A Smart House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

At the WindyCityThings conference this year, the Vice President of Grid Connect, Adam Justice, spoke on the current standards in the Internet of Things (IoT) world. The amount IoT devices are estimated to increase to 25 billion by the year 2020. In the smart home space, there really needs to be some sort of established standard in order for that growth to happen and to have integration between devices. There has been rapid growth and expansion for these types of standards within the past couple of years. This isn’t only an issue at the consumer level, it is an issue for the industrial IoT as well.

In terms of IoT standards, the IoT is moving extremely quickly. So things that are discussion now will be totally different than the things in discussion a couple months from now. The issue is that every manufacturer is doing their own thing and moving along too quickly. Initially the solution for the smart home seemed to be through proprietary companies. This is essentially one company trying to do it all, such as Nest or SmartThings, but in reality it is very difficult for one company to do everything and have a hub at the center of the IoT.

Standards are extremely important for the IoT because it really allows us to have interoperability, and with interoperability comes adoption and increased functionality of the smart home. In addition to this, there would be an improved experience for consumers. At this point in time, the IoT operates with an app for every different product, so consumers need to have a folder or page on their phone with an assortment of apps that all do different things. Having a system like this isn’t really a better solution to the standard devices we have today. People often wonder “how is this any easier than just turning on the lights myself?” This is because sorting through pages of apps and finding individual devices can be a cumbersome task. In order for there to be widespread adoption, there needs to be better standards in place to help improve the user experience.

Another important thing to consider is that no individual company knows how to do everything well. The companies with hub solutions often fail because they are trying to do too many things at once. So even though they have a lot of the features people are looking for, each individual aspect isn’t up to par, thus reducing the overall user experience. Instead of using this method, there needs to be different companies that have expertise in their field, contributing something to a broader system. A great example of this would be a company like Chamberlain that knows garages. There is no reason that another smart home company should go out and try to make a new and better garage door opener because Chamberlain already knows how to do that well. So they can contribute with their MyQ system to the broader smart home ecosystem.

As far as standards go, there seems to be new organizations and standards created regularly. Standards are being adopted through all different layers of technology. There is an application layer, a networking layer, and plenty of other layers along these lines. With these layers, come standards such as security layer standards and cloud standards; there are plenty of opportunities for different standards in different areas. However, the one we will primarily focus on are the application layer standards.

One of the standards that has been around for a while now is one that is called Alljoyn, which was established by the AllSeen Alliance. AllJoyn is an application layer protocol dedicated to enabling the interoperability of IoT devices. It is supposed to make it easier for devices to communicate, getting deeper into the networking layer, focusing on applications. This standard is primarily supported by Qualcomm, the Linux Foundation, Cisco, Microsoft, LG, and HTC. Some of the big pros for this is that its open source and internet access is not necessarily needed. It was created by Qualcomm and they seem to be heavily “driving the ship” and not really letting a lot of others contribute to it. This has been a standard that has been out for a while, but when examining the market, there aren’t really a lot of consumer products adopting it. So even if this is the best standard out there, if it doesn’t get adopted, it doesn’t do too much to help the industry.

Another popular standard is the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), which was recently rebranded to the Open Connectivity Foundation. This is also an application layer protocol with the goal of interoperability. Major supporters of this are Intel, GE, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, and Cisco. A lot of these companies are the same companies that supported the AllJoyn standard. These companies are supporting different standards, hoping that they can be a part of which ever one wins out. This standard is open-source, so there is collaboration between all of its supporters. It’s still very early in development, they released the framework early in 2015. They seem to still be in the process of figuring out their purpose as well as their identity, that’s why there was a name change.

The next big standard can be found in Apple HomeKit; which Grid Connect is very familiar with as we have a product that supports HomeKit. This is a common network protocol that features end-to-end encryption. Similar to devices operating on iOS, security and privacy are at the center of this protocol as it is something that is very important to Apple. A couple key aspects of HomeKit are that it is very easy to set up, Siri voice control is built in, and there is one common app for controlling any and all devices. At Apple’s developer conference, WWDC 2016, they announced the Home app for iOS10 that will be used to control smart devices. They are still leaving it open for third party developers to develop common apps to control devices. This seems to be a great step forwards in terms of interoperability. It will be really important as we head more towards automation of the home. This means going beyond opening an app and just telling the voice assistant to turn on the lights or do something along those lines. Users have the ability to set up “if this then that” functions or even create scenes so that when they leave their home, automation can do something like turn off the lights, adjust the thermostat, and close the garage door. Joining Apples NFI program will provide anyone interested with more details.

