efficient energy management through a digital thermostat.
The Works with Next program gives developers access to their APIs (under pretty strict terms and conditions). This allows your door lock to tell the thermostat someone is home or even your in car Automatic device will tell it you are 10 minutes away from home, time to change the temperature.
I guess is that Google has more ambitions plans and Android will be in the center of them.
Another initiative by Google worth mentioning is the Physical Web. This is not intended for home automation but rather for opportunistic cases where a device needs to report something to an occasional user. E.G. A bus stop that would tell you when to expect for the next bus.
With a rather small investment of $200 Million, Samsung bought a good start in the IoT smart home market. In August 2014 it acquired SmartThings.
SmartThings is working as an independent group but it is fair to expect tight integration with existing Samsung products and new Samsung products that will come out of their production line specifically for SmartThings.
While this is probably true, SmartThings is an open platform. It has its own products Thinks but their developer program allows for both Apps to be built for their platform as well as devices to integrate with it.
There are 3 ways for developers to build applications that interact with SmartThings (some are still in the plans):
- Native applications that run on the SmartThings platform
- Rule based applications built with the SmartThings GUI app builder. They are then converted to native code.
- External applications that use the SmartThings APIs
Integration of connected devices with SmartThings Platform is done in one of the following 3 ways:
- Device to Hub – In this case the device located in your home works directly with the SmartThings Hub also located in your home. This can be done using Zigbee, Z-Wave or by using the local IP
- Device to Cloud – In this case the device authenticates and connects with the SmartThings cloud over IP. This bypasses the in home Hub
- Cloud to Cloud – A manufacturer of connected devices that also has a cloud platform can connect to the SmartThings cloud. This is a full 2-way connectivity allowing for exchange of events and commands between the clouds
In mid 2014 Apple introduced HomeKit. As Craig Federighi, Apple Chief Software put it:
“we can bring some rationality into this space… with a common network protocol”
And I add – common as long as it is Apple.
HomeKit is doing it the Apple way.
A smart device manufacturer can join the MFi Program and enroll for being an MFi licensee, build his device and submit it for certification by Apple.
Since HomeKit is part of iOS 8, app developers can use its APIs for building home automation apps and sell them through the AppStore.
Apple views Siri in the heart the HomeKit control interface for users. I have doubts in that; my guess is that people will prefer apps for control instead of speaking to their iPhone trying to explain to it what exactly they want it to do.
As rivals from China and Korea are hurting Apple iPhone and iPad business, they have big hopes in HomeKit as a new growth engine. While Apple is already working with leaders in the market that have connected their devices with HomeKit,,this endeavor of Apple will probably not remain as an IoT Hub and application marketplace, Apple will probably come out with devices of its own to support it.
While best know for low cost mobile devices Xiaomi has already a few smart devices such as their smart led lightbulb and air purifier. Earlier this month, Xiaomi revealed their smart home strategy.
As a low cost manufacturer, while continuing to provide their own smart devices, Xiaomi will sell a low cost ($3.6) module manufacturers can integrate with their products to make them smart and controllable by the Xiaomi IoT platform.
Naturally, they strive to have their mobile phone become the new home remote control.
The IoT market and specifically the smart home segment is crowded and fragmented. Protocols, platforms and application market places. This post covered only one side of this fragmented world, the mobile device and OS vendors; life is more complex than that.
The conclusion of this is that companies in this market must carefully pick partners and technologies in order not to spread themselves thin in this fragmented world.
As I continue my work with companies in this space I will further post information on this topic. If you have interest in this field make sure to drop me a note. Will be fun to exchange thoughts and opinions.