It’s a world of sensors, folks, or it’s quickly becoming one. Even the tiniest gadgets will someday get an IP address. A common platform is needed to collect and make sense of all of the data those devices gather, and a lot of companies are already getting in line to take the job — maybe too many.
I attended the Internet of Things World conference in San Francisco last week and covered the launch of two major platforms for these gadgets. Samsung announced its Artik IoT chips and integration platform, and Broadcom announced its own Apple HomeKit-friendly IoT integration platform.
Huawei, sometimes described as China’s Apple, on Wednesday launched its entrant in the IoT platform race with its “Agile IoT” architecture and a special operating system called LiteOS. Huawei’s platform focuses on the home and car.
Reports say Google is busy building a piece of Android IoT integration software in a project called “Brillo.” It’s likely that the new software will provide some of the brains of lightweight devices that can connect with Google’s Nest platform. (Google bought Tony Fadell’s Nest in 2013.) Nest has so far announced 20 device-maker partners for its year-old “Works with Nest” program. These include the Pebble smartwatch, LG, and Whirlpool.
Logitech has released an API allowing other manufacturers to make their devices ready to be controlled by the Logitech’s Harmony home control platform.
Intel and Qualcomm want to sell the chips that go into these devices, and they both want to sell the integration platform, too. Intel sells its IoT Platform, while Qualcomm promotes its AllJoyn platform.
Google and Apple hope that the sheer force of their brand power might help their respective mobile platforms emerge as the central control point for IoT devices in the home.
Samsung operates on all levels of the IoT technology stack. It now makes the chips, the integration platform, and many of the devices. The company, in fact, has said that by 2020 all of its products will ship with a Samsung IoT chip inside.
All of these IoT platform players want to get their special brands of silicon and/or software baked into all kinds of consumer and enterprise devices, making the devices ready to connect.
The IoT market may turn out to be huge. The research house IDC says 50 billion IoT devices will be in the wild by 2020.
Nobody knows for sure yet. While the market forms up, we’ll see lots of companies hurrying to grab their piece. We may be looking at a hundred IoT platforms, all driving toward gaining some critical mass of connected devices.
And consumers may have to swim through a sea of brand names and product certifications when buying the stuff for their connected home (or their connected business).
“It’s a tremendous problem because there are so many layers and you have a lot of sharks swimming around in the water,” says Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. “Right now, I’ve got 13 home-control apps running on my iPhone, and the Sonos app doesn’t talk to the light control app, and the light control app doesn’t talk to the security app and so on.
“So you’ve got Apple trying to clean all this up with HomeKit, but in a sense you’ve got a lot of different players trying to clean things up.”
This, Greengart says, presents a couple of problems for consumers. First they have to decide if they care about having all their devices connected on the same platform and speaking the same language.
Other consumers believe they need a unified connected home, but don’t know exactly how to choose the devices that will play nicely together once installed, Greengart says.
It’s confusing for device makers, too. They must decide which kind of platform to connect with — which view of the IoT world do they like the best. Apple’s? Google’s? Qualcomm’s? Which chips will they build into their devices, and which SDKs and APIs will they? Which communications standard must they support? Bluetooth? Zigbee?
As for the various IoT platforms, it might take a long time before a small group of winners starts to shake out. Some of the also-rans may need to pinpoint a specific part of the ecosystem in which to play.
This will all work itself out, but we’re probably headed for a period of confusion before it does.