Google's plans for the Brillo operating system and Weave protocol may slow growth for the smart home.
In more reasonable times, big companies would sit down together, agree on a standard and then enjoy the growth of the market. History has taught us that standard wars are expensive, not only for the losers but also for the winners. In addition, these industry battles delay market growth because product manufacturers and consumers decide to wait.
Apparently we have not learned that lesson. In our high potential, high growth smart home sector, the big players are refusing to work together to agree on standards; instead, they prefer to slug it out in the market.
The line-up of smart home frameworks looks now as follows (in order of appearance):
- Qualcomm AllJoin – now donated to the AllSeen Alliance
- Apple Home Kit – well, Apple can afford to ignore the rest of the world
- Intel IoTivity – under the umbrella of the Open Interconnect Consortium
- Google Brillo – announced last week, in a Steve Jobs style performance, including an applauding audience of followers, who failed to ask what is new here and why we can’t use what is already available.
Clearly Google’s answer to the Apple Home Kit is past due, but now we have their answer and it is yet another standard.
At the same time as Google launched Brillo, they also announced Weave. Weave is a “smart thing application language,” comparable to ZigBee’s Cluster Library that has already existed for years and has a tremendous amount of maturity.
Oddly enough, just a month earlier, the ZigBee Alliance and the Thread Alliance (also a Google/Nest initiative) announced a plan to connect ZigBee’s Cluster Library to Thread’s network layer, a step in the right direction of reducing standard and market fragmentation.
Someone must have thought the smart home was getting too simple, the market might start to grow too fast. Voila, a new application library is announced resulting in another big round of applause for Google.
The move adds a new dimension to the long battle between Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones. Now they can fight for the smart home as well. Home Kit is positioned as an extension of Apple’s iOS, so Google’s Android really needed a similar type of extension as well.
Competing software stacks for the smart home are piling up.
In the midst of this industry conflict, one may wonder what is going to happen with the AllSeen Alliance and the Open Internet Consortium. The space covered and the number of application domains is very large, so a lot will depend on how well Google Brillo is capable of positioning itself in the market.
The impact of Weave may be similar. Promised to be available by the end of this year, it is generating a lot of skepticism from everyone who has worked on the ZigBee’s Cluster Library. It seems we are trying to redo years of collective work over multiple application domains within a period of six months. Given ZigBee is well established in the lighting and set-top box sectors, a pre-announcement from even a major company like Google is not something that will have much of an immediate effect upon products and solutions currently shipping.
I think this will all sort itself out. Looking back to the early days of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi itself as a standard was not enough. Incompatibilities at the network layer and the operating system were rampant, and getting a wireless LAN card from one supplier talking with an access point from another supplier almost guaranteed a lot of manual patch work to make things work.
Industry leaders floated numerous competing protocols and standards, but eventually a worldwide standard was established and connecting with Wi-Fi became much simpler. Today, connecting with Wi-Fi is almost automatic. Even switching between Wi-Fi and cellular is almost seamless. In 15 years the industry has come a long way in the wireless Internet.
Instead of moving forward, these ongoing competitive announcements further complicate the future of the wireless Internet of Things. From the Google perspective the announcement may make sense, filling a hole in their competitive position versus Apple. But for the larger IoT market it could very well mean more fragmentation, more uncertainty and more wait-and-see attitudes delaying the adoption of smart home applications and the growth of the IoT.
--Cees Links is the founder and CEO of Greenpeak Technologies