Smart Homes: How To Keep From Missing The Greatest Tech Opportunity Of Our Time

Guest author Kent Dickson is the CEO and cofounder of Yonomi, maker of a smart-home app. 

Smart homes should simplify our lives. When connected TVs in these residences come on, other devices are supposed to react. Ideally lights will dim, the phone’s ringer will mute and the speakers will stop playing music. When a smart household’s baby monitor notices an infant stirring in the night, the speaker in the nursery should begin to play a soft lullaby or white noise to sooth him back to sleep.

This type of simple and seamless functionality could be our reality. But for most people, it’s not—at least not yet. Whether it will ever be hinges on one crucial factor: whether those connected devices, produced by different manufacturers following various standards, can all work together one day. 

See also: Google’s Offering Smarter Tools For Smarter Apps And Homes

The industry, as disjointed as it is, needs to come together and create an ecosystem that’s as comprehensive and inclusive as it is innovative. That’s no easy task, but it is critical for the smart home—especially now, with so much interest in connecting and automating our residences.

How To Bring The Smart Home Together

There are two ways to create this more unified ecosystem: either the industry groups agree on common, widely adopted interoperability standards, or the tech makers support open APIs (application programming interfaces) for more integration and support across software and services.

There’s some precedence for the first approach. After all, it’s how we got the World Wide Web, which rescued us from the proprietary walled garden hells of the old AOL and CompuServe platforms. 

Back then, content and services were closely controlled by a few and, as a result, innovation was heavily constrained. Later, the Web’s open standard enabled anyone to build websites, services or content, and instantly make it available to everyone in the world. It paved the way for unfettered innovation and transformation ever since. 

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Unfortunately, the industry is not likely to reach consensus on a dominant smart home or Internet of Things (IoT) standard. The uses for connected devices are so diverse, finding a one-size-fits-all solution seem highly improbable. In fact, today there are dozens of competing standards, each with merit, that are evolving independently with no sign of consolidation.

In a broader and more inclusive IoT ecosystem could work, if all parties offer open APIs—which are essentially software access points that allow third parties to control devices and access data from the originating system.

Open APIs are relatively easy for product makers to implement, and their existence would then enable a raft of new products and services to link, coordinate and optimize a user’s connected home. At present, these are our best hope for a thriving and innovative IoT.

Tear Down The Walls

Simply having these APIs is not enough, though. The product makers must make them equally available to all comers (within reason). Ultimately it should be the consumers—the users who bought these products and brought them into their homes—to decide which third party apps and services they want their devices to support.

Just like you get to choose the Web browser or mail application you like on your desktop computer, so too should you be able to choose the automation engine you use for your lights, music and locks, or the energy optimization service that controls your thermostat.

Fortunately, most connected device makers offer APIs, but they are allowing access to only a few closely held partners. It’s as if they don’t trust consumers to decide for themselves who should have access to their devices and their data.

Consider this a call to action: Tech makers, open your APIs to all comers, and let consumers pick the winners and losers. Openness is key. People need to be able to say, “I bought this product. Don’t constrain my choices or give me walled gardens.”

We stand at a precipice in time where the Internet of Things can go the AOL/CompuServe route or the World Wide Web route. It’s still a toss-up, which way it will go. But we cannot just hope for the latter. We must demand it.

Lead image courtesy of Sony

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