Introduction and early stages
Are the IoT and the smart home set for a decade-long format war? Rapidly being talked-up as a pillar of the Internet of Things (IoT), home automation now dominates the horizon, with device manufacturers itching to link everything together in whole-house control systems. However, thanks to the lack of a common platform, the smart home as a joined-up seamless entity is being delayed.
The IoT already exists, but its constituent devices are yet to be united. «The IoT is getting bigger and bigger every year but we are still in the very early stages of this technology,» says Jason Aiginitis, Digital Marketing Executive at digital marketing agency Hallam Internet. «While there are many devices that support the idea of IoT – like smart toothbrushes or toasters – we are still years away from a consumer-based solution.»
Welcome to the world of platform as a service (PaaS) IoT solutions, which is currently in a state of flux – to put it mildly.
Although there are dozens of smaller IoT platforms positioning themselves as the ‘one true’ link, it looks increasingly like a four-way battle between Qualcomm’s AllJoyn, Intel’s IoTivity, and two upcoming platforms that will focus only on the mainstream IoT, Apple HomeKit and Google Brillo.
The latter two both have the advantage of brand recognition, of course, and promise full integration with the App Store and Google Play respectively. Seamless, consumer-friendly platforms are a given. But will that be enough?
Apple’s system uses the proprietary HomeKit Accessory Protocol (HAP), so it will have limited interconnectivity; this is a closed-source project, and every single IoT device will have to be Made For iOS (MFi).
«HomeKit will have appeal if enough devices can be brought to market through MFi that cover the majority of users’ needs – itself something of an unknown at this stage,» says Gordon Fletcher from Salford Business School’s Centre for Digital Business. «In the long-term, HomeKit’s appeal will probably be confined to a prestige market, which desire the Apple logo rather than fully seamless IoT interactivity.» It’s safe to say that ‘open source’ is not a phrase you’ll find on HomeKit’s roadmap.
On the other hand, Brillo – which uses Google’s accompanying new language called Weave to communicate – is a subset of the Android OS, which will allow cross-platform APIs. «Google’s Android-based solution will almost certainly be where the innovation, and most unusual devices, emerge from … the prospect of success is based upon the uptake of Weave as the communications protocol for devices,» says Fletcher.
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Who will win?
Operating on a constrained application protocol (CoAP), Intel’s IoTivity is being proposed by the Open Internet Consortium (OIC). Middleware that’s focused on security, simplicity and rapid development, IoTivity has limited platform support – it doesn’t support HTTP. However, it is open source since any device manufacturer can use it (Intel has relinquished control of it to the OIC).
«A central tenet of the open source movement is the need for open standards, and IoTivity provides a reference implementation of this standard,» says Fletcher. «Open standards do not oblige anyone to adopt them but rather rely on being the most compelling implementation available.»
Qualcomm’s AllSeen Alliance – a breakaway from the Open Internet Consortium – is pushing the AllSeen AllJoyn standard, which is already used by Panasonic multi-room audio systems and by LG’s smart TVs (both companies are members). It natively supports common platforms like iOS, OS X, and even Windows 10, though this wide support does bring some complexity. There are also some worries over security.
«From a technical point of view AllSeen AllJoyn would be the most attractive framework to work with,» says Fletcher, who adds that he expects Brillo/Weave and IoTivity will eventually meet halfway, or support one another seamlessly.
Given the appearance of HomeKit and Brillo, IoTivity and AllJoy probably have a bigger future outside of the home. «IoTivity and AllJoyn will receive more attention within the industrial application sphere where the demands of the specific application will require either the interoperability of AllJoyn or the rapid development environment of IoTivity – or eventually Brillo/Weave,» says Fletcher.
For the IoT at home, AllSeen and IoTivity are seen as too small to achieve scale, effectively cancelling each other out.
Does it matter if there are several competing IoT platforms?
Standards wars are not uncommon in the world of tech, but that doesn’t stop the IoT protocol/platform battle being anything other than frustrating. With all of this posturing by consortiums and companies, innovation is stalled. Fence-sitting isn’t doing anyone any good.
«In the complex but still immature environment of current IoT there is no single dominant consumer use or industrial application, and as a consequence the open source offering of IoTivity – or AllJoyn as an alternative – is still not compelling or comprehensive enough to bring all vendors willingly on-board,» says Fletcher.
Who will win?
«Apple or Google will be the first companies to achieve that, since both companies already have their own ecosystem of devices, thus a reason to push towards such technologies,» says Aiginitis, who can foresee a situation where some might be using iFridges that are connected with the Apple framework of our iHome. However, Google Brillo gets the rod as the dominant smart home framework of the future. «I would personally give the lead to Google, since it recently acquired Nest and has a wider range of products under the Android family,» says Aiginitis.
As always, the market will decide, but don’t expect one single platform to emerge. «The vastness of the opportunities relating to IoT may well mean that there is sufficient space to support two or three dominant frameworks, as well as a range of more specialist ones,» adds Fletcher.
It is, however, very early days. «Since we are only a few seconds after the starting pistol of this race sounded,» says Aiginitis, «the next few years will be full of surprises.»