If you buy an IoT (smart) enabled device, it comes with an app. It will show you the recent data and, with luck, some insights. Also, it let you control the device.
Such device will make you happy. Then you go and buy another. It comes with its own app. Third, comes with yet another App. Soon you will be asking “are we suppose to switch apps 30 times every day?” I hope you got the point. It is not practical to switch between 30 apps to make your smart home work.
For consumer side of the IoT ( which is home and wearables), this is a deal breaker. Unfortunately, it is a hard problem because there are n*n connections to manage given n vendors. Devices will come from many vendors. Vendors need to make sure devices and apps will find each other and fit into a single experience. It is not clear how to solve this problem.
We have seen a milder version of the problem with enterprise software. Each organization has many systems. They are built by different vendors. But, systems have to work with each other. We created SOA and services to solve this problem. Figuring this out took close to 20 years. I called the enterprise integration is a milder version as it never tried to do UI integration.
I see several ways this will work out.
- We all grow charitable and cooperative. We get together in a big chat room and decide on IoT specifications. One of the specifications should be a UI plug an play specification. Then we live happily ever after. If history is any indication, this is NOT going to happen.
- Third party company takes over IoT Apps and all vendors work with them. Although this is a viable solution, interfacing the user is too valuable to give up to a third party. I do not think this will happen either.
- Big players ( Google, Amazon, Microsoft) provide SDKs, which device vendors going to support. Then all control and information interfaces can plugin to one app provided by the big player.
- Devices adopt Voice-based interfaces such as Amazon Alexa. Unlike Apps, it is easier to merge voice controls from different vendors. Voice interfaces are ad-hoc. Hence, control interfaces like Alexa can amalgamate separate voice APIs. Alexa does this to some level already.
Third version is already happening via Google and Microsoft. Amazon is pushing the forth version.
- I do not believe Apps will make it. Making many sub-apps work in a one large app is hard. They will be around, but will die a slow death.
- Voice with some integration of the UI will win. For example, when I say, “Alexa show me my fitness stats”, it will show me the UI).
- It took me sometime to see how strong the Amazon’s position and how Alexa might play into the story.
- Success in these settings will depend lot on partnerships. Hence, smaller IoT players do not have a future. Only path I see for smaller players is to go for voice aggressively and building an an open source eco system. If they can pull it off, they have a fighting chance.
- If only big players are left, all parts of our lives will be accessible and monitored in that scenario. Then, we would have created the George Orwell’s 1984 in it’s full glory
- All these only apply for consumer side of IoT. Industrial internet and other enterprise deployments often designed by a single vender. Hence they do not face this problem.