Apple’s standard is being developed extremely quickly because they are the only ones working on developing this standard, unlike the previously discussed standards. That being said, this is only a great standard for iOS users. Those using Android and other platforms are essentially cut off from this standard. That being said, it does seem to have the most traction in comparison to other major smart home platforms. There have been a lot of HomeKit products introduced to the market thus far and there are a lot more coming soon.

The next thing to examine is the “Works with Nest” program, which has been around for a long time.  This is essentially reliant upon Nest as the center of home automation. Unlike HomeKit and some of these other standards, which are network layer communication. This is an API level, device to device integration, going towards the cloud. This doesn’t allow for connection between edge devices, internet is required to do anything. It seems to be pretty simple and easy to set up, which is why a lot of people integrate with it. However, those integrations don’t seem to be entirely useful as it’s more of a checkbox people want to checkoff to be in the smart home space. Since the Google acquisition of Nest, things seem to be a bit troublesome. There are some issues with the new CEO and things of that nature. It will be very interesting to see where this platform goes over time.

Another major platform on the Google side is called Brillo and Weave. Weave is Google’s answer to HomeKit. Brillo is essentially a stripped down version of Android, so it is a high horse power, computing intense platform. It doesn’t really belong on end devices as it is more for things like routers or something with a lot of computing power. Weave is a device to device protocol, so it includes cloud services and is very similar to HomeKit. It has one app, easy setup, and device to device integration. It looks as if it will be a really solid solution for Android, but it does appear to be a couple years behind HomeKit. Everyone at Google’s conference this year was waiting to hear more on Brillo/Weave, but the conference passed and there was no mention of it. So it appears to be in somewhat of a building mode, but they should not be counted out. One of the major ways people are going to choose their smart home ecosystem is going to based off of what they have in their pocket and what will work with that. Android has a huge market share and that is something that needs to be addressed, especially in comparison to what Apple is doing.

Clash of the Smart Home Titans: Amazon Echo vs. Google Home vs. Apple HomeKit

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer/Marketing

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been revolutionary in changing the way consumers interact with the technological devices in their lives. The amount of users with IoT devices in their homes, cars, and even on their bodies is also growing at an increasing rate. It is clear that IoT technology is heavily integrated into the lives of many consumers. That being said, there has been a lot of media coverage regarding the security of these devices.

Security in modern technological devices is a critical feature and a very big concern for consumers due to the threat of being hacked. Properly encrypting IoT devices is very important because very personal information can be accessed through IoT devices. In addition to simply losing personal information, the physical safety of consumers is at risk. An example of this can be found in the 2014 Jeep incident. Hackers were able to infiltrate a Jeep Cherokee via the internet in order to send commands to the car’s entertainment system, brakes, steering, and even the transmission. Despite the fact that this happened a couple of years ago, the technology is still under the same risk of being hacked. Even the FBI has intervened and has begun to warn any car makers and owners that vehicles with high levels of internet access have an increased risk of being hacked. 

These security issues aren’t just affecting cars; these problems can be observed in a variety of other Internet-enabled devices. Another example is how connected baby monitors and other home monitoring devices are being tapped into by hackers, allowing them to see if anyone is home. Essentially any IoT device can be breached and used in an unintended way if proper security measures aren’t taken. When valuable data is at risk, security should be a bigger concern for manufacturers. The current and common culture among IoT companies is to release devices to this public with minimum protective measures in order to be the first to the market. Not all companies are a part of this culture, but a large portion of them contribute to these security issues. It’s not an issue of developers being unfamiliar with the intricacy of this high-end technology, it’s an issue of not taking the extra time to implement adequate security measures.

It is clear that having impeccable security features will benefit the consumer and the manufacturer in the long run. The invasive nature of IoT technology leaves the user very vulnerable to breaches in safety and security. The manufacturers should be responsible for monitoring the activity of their devices and determining how to block suspicious activity once the product is released. However, if security systems were developed in entirety before a device is released, these extra measures wouldn’t be as necessary. As IoT technology continues to become a bigger part of the lives of the consumers, it will be vital to our safety that a higher standard of security is implemented.

Smart home technology is continuing to grow in popularity as Google, Amazon, and Apple have begun to take over the smart home market. Even though Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomeKit are inherently similar products that include the integration of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, they are not as similar as they appear.

Amazon Echo was one of the first devices that allowed control of smart home technology when it was released in 2014, giving it a big advantage in the smart home market. The Echo is controlled via voice automation with its personal assistant named Alexa. The user is able to ask Alexa questions and use a series of commands, each starting with “Alexa,” in order to control compatible smart home devices. The Echo is well-equipped with a large amount of smart devices that are compatible with its software in comparison to Google. The thing that makes the Echo stand out is that the user doesn’t have to try and use multiple apps and passwords to access their different devices. The Echo has a lot of unique voice control options which you can use to do things such as order a pizza, play games, call an Uber, and much more. The built-in machine learning algorithms allow Alexa to pick up on voice patterns, user vocabulary, and even your habits when using the device.

Google Home is currently the biggest up and coming threat to the Echo. Google Home is similar to the Echo as it is a standalone speaker that is able to listen to you and respond. Each device is activated with a simple voice command, in this case, the user only has to say “Google” before speaking. Google Home is a lot more efficient than the Amazon Echo because of conversational voice commands. This essentially means that you can ask Google Home “What are the names of the restaurants around me,” followed up by asking, “Which is the closest to me now?” Google Home allows you to continue down a certain path while Amazon Echo can’t follow strings of associated questions. Another benefit of Google Home is that you can control any Google Cast speakers or any speakers and televisions you have a Chromecast device plugged in to. Amazon Echo devices are not able to sync with each other. The Google Now operating system is the most efficient in comparison to the devices by Amazon and Apple due to the plethora of commands available. A simple addition of Google Home is its customizable appearance. Having the ability to change the colors and material of the product can be beneficial for matching the design patterns of your home.

Upcoming Apple HomeKit technology is innovative and will make them a very real threat to Amazon and Google. Apple’s Siri-powered devices makes them a perfect fit for the home automation market. The multilingual Siri gives Apple an advantage as the Alexa voice service contained in the Amazon Echo can only speak and comprehend English. Apple is also going to allow developers of third party apps to use Siri. HomeKit is currently software only, but there will be a dedicated hardware unit released similar to that of the Echo and Google Home. There are rumors that voice commands might be integrated with the newest Apple TV. However, a potential flaw to this idea is that people often place their Apple TV’s out of sight, which could make the voice controls difficult to access.

Each of these devices will need to work to their strengths and overcome their weakness in order to adapt to the increasing demand for integrated smart home technology. The Echo is a voice-automated device with a lot of very powerful features, allowing for a very integrated and accessible smart home. The operating power of Google Home makes it the ultimate voice automation device. Apple HomeKit includes very intelligent and user friendly software. Even though Apple hasn’t confirmed what their actual hardware unit will be like, it will be comparable to the Google and Amazon hardware units in terms of functionality and integration with smart home technology. Once all devices are on the market, there are a lot of factors that will impact their success such as user-friendliness, smart home integration, accessibility, and the fluency of the voice automation.

The unlikely twins: HomeKit vs. Brillo, similar features, different personalities

The battle for technological dominance between Apple and Google is no news. Both companies offer products and services in the same market with similar features. Inevitably, their supporters turn out to be more like sports fans rallying in the Moscone Center for their favorite team. Much of the feud between the Apple and Google surrounds interconnection and network technology: pay programs, “wallet” applications, proactive assistants, and, most interestingly, their own API platforms for the Internet of Things (HomeKit and Brillo, respectively).

Not surprisingly, much like iOS and Android, HomeKit and Brillo initially appear to have a lot in common but despite all the similarities, there are some major differences.

Read more at Embedded Computing Design or download the PDF now.

Will your house run on Apple, Google — or something else?

A few weeks ago, Apple announced a new feature called HomeKit that is coming to iOS 8. This feature will make the smart home smarter by allowing users to control the smart devices around their house such as lights, door locks and security cameras all through their iPhone or iPad.  This poses a major threat to Google who recently spent $3 billion on Nest, maker of a smart thermostat and smoke detector.

Adam Justice, Vice President of ConnectSense, says Apple’s announcement solidifies that the market is ready for the Internet of Things while the connected home may be the most important obstacle for developers to conquer.

Read more at VentureBeat or download the PDF now.