The whole “Internet of Things” theme reached a fever pitch at this year’s CES in Las Vegas. Many of the big tech players are trying to become the platform for how to connect together the growing list of devices with wireless technology inside of them–everything from your car to your thermostat.
Google’s Nest announced an additional 15 partners in “Work With Nest,” its developer program for hooking up third-party devices to Nest’s thermostat or smoke alarm. Samsung made SmartThings, which develops a hub and cloud infrastructure for connecting devices together, the focal point of its keynote and massive exhibition space in the Las Vegas Convention Center. And Apple even though it wasn’t there, had some successes too.
Apple stopped officially exhibiting at CES back in 1992, but you could find the first batch of devices that are HomeKit certified, which is Apple’s protocol it announced last June for making smart home devices working safely and securely in iOS.
There were quite a “smart outlets” that basically allow you to control an outlet through your Apple product from iHOME, Incipio, GridConnect and iDevices. There was a Bluetooth-connected lock made by Schlage called the Schlage Sense that allows you to lock and unlock your door using Siri. Elgato announced a line of sensors for your home that collect data on air quality, humidity, air pressure, temperature as well as energy and water consumption using Bluetooth wireless technology. Chamberlain announced a new Wifi-based garage door opener that works with HomeKit. And, finally, old school home automation company Insteon came out with a hub that lets Insteon’s huge list of home devices connect to iOS through the HomeKit framework.
All of these devices aren’t ready for sale, but you can pre-order them. When they are up for sale, they’ll have a label on the packaging that advertises they’re Apple compatible. Now that these devices are HomeKit certified, they will supposedly make the interactions between the device and your Apple product work more seamlessly–though Apple is still working out the kinks in its protocol, according to some smart home entrepreneurs.
Becoming a HomeKit-certified gadget entails working with Apple to make sure the product operates reliably. These devices also have to have certified chips with HomeKit firmware loaded onto them.
The simplicity of the setup process for consumers using the HomeKit protocol is what attracted company like iDevices to the framework.
“HomeKit is a lot different in terms of encryption and security, but the biggest difference is in the set up,” said iDevices CEO Chris Allen on the second floor of his CES booth at the convention center. “HomeKit creates an environment that allows for good user experience. Being able to plug and play is a reality now. You can plug in our switch product, enter an eight digit code and you’re ready to go. You’re connected. It doesn’t ask for Wifi passwords.”
But for these smart home products makers, working with Apple means accepting some limitations. According to Apple’s privacy guidelines page, “Apps must not use data gathered from the HomeKit APIs for advertising or other use-based data mining.”
“What is their definition of ‘use-based data mining?’ ” asks David Moss, CTO and co-founder of People Power, the creator of a free app that turns your old iPhone into a surveillance camera, in a conversation I had with him back in October. “I can imagine many Internet of Things apps and analytics that would actually improve the user experience or hardware and software performance, like a Nest-competitor algorithm for example.”
Nest is also coming up as a platform in this space since launching its developer program in June. At CES, Nest announced 15 new partnerships, including IP phone maker Ooma for calling emergency services if your smoke alarm goes off, and fan maker Big Ass Fans for syncing up with the thermostat for better temperature control. And similar to Apple, developing on that platform means accepting limitations. Nest restricts what kind of data is shared between its products and third-party devices as well as how long data can be stored.
Samsung, on the other hand, is choosing a much more open policy for hooking up gadgets together. Since its acquisition of SmartThings in October, Samsung has been been positioning itself as the open platform for the “Internet of Things.” SmartThings provides all of the backend infrastructure in the cloud for the different ways devices can talk to each other. SmartThings has a large developer community of 10,000 creating all sorts of ways, say, your thermostat can talk to your coffee pot.
SmartThings CEO and cofounder Alex Hawkinson sees openness as key to pushing the industry forward. “[Being closed] really inhibits innovation,” he said in a conversation after taking part in Samsung’s keynote on Monday night. “It’s very scary–what if an entrepreneur gets into the developer community and then get axed and they’re out. For us and Samsung, we take very seriously this intent to being open.”
But for small device makers such as iDevices, they don’t seem to mind choosing between Google or Apple at this point.
“In my opinion, there’s only going to be two platforms: HomeKit and Nest,” said Allen. “When you get so many platforms—SmartThings, Wink, Nest—it becomes confusing for developers and consumers. I’d argue you’re going to see less platforms and more adoption of HomeKit or the Google Nest platform. It’s one or the other or both. Consumers want the ability to go between the two.”