Here to stay: the smart home needs standards
Smart home solutions have been on the market for a few years now – and yet, for a variety of reasons, have never found mass acceptance. Many of the solutions have been simply too expensive, or not yet reached full maturity. Over the last few years, industry has made considerable efforts to develop new, cheaper technologies and to keep on improving existing solutions, including numerous communications protocols such as ZigBee, Z-Wave, and EnOcean. Thanks to all the hype surrounding the Internet of Things over the past two years, the smart home has also achieved much greater visibility among the general public.
By now, the smart home has established itself as one of the leading markets in the Internet of Things, as a variety of studies indicate, including those by Berg Insight and BITKOM. Berg Insight expects that by 2017, there will be 17.4 million smart home systems installed in European homes, bringing in projected sales of 2.6 billion euros. And according to the BITKOM Connected Home Working Group, by 2020 there could be as many as 1.5 million smart home households in Germany. Google’s acquisition of Nest and Apple’s announcement of its HomeKit, accompanied by investments from an array of other companies, go to show that the time of the smart home is here at last. Hardly a week goes by without us hearing of new product announcements or new projects on crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
A good number of these crowdfunding projects have developed into commercially available products, such as LIFX’s LED lamp or smart home systems by SmartThings, Revolv, and Canary. You can get an idea of the complexity of this ecosystem and the related areas by taking a look at an overview of the IoT landscape created by Matt Turck and Sutian Dong.
As positive as this all sounds, many of these products are unfortunately proprietary, designed for one specific task, or have very limited functionality. In many cases, the use of standards is limited to specific communications protocols. Even that does little to help the user, since expanding the system incl. software updates is under the control of the specific manufacturer. User interfaces almost always require a specific iOS or Android app. In the worst case scenario, devices are connected without a central gateway, which means that users must turn to an array of different apps to be able to operate their various devices.
Many providers of smart home systems are now trying to build up their own ecosystem around their products; but because of the issues mentioned above, they are rarely successful. The success of these solutions does not rely entirely on the size of the company. In the past, a range of companies, including Google, have embarked on testing only to see their efforts come to nothing.
Important preliminary considerations
Lots of small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as start-ups, are now paying increasing attention to the development of smart home systems or equipment. This is a desired development by governments in Germany and Europe as a whole. But because development costs can be so high, it is particularly important for these companies to reflect on some important preliminary considerations before they begin with the actual development work.
In the past, a whole host of companies spent a lot of time trying to find the killer smart home app. I thought from the start that this was the wrong approach to take, as it blocked investment; none of them found the single killer app and they were left without a functioning business model. Economically sustainable smart home systems really do rely on creating an application ecosystem to allow for the largest developer community possible.
The jungle of standards and technologies is another factor that makes it harder for companies to drive their own developments forward. This is particularly true when it comes to connecting devices in the smart home, where there is still an increasing myriad of applicable standards, including technologies such as Bluetooth, EnOcean, ZigBee, and Z-Wave.
In my next post, I will be explaining how you can get the situation under control by using the guidelines set out in the HGI Open Platform 2.0 and applying OSGi specifications. Of course, let’s not forget that the smart home is just the beginning. The Internet of Things allows for a whole range of other scenarios involving the smart home (e.g. smart cities), as well as many others in which smart home developments might be reused after a few modifications.