Navigant Research Blog

Key Hurdle Stifling Smart Home Adoption Starts to Crumble

— July 11, 2017

New signs for the potential of enhanced harmony and interoperability among smart Internet of things (IoT) devices and platforms have emerged. If true, a key hurdle slowing smart home adoption would begin to crumble.

Alphabet, Apple, and Amazon

At the heart of the interoperability movement are two important market players—Alphabet’s Nest and Apple. Both actions and words indicate a willingness to make it easier for disparate devices to work together. First, Apple recently announced it will no longer require a chip called MFi to be installed in a device for the device to work with Apple’s HomeKit platform. Then, Nest followed up by telling the website 9TO5Mac that it is at least considering support for HomeKit in the wake of Apple’s newly announced iOS 11 features (that makes supporting HomeKit easier) and the fact that Apple is dropping the MFi chip requirement.

Though it is not a done deal between these two tech giants, it looks like interoperability is closer than we expected. This could help unleash a market growth phase, as buyers will not have to choose only devices that work on a single platform, but will be able to more easily mix and match from multiple vendors.

Meanwhile, a competing IoT platform, the Amazon Echo (Alexa), keeps adding important device manufacturers willing to integrate with the leading voice-activated assistant. Bosch and Kenmore have announced some products will work with Alexa. Bosch will soon sell Alexa-enabled major appliances, and a new line of Kenmore Wi-Fi-ready smart air conditioners will work with Alexa, as well.

The Future of Interoperability

The need for enhanced interoperability has been a constant theme in Navigant Research’s IoT market reports, including the one titled Market Data: IoT Devices for Energy Management, which noted the issue. These interoperability steps by key market players are encouraging, and stakeholders should take note if they want to reap benefits from a widening market.

Nonetheless, consumers have some ways to go before committing to IoT smart home technology. A recent survey among American respondents shows 85% would prefer products from a single brand, indicating they understand the problems associated with a lack of products from diverse vendors that do not interoperate. The survey, sponsored by the UK brand Hive, also highlighted two other barriers: higher prices for products and the difficulty involved when it comes to installing the latest gear that leads to the potential need for professionals to lend a hand.

As my colleague Paige Leuschner pointed out in a recent blog, the need is evident for interoperability among products from the same vendor. Manufacturers need to keep this notion in mind as people integrate older versions of devices by making the devices backwardly compatible when at all possible.

Despite the market friction, there is reason for optimism given these signs of greater IoT or smart home product interoperability. For several years, I’ve been saying devices and systems need to play nicer together, and the message seems to be sinking in, at least among some product vendors. However, market stakeholders need to pay attention to consumer thinking. The Hive survey tells us many potential buyers are not convinced the technology is ready and affordable for them to adopt—and that’s a problem.

 

Interoperability Is an Issue Both between and within Companies

— June 14, 2017

Interoperability is a major barrier for smart home companies. Mainstream adoption of smart home devices largely depends on the experience and ease of use for consumers. And consumers don’t want to install an ecosystem of devices that can’t communicate and require multiple apps to operate. But when issues around interoperability are raised, it is usually in reference to companies with different devices that can’t work together. For example, the somewhat newly released Google Home still does not work with rival thermostat product ecobee. Google already has integrations with a subsidiary consumer products company, its Nest Learning Thermostat. However, one issue that is not always apparent is the interoperability of devices from within the same company or product line.

This issue hit close to home for me during a recent holiday. While celebrating with friends, the group decided to play music using Bluetooth-enabled UE Boom speakers. We wanted to connect each of our individual speakers so we could play the same music from all three speakers in sync. UE Boom’s app guides users through a step-by-step FAQ on how to PartyUp, or how to connect multiple speakers through one smart phone app. But we could not seem to get all three of our speakers to connect. The closest we came to troubleshooting this problem was discovering that we could connect two speakers to each other by connecting one speaker through the app and manually connecting the other to the already connected speaker via Bluetooth. However, the third speaker wouldn’t connect to either of the other two and could only play music on its own. After much frustration and Googling, we determined that the third speaker was an older generation than the other two. This means that even though the speakers were all from the same company and product line, the firmware in the third speaker was too old to enable us to connect all three speakers.

Big Picture Implications

As somebody active and engaged in the smart home industry, it is concerning that I was unable to connect these speakers; if I’m an early adopter and I can’t do it, then how can the average consumer? Though this was a small technology glitch, it has much larger implications for the smart home and its role in the energy cloud. How will the smart home manifest when it depends on an ecosystem of various connected devices and there are currently issues connecting a few devices? How will the smart home play a role in the energy cloud as a dynamic grid asset when there are still issues at the device level?

Not only do participants in the smart home space need to work together to fix interoperability issues between third-party devices, but companies themselves need to ensure products within their own lines work together—otherwise the smart home industry will never succeed or play a role in the larger energy industry.

