The Early Battle for the Internet of Things

Goneywell LyricThere are already a number of players aiming to become the primary player in the residential market for the Internet of Things. I think all of them see that this as a numbers game and that whoever can gain customers the fastest has the opportunity to become the largest. And so we are going to start seeing fierce battles in the marketplace. As you would imagine, every competitor is going about this in a different way.

Google is probably making the most news in the area, because with their billions they are buying themselves into the business. Google paid $3.2 billion for Nest, a maker of smoke detectors and thermostats. Last week they announced the purchase of video camera maker DropCam for $555 million. Google also acquired Boston Dynamics and DeepMind, two firms whose robotics research is aimed at developing artificial intelligence. And one can expect Google to continue to buy the piece parts needed to put together a fully integrated suite of IoT products.

This week Google also announced their primary strategy which is to open up their IoT platform to outside developers. They envision a world where the apps have as much or more value than the hardware. Google wants to sell hardware and control the base platform over which others develop apps to provide customization for customers.

Apple is taking a very different approach and wants to become the software platform that makes everything work together. Apple believes there will be numerous manufacturers of smart devices (in fact, most of the things in our homes will become smart over time) and they don’t believe consumers are going to want to be tied to one propriety package of devices, but will want anything they buy work with everything else. So Apple is trying to put together that platform, which they call HomeKit that will connect your garage door opener, your door locks, your thermostat and everything else together to give homeowners a customized suite of products that suit them. Apple is also an open platform that allows outside developers to create apps.

Honeywell just announced that it plans to offer significant competition to Google. Honeywell is the largest manufacturer today of thermostats and they announced a slick mobile-controlled thermostat they called Lyric. But Lyric is not just a thermostat and is going to be the base of a full suite of home automation products – all DIY and all controlled by smartphones. Honeywell is not only building their own platform, but they are also hedging their bets by working with the Apple HomeKit Program.

There are also smaller companies trying to crack into the market and who are hoping that by being early they can gain market share. For example, Lutron is the largest manufacturer of lighting control systems and they are expanding that platform to become the hub for integration to other devices. They think they have an edge since they already having lighting platforms in millions of homes.

And there are a number of start-ups chasing the market. Revolv has introduced a slick box that does a pretty good job today of integrating different devices into a coherent package. ALYT is a crowd-sourced start-up that plans to provide a full suite of communications technologies from Bluetooth through cellular making it easier to communicate with any device or the outside world.

This is going to be an interesting battle to watch. Each of these firms has taken a different approach. I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but I am going to bet that the one that makes all of this work the easiest is going to have the best chance of winning the battle. But one can also suspect that for decades that multiple companies will own a decent segment of the market as they appeal to different groups of customers. But it’s hard to bet against Apple and Google not being two of the largest players. Each is creating an open platform for developers to create apps, and those apps are likely to give them an edge over any proprietary systems.

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