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Smart Home Cloud Platform Trends

by Brad Russell | Jan. 20, 2017

The IoT space is expanding to provide more targeted service offerings with vertical-specific capabilities, such as pre-defined reference applications, data algorithms, mobile apps, and business intelligence dashboards. Cloud-connected devices function more like software than hardware, creating changes in product development models.

Smart home cloud platforms are a growing segment consisting of smart home control and automation system platforms as well as smart home device platforms.

  • Smart home system platforms are deployed by home security services, broadband service providers, and home improvement retailers to provide consumers with a unified smart home system of sensor components, automated control with rules/programs across devices, and monitoring services.
  • Smart home device platforms support connectivity and cloud-based services for individual OEM products, provide remote control through a proprietary app, and may achieve interoperability with other devices through integration with an API.

The development of smart home system platforms has been shaped by a number of factors. Providers of smart home system hardware and related services either develop a platform on their own or partner with a smart home platform provider that has developed all of the software required for the desired smart home services. Historically, the home control system business model resulted in the commoditization of the sensor components to keep system costs down, and thus increase adoption. Recurring monitoring fees generated profit. With generic devices, automation features were standardized, third-party integration capabilities were limited, and advanced data-driven features and analytics were not a priority.

More recently, some control system platforms, such as Icontrol’s platform, are expanding their data analytics and integration capabilities to provide a consumer offering that competes with OEM-focused services provided by smart home device platforms. Proprietary smart home control platforms, such as Samsung SmartThings, also provide an open platform where SmartThings-certified devices may integrate with the platform to extend their interoperability with other smart home devices.

Interoperability can be achieved:

  • At the communications layer by sharing the same standard, such as Z-Wave or ZigBee
  • Through a hub or gateway device that supports multiple standards, such as Wink or Samsung SmartThings
  • In the application layer of the cloud, through API integration

Consumer Learning Curve

Home control system adoption has benefited from bundling with home security and broadband services, yet the adoption rate of home control systems is still just over 10% of U.S. broadband households. The lack of consumer awareness and understanding of smart home value propositions remains a barrier to entry and growth. Ongoing monitoring fees for control systems also limit affordability beyond affluent households. Smart home point solutions, such as a smart thermostat or lighting kit from an OEM, are the new consumer entry points for smart home products.

Specific use cases, such as energy cost-savings, drive trial more than a whole home control vision. In Q3 2015, 19% of U.S. broadband households owned at least one smart home device that could be controlled remotely through an app. Consumers may not be thinking about future home automation potential as much as they are attracted to a hot product, such as Google’s Nest thermostat.

Retailers and service providers still provide a valuable point of consumer education. Among U.S. broadband households, 65% trust local retailers, 57% trust security dealers, 53% trust a broadband provider, and 48% trust an electricity provider when purchasing a smart home product. As consumers become educated on smart home use cases and the number of point solution apps proliferates, point solutions will increasingly integrate with control apps.

Forward-thinking point solution platforms and control system platforms are providing connectors so that devices on point-solution platforms can be integrated into a whole-home system. Based on experience in other device ecosystems, consumers will expect major ecosystem players like Apple and Google to eventually deliver whole-home control; depending on strategy execution by market players, consumers may stay loyal to their preferred ecosystem.  

Cloud-Based Interoperability

As cloud platforms proliferate, the desire of device makers and companies to expand their ecosystems and avoid silos will provide opportunities for platforms to link to each other in the cloud. Achieving interoperability may be more likely to happen in the cloud because of scale and the benefits of relieving the consumer from having to understand all of the protocols and interoperability issues.

The IoT industry could grow toward more standardized representational state transfer (RESTful) web services that achieve more interoperability at the cloud level. Some point solution platforms are architecting their platforms to be as flexible as possible, should manufacturers want to work with other third-party integrations and services. Closed platforms are not likely to succeed as the IoT moves toward wider integration.

Voice-Enabled Control

With increasing adoption of personal assistants supported by natural language processing, more smart home device makers and home control systems will offer voice-control features. With the introduction of iOS9, Apple HomeKit first published a list of Siri-supported voice commands for controlling HomeKit devices. Voice commands can be used for specific device commands, such as “Turn on the lights,” or commands for customized zones or automation scenes, