The future of IoT is open and bright – but plenty still needs to be done from here
The concept of the connected home and IoT (Internet of Things) has exploded into the public consciousness as few technologies have before. The number of households with some form of smart home system is set to surpass 100 million worldwide by the end of 2015 and nearly triple in the next ten years’ time to over 300 million.
Such is the speed of growth - and certainly the hype - that it is no surprise the current early adopter market is fragmented at best, with a slew of technologies, platforms and standalone concepts battling for consumer acceptance. These range from IP camera solutions to smart lighting systems and thermostats, and digital door locks. However, to date many of these do not integrate with other devices and so limit the potential customer value.
Another challenge is the diversity of wireless protocols standards from ZigBee, Bluetooth Smart and Wi-Fi Direct to proprietary - Z-Wave and HomeMatic - all fighting to be the standard for the connected home. While different technical approaches may help to cover off different application scenarios in the most hygienic way possible, the challenge increases as the range of incompatible technologies grows.
Keeping our options open
A platform-based open ecosystem approach brings with it an immense number of advantages and a move towards this will be one of the major ‘shakeout’ evolutionary moments of the IoT market. Standardised platform approaches inherently mean that a de facto standard is being followed by adherents, which not only inspires consumer confidence in interoperability and consistency but also offers significant cost savings for manufacturers. In addition, the fully connected nature of the smart home depends on this interoperability, in that no new consumer hardware is necessarily required for each new use case. The same sensors can be used for a number of things, from security and safety to energy management.
This is not to say that there are no candidates for ecosystems - far from it! We are currently seeing many companies race to build or adopt their own connected home platform; the challenge is the high cost associated with this if it is done properly, and few of these platforms are truly open e.g. APIs and software developer toolkits (SDKs) are readily available to third party developers. This open platform stance allows these vital developers to further enhance the offering and also further extend the reach of the proposition. There are many examples in the tech industry of strong technology offerings that have failed due to not attracting this vibrant developer community.
The Android platform is the prime example of an open environment that has triumphed because it allowed others to build on its products, and a similar model is likely to emerge in the IoT market. Ecosystems, such as Alphabet’s Google (incl. Brillo/Weave) and Nest, Apple’s HomeKit, the QIVICON smart home platform and Amazon’s Echo will play a significant role in the global connected home market. However, the only way to deal on relatively equal terms with all of these ecosystems and provide the necessary balance in the market will be to bring together activities into complementary open software communities and alliances.
Aside from the technical requirements and benefits of an ecosystem approach, another powerful argument concerns the increased partnership benefits to be gained. By beginning with an open and agile platform, multiple partners can be supported, and can work together to realise and monetise the connected home. Key success factors to drive growth in the connected home market include strong partnerships based on win-win business models, brands that customers trust, access to large customer bases, a flourishing developer community, and last but not least, a strong strategic commitment and the financial strength to invest in the business for the long term.
Building consumer trust
While IoT opportunities in the connected home continue to grow there will still be significant challenges for players in the smart home market – namely privacy and security concerns. It is already clear that there are significant data privacy questions to be considered before the smart home market can gain the traction that it should. The challenge is that the real value of a connected device is its ability to learn as it is used and personalise its future usage based on what you have asked it to do in the past. The enhancement of functionality over time means that the learning process needs to involve some sort of data logging in the cloud, which raises privacy and security concerns.
To overcome these concerns, building trust with consumers will be fundamental. To achieve this, companies will need to be transparent about the types and proposed use of data they collect. Dealing securely with the volume of new data will require robust systems and best-practice architectures to cope in the first place. Partnership again – here with best-of-breed specialists in data management - will be the key to success.
The IoT and smart home picture is truly one of innovation and this not only offers opportunities for businesses of all sizes, but is also potentially market disruptive to those enterprises that choose to ignore the implications. The challenges in this burgeoning market are not all centred around the sensors, the hardware or even necessarily the services in themselves. In fact, the proliferation of smart security and safety sensors of the Io T may not play a decisive role in this market at all. When you consider that the connected home may become a target for hackers, security becomes more important and needs to be a key consideration for every player.
Overall the IoT space does offer unprecedented opportunities for a vast range of enterprises, including telco, utility, retail, insurance and consumer hardware, but striking strong and innovative partnerships will be the key to success. There will be considerable consolidation in this fast evolving market in the near future, and an open platform-based architecture is the only sustainable approach.
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.
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