SAN JOSE, Calif. – Apple Inc. requires anyone making a device compatible with its HomeKit environment to buy and use a special identity chip. The revelation was one of many from a session on platforms for the Internet of Things at last week’s ESC SV event here.
“I know a lot of people who have been surprised by this requirement and had to re-spin boards for the chip,” said Michael Anderson, chief scientist of PTR Group in his talk. “A lot of manufacturers are up in arms [about the] Apple silicon [that makes their] device more expensive,” he said.
“There’s no clear story what the chip does but I expect it is involved with access to the cloud and may have triggers for geo location,” Anderson said. Overall, “there’s not a lot known about HomeKit since it was first launched in iOS 8 because Apple’s got it under wraps,” he added.
Apple did not answer three requests for information from EE Times about the chip’s function and cost. HomeKit is just one of as many as seven consumer IoT platforms, Anderson discussed.
“There’s no shortage of IoT platform offerings, there are dozens of them -- most of them run Internet Protocol, often support 802.15.4 and have similar messaging systems such as MQTT or RESTful APIs, and open source is the focus for many of them,” he said.
Anderson cautioned engineers to be wary given shades of grey in what open means for some platforms. For instance, he noted the Intel-led Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) requires diamond sponsors to pay $350,000 per year while gold members must pay at least $1,000 per year just to get specifications.
“There’s a price to buy in and get access to information even though it’s sponsored by the Linux Foundation -- the whole buy-in thing is a bit iffy if you ask me,” he said.
For its part, the Thread Group, led by Google’s Nest division, uses the 802.15.4 standard for its transport layer, but higher layers are “less open, so they may need industry pressure to open up,” he said. It also charges $2,500 per year to obtain specs, he said.
“It’s like open source, sort of, and we’ll see more of this over time…closed source implementations will dominate for the time being,” he said.
That said, most of the competing consumer IoT software platforms embrace multiple operating systems and protocols.
For instance, Intel’s IoTivity implementation of the OIC specs supports CoAP, MQTT and RESTful apis as well as Linux, Tizen and Arduino. AllSeen, also hosted by the Linux Foundation, supports multiple operating systems and APIs and D-Bus for message discovery.
Companies are hedging their bets, backing multiple options. “AllSeen is what Microsoft backs in Windows, Qualcomm [which created the technology behind AllSeen] just joined Thread” as did the Zigbee Alliance, he noted.
The industrial IoT holds even broader opportunities than the consumer sector. That fact is drawing “the attention of major players [given big buildings such as] the Frankfurt air terminal has 80,000 sensors…this is big business,” he said.
ThingWorx is “one of big platforms in this area covering everything from gateways to the cloud.” Its requirement for 32 Mbytes memory for clients means it will not see significant use in end nodes, he said. In addition it lacks “a good clear story on end-to-end security, but it supports all the major APIs and has a wide ecosystem from semiconductors to systems and software,” Anderson said.
Similarly, Xively provides a framework covering gateways and cloud services, as does Etherios, a subsidiary of Digi focused on fleet management, medical devcies and manufacturing. Among up-and-coming alternatives, ThingSquare launched on Kickstarter, but “they are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up,” he said.
Other options include the Kaa Project, ThingSpeak and at least three frameworks under the Eclipse Foundation including Koneki and Mihini, he said.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times