Home > IOT, SmartHome > Smarthome 2015 – 80’s Computing Throwback?

Smarthome 2015 – 80’s Computing Throwback?

Image C/O Gigaom

With so many competing IOT hubs and ecosystems – how can the dream of the connected home, digital butler experience be realized?

Can you remember personal computing in the 80’s? I was a Commodore 64 kid, I thought it was the best computer ever – why would anyone use anything else?

My classmates generally disagreed though – there was the ZX Spectrum, Tandy, Acorn, Atari, Amiga, BBC Micro (A and B), Amstrad, Apple, and the one kid who’s father had a CPM 80286.

The challenge was, even though we all had much the same goal – play the best games, learn how computers work, maybe write a game of our own – everything was completely different and incompatible – even storage with tape, microdrive, 3″, 3.5″ 5″, 8″ disks – each manufacturer, assured in their own superiority forged ahead creating their own proprietary isolated world.

Now we all know how that worked out for them – few mergers, and even fewer winners – most fell by the wayside as their individual budgets fell short of that needed to innovate and keep up. By the time the 16bit computers reached their potential, the far superior Amiga fell to the openness and of the PC-compatible market. VHS over Betamax again.

You could argue that the success of personal computing was mostly because we managed to standardize on one ecosystem – would we be where we are today if there were still 20 competing isolated vendors? A topic for another time perhaps.

Home IOT is surprisingly following the same trend – We have a number of competing connection standards (Z-Wave, Zigbee, WiFi, Insteon/X10, Bluetooth etc), and a number of hubs trying to be the “central controller” – Insteon, SmartThings, Wink, Lutron, ISY, Hue, Alljoyn, Vera etc) – and basically, none of these work with each other.

Yes, there are some exceptions – ISY supports Insteon and Z-Wave, but not ALL Z-Wave devices. SmartThings supports Z-Wave and some WiFi devices, and thus it goes on.

As a consumer, you can’t just go pick up some devices and connect them together. If you go outside of one vendors product set, you’re guaranteed to have problems.

Sounds familier? Yes, it’s the 80’s school yard game swap all over again.

We need open API’s in all these competing hardware ecosystems – It’s too  much to ask for all the vendors to collapse together, and too much to ask for that one system to do everything anyone wants – but if those ecosystems could all be controlled through other vendors who specialize on the “Digital Butler” experience, letting me buy the best lighting, security, presence and power products regardless of whether I end up with 2 or 5 different hubs – well wouldn’t that empowering.

Microsoft, for all their problems enabled countless innovations from a global development community – by allowing anyone to create software. Windows became the “glue” which connected apps and users.

Home IOT needs to follow the same strategy –  home hub and device manufacturers need to focus on making the best possible devices, and allow other companies to make the best possible home control and automation services which are agnostic to devices and hubs. I don’t need or want five different apps to control my home – nor do I want my home dependent on some cloud services, and I certainly don’t want to have to be a programmer/sysadmin to make my door unlock as I walk up to it.

Can one company do it all? Sure, but will it foster innovation and interconnectedness? Will it make the best , and most secure home experience, and will it allow me to use Insteon Keypads and a SmartThings presence sensor to control my Kwikset keypad door locks? Most likely not.

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