Internet of Things Invading Our Life As Consumers
Eight years ago, iOS & Android started competing to lead the smartphone market. The smart home industry is much more complex and will need more time to take off. As a company, owning the platform that controls any things in our lives is a huge opportunity you can’t miss.
What is the Internet of Things?
In the consumer industry, IoT is defined as any physical objects that can measure information, be remotely controlled or permit triggering events automatically thanks to sensors and connectivity. Those devices are often managed remotely through the smartphone. Thanks to technology, these smart devices help people to be healthier, have a more comfortable life, secure their home, save energy & money and, of course, have fun!
“You only want me to buy useless gadgets.”
People often think IoT is made of useless gadgets, but those skeptics just need to be proposed the right product. Of course, if you read an article about a smart baby monitor as you are in your twenties without any children, you will shout how useless and expensive IoT is. Now, imagine if drinking enough water was vital to you because of specific health problems you may have. Would you bother paying $100 for a smart bottle? Just because you are advertised with things you don’t need doesn’t mean all connected devices are crap products — even if some of them actually are.
“What if I don’t want to enjoy it?”
You might have been skeptical when the first mobile phone came out. Right now, the incentive for IoT is coming from the industry. IoT will be everywhere, indoor, outdoor, doing sport, at home and even for fishing. We can see some products that are not well addressed to their markets, too complicated to understand, or not answering a need for people. The growth of smart devices will seem slow overall compared to the smartphone because it needs to replace most of the products we own. Could you live without a smartphone today? But as times goes on, you will not be able to ignore it. Ask people who use Alexa every day if they would switch their Amazon Echo for a random Bluetooth speaker. When smart thermostat will become a commodity, could you miss the opportunity to save money and have a comfortable temperature in your home?
Where do the devices come from?
Crowdfunding brought SmartThings, Pebble, and LIFX. Will it bring other great startups to the SmartHome and the Wearables market? They were no big crowdfunding campaign in 2015 except for Pebble Time, Oomi, a home automation solution that raised $1.8M, and Blocks the modular smartwatch that raised $1.6M. Oomi will need to fight hard against already well-established companies.
Not all the IoT companies come from crowdfunding. Some of them, such as Jawbone, were building consumer devices like connected speakers before. Other companies like Wilson, come from their vertical market and designed a connected product. Anything will be smart — when it makes sense — and any product company may become an IoT company.
Quantified Self: monitor your steps, sleep, heartbeat, weight and even water intake.
What if we could get powerful actionable insights on our daily routine? People are happy to see that they lost 0.5kg but what they really need is some advice on how to get to their objective based on the data provided by all their services. What is my goal? Lose weight? Get in shape? Be happier? Based on all the information gathered through the Health app from iOS or Google Fit, applications should be able to give the right notifications at the right time to guide people to their health and happiness objectives.
SmartHome: monitor, control, automate your home
Monitor, control and automate your home. These are the three primary use cases when it comes to managing your home. For instance, you can be notified on your Apple Watch when your Nest Protect detects smoke into your home. Or, turn on the TV with your voice using Amazon Echo and Harmony Hub. One last scenario: open the door of your bedroom after 10 pm, and a dimmed light will switch on automatically. Connecting you smart devices can be hard. The different setup steps could be tough to understand for the user. If you are lucky enough to use an application with a good user interface, controlling your devices can be easy. The most complicated thing in home automation is designing the automation rules in your home. You need time and patience. It goes without saying that you may need to use several automation platforms. It will start with the difficult task of imagining what could be an automated scenario that suits your need. And what if it doesn’t work, where does the problem come from? The device? Your connection? Is the platform down? Today, you still need to be a tinkerer to get your smart things to work together. Home automation will need a few years to be simplified for the non-techies.
One app to rule them all
How many automation platforms will people use? Today, IoT Lovers use more than one for sure. For the average Joe, it is pretty hard to set up and manage several rules in your home so people might stick with one platform. Will we ever manage to monitor and control our home with one app? There are so many use cases linked to monitoring and controlling that one app couldn’t do it well while being integrated with the best smart devices. Anythings.co lists the best new smart devices and their compatibilities. Let’s take the four most popular smart devices from Anythings — Amazon Echo, Nest Thermostat, Apple Watch and Philips Hue. Nest is not integrated natively with Alexa, the voice assistant software of Amazon Echo. As of today, you will need to use third party application such as IFTTT to be able to control the temperature with your voice. Finally, I imagine people will use one main app to monitor and control most of their devices. Then you will have some exceptions like the one above. For now, I am still using more than ten apps to control my twenty devices.
Apple HomeKit, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi compatible
Apple HomeKit is the most awaited framework by consumers. With HomeKit, Apple focused on making its application layer secured and reliable. HomeKit is only compatible with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth except .. for the Philips Hue which are connected by Ethernet and use the Zigbee connectivity to make the hub talk to your lights. I suppose Apple is focusing on connectivity technologies with high awareness to make the IoT adoption easier. You may suggest a smart home can’t stand with a short-range connectivity technology such as Bluetooth. In 2016, the company will update its technology to propose a mesh network. This enhancement would make your home fully covered by Bluetooth devices being both emitter and receiver. Apple HomeKit has made a slow start and doesn’t propose all the features to make your home fully automated, but many devices are announced to be compatible. Which company could miss the Apple market share opportunity in consumer electronics?
Google & Nest Weave, a powerful smarthome brand
Nest has a small product line with a thermostat, a Wi-Fi camera, and a smoke alarm. The company is supporting Nest Weave, its own communication layer based on the Thread communication technology. In the meantime, Google unveiled OnHub: a simple Wi-Fi router built for the IoT. The hub can support many Wi-Fi connections and use IoT connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth Smart, Zigbee, and Weave. It’s intriguing to see that OnHub didn’t use the Nest brand. Nest Weave will give a great experience of home automation with a local, secure and low latency connection between the devices. Nest has already a substantial knowledge about machine learning applied to the home with Nest Sense technology used for the Nest Learning Thermostat. They might use Nest Sense into scenarios to automate your home, and it would be awesome. No more rules to create, Nest learns what you do in your home and do it automatically as time goes on. Android and Nest being different companies, I hope it will not impact the smartphone experience compared to iOS and Apple. On iOS, it’s already possible to manage your catalog of smart devices in one application and use it in any HomeKit-compatible app.
Microsoft, investing in IoT market through AllJoyn
Microsoft is still a bit quiet in the smart home industry. It’s relying on the AllJoyn framework powered by an open consortium called the All Seen Alliance. Sony, Qualcomm and tens of companies are also members of this entity. The brand awareness of AllJoyn is still low among consumers, but they are in a good position to give a complete IoT experience. Microsoft has also developed the Microsoft Band, a fitness band that supports the Microsoft Health platform the Redmond company is building.
Amazon Echo & Alexa, control your home with your voice
Amazon Echo may be the hit product for the smarthome. It’s affordable, easy to use and provide much value to the user. Amazon is placing their voice assistant Alexa in the living room of hundreds of thousand Americans from the techie guys to the housewives. It gives them the opportunity to structure a strong platform. We are building the habit to ask Alexa for anything and it might even replace Google for some queries. Alexa is now open to be installed on non-Amazon devices. For example, the firm invested in Triby which has relevant technical specifications to propose a similar experience as Amazon Echo. I wonder if Siri and Google Now will only keep their voice assistant accessible through a smartwatch or if they will build a copycat of the Amazon Echo.
IFTTT, make your work flow, but only via the cloud
IFTTT, for If This Then That, allows you to build many automation rules between a hundred of smart devices. It is pretty powerful and might be the most popular application among IoT Lovers. IFTTT proposes a simple interface that allows you to create automation rules in a minute and unlocks fantastic scenarios. For example, you will be able to control the temperature with your voice connecting Amazon Echo with the Nest Thermostat.
As it is easy enough to create one or two rules for your home, IFTTT doesn’t fit to automate your whole home. Your devices will only talk together through the internet so you may experience some latency. It can be okay if you want to trigger your heating system, but if you need to wait a minute to unlock your door, it is pretty annoying.
SmartThings, an open smarthome platform
Founded in 2012, SmartThings is still a young company. The crowdfunded business has been purchased by Samsung for $200M in August of 2014. They build an open platform with hundreds of compatible devices. This big promise couldn’t come without some drawbacks. The SmartThings experience is not accessible to the average Joe. You will need to spend some time going through a fuzzy app to monitor and set up your home automation even if some tierce developers propose some alternatives. They just started their international expansion this year launching in the UK. In 2016, they will begin selling their products in Korea and Germany. SmartThings relies on the Z-Wave connectivity technology which doesn’t use the same standard in each country. It makes their international expansion tough to manage and smart home adoption harder again for consumers.
Wink, a community-based product supported by a giant manufacturer
Wink gathered a strong early adopter base from the Quirky community. Quirky experimented building a variety of things to finally ran into cash flow problems and closed its entity. Flextronics, a semiconductor company, has purchased the Wink branch. Wink is famous for its application that is easy to use for designing automation rules. Their user experience and tens of compatible devices make it an essential actor in the smart home industry. Even if the platform is known to experience some latency, they are now financially supported to stay in the smarthome landscape for the long run.
The Internet of Things industry is reshuffling the cards of the consumer technology market after the smartphone and tablet era. People are expecting value too soon from their ecosystem of smart devices. Looking back, we are nearly at the tenth generation of smartphone. In ten years from now, we will think of the past time without understanding how we would live with all our smart things as we do with our smartphone today.
Thanks to Sudha Jamthe (@sujamthe) for reading a draft of this post.