 

Apple Finally Introduces HomePod to Rival Echo and Home Devices

— June 7, 2017

Rumors of an Apple-branded smart home speaker have finally come to fruition with the introduction of the HomePod on June 5. This speaker has been a long time coming; some reports indicate that the HomePod has been in development for the past 2 years. Navigant Research covered these details in a blog on competition in the smart home market in September 2016. But don’t get too excited yet—the speaker will not be available until December 2017 in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia—and it will cost a whopping $349.

Part of the reason for this steep price is that Apple is attempting to differentiate this speaker from Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers with more advanced microphone and speaker technology. According to reports, when a HomePod is first activated, it sends out a 360-degree beam of sound and plays differently according to its environment (a bookshelf or wall nearby). Supposedly, it also automatically connects to other HomePod speakers nearby and the speakers will adjust their respective sound output to make sure they work well in tandem. Thus, the HomePod is considered a premium product because it is not only a powerful music player, but it also has smarts.

Apple-Enabled Smart Home

Perhaps one of the more important features, however, is that this speaker is embedded with Siri, which has been utilized on iPhones since late 2011. This has larger implications for an Apple-enabled smart home, as the HomePod speaker will now act as a hub for Apple’s HomeKit platform. HomeKit has integrations with a range of manufacturers, including Logitech, Lutron, Honeywell, and Leviton, among others.

Although this sounds like the perfect tipping off point for Apple, the company may struggle to gain traction in the smart home market compared to its competitors. Amazon Echo, which was introduced to the US market in 2014 and the UK market in late 2016, has been a surprise success among consumers. Amazon Echo sales were estimated at between 9 million and 11 million devices at the beginning of 2017. While Google only recently introduced the Home and is still gaining traction in the market, the capabilities of Google Assistant are reportedly some of the best available today (in terms of actually being able to perform functions with the speaker outside of simply playing music). Assistant utilizes other Google resources such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, and its infamous search engine.

Interoperability Issues

Apple will also face challenges due to interoperability issues. The HomePod is part of a much more closed off ecosystem of devices and applications than those of Google and Amazon, which have had more time to integrate with third-party devices and are generally more open to playing with others. For example, while Apple is playing the “totally rocks the house” card with this speaker, Siri will only link to Apple Music. Spotify, Amazon Unlimited Music, Google Play Music, and YouTube customers will not be able to use Apple HomePod to play music. This could drive consumers to shift to Apple Music or it could make them frustrated and more likely to adopt other, more open solutions.

Though it remains to be seen how Apple will fare with its new speaker, this product release represents another major player becoming more involved in the smart home. The smart home is increasingly becoming a reality. With major stakeholders investing more in connected products and services, it’s only a matter of how the market develops and when it becomes fool-proof and mainstream.

 

IoT Standards Groups Merge, Paving Way for Increased Device and System Interoperability

— October 18, 2016

AnalyticsOne of the key barriers hampering wider adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is now on course to come down. Two leading IoT standards groups, Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and AllSeen Alliance, have merged, setting up the next steps toward standardization.

The two organizations issued similar statements about their plans on October 10, saying the combined groups will now operate under the Open Connectivity Foundation name. For now, though, work will continue in parallel for both the open-source OCF IoTivity project and AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn software framework. Eventually the two efforts will merge into a single IoTivity standard.

By joining forces, the enhanced OCF is on track to make interoperability among IoT devices and systems more seamless and secure for all stakeholders, including developers, hardware vendors, and end users. This means a smart thermostat should be able to work well and securely with a smart plug, a smart appliance, or a connected door lock.

Other Standards Being Developed

There are other industry players also working on standards, meaning a true standard is still elusive and the market is still fragmented. For example, Thread Group, backed originally by Google, is another entity working to create IoT interoperability standards. Google engineers are also developing a communications language for devices called Weave, a part of the company’s Brillo project, which aims to create an embedded OS for devices.

Nonetheless, the OCF and Thread Group should be credited for working toward a more harmonious market. Last July, OCF and Thread said they plan to cooperate even though they have different aims: Thread is developing a low-power mesh network layer, while OCF is focusing on an application layer that would run on top of the network. OCF is also working in partnership with two other groups, the Industrial Internet Consortium and the European IoT EEBus initiative. In addition, Thread Group has agreed to work with the ZigBee Alliance on a program to ensure interoperability.

A Market in Flux

The trend is moving toward IoT standards, but right now the market is in flux, and the uncertainty has a dampening effect on adoption. While the merger of OCF and AllSeen is a significant step forward, more work is needed among many technologies or groups in this space, like the LoRa Alliance, narrowband Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE), 5G, and the IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard. Bottom line: The IoT interoperability game is more of a marathon than a sprint, with many players vying for attention and market-mind share. The process could take 5 years or more before things settle down. Navigant Research’s recently launched IoT research service focuses on the IoT trend from an energy perspective and will continue to track changes in the interoperability issues of the market.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Digital Utility Strategies, Electric Vehicles, Energy Technologies, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Transformations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Interoperability","path":"\/tag\/interoperability","date":"12\/16\/2017"}