Opening up the smart home to new options

September 3, 2014 OpenSystems Media

For years, the emerging smart home market has been primarily controlled by closed platforms – systems that force the consumer into purchasing devices only manufactured by the company that created the platform or have been approved to work with that system. But, as the smart home market continues to heat up and more connected products are being made, people want options, and more importantly, they want their products to work with the devices of other companies.

More recently, several companies have introduced a new idea into the smart home space – giving consumers a choice. This idea allows for the consumer to work with whatever companies they want to use and whatever devices they want in their home. This cooperative concept has both consumers and manufacturers excited about the future of the smart home.

Open networks
An open network allows anyone – developers, teams, etc. – to access a company’s system and collaborate with it. This is great for quick and easy execution of smart home advancements. New products can come to the market quickly from both start-ups as well as established companies and work together to bring the smart home together.

Although the ability for everyone to collaborate together initially seems like a great advancement for smart products, it presents some potential issues in the long run. One of the most concerning is that with so many products from so many different companies, security is at risk. You wouldn’t want a toaster with a security hole to compromise your whole home network. In addition, all of these products and companies can give the end-user a fragmented experience from companies not practicing the same standards.

In creating products for the smart home, another mindset has emerged. It is not a closed network like years prior, but it does not boast a collaboration as wide as an open network. This category of smart home networks is called “curated platforms.”

Curated platforms
A curated platform opens up consumers to the option of possibly working with any company or device they like, as long as they choose a company that has been approved by the company’s platform. Since a company must go through an approval process to be part of one of these platforms, security is more effectively established between the companies and their devices. This also causes a less disconnected user experience.

Because of the approval process, however, obviously not every company or every device will be allowed to participate in this platform. It also causes devices and features to move more slowly into the smart home market.

I can see both the pros and cons in each category of openness. While consumers deserve a choice of products and services, security and user experience is definitely a concern in the Internet of Things (IoT) and specifically in the smart home space.

Currently I tend to favor curated platforms, especially after the announcement of Apple’s HomeKit. With companies battling for control of the smart home, Apple has taken the step to solve this big issue for consumers. Apple HomeKit will work to manage the function of each device in a home, even if it is not an Apple product. Apple’s certification process will also allow easy integration of each of these devices and help protect users with a very robust security implementation. Ultimately this looks like a great approach that will provide an excellent user experience. We will certainly find out more in the next few months as Apple rolls out this feature and the first devices that support HomeKit start shipping.

Adam Justice is vice president and general manager of Grid Connect, a manufacturer and distributor of the ConnectSense product line of wireless sensors.

Adam Justice, Grid Connect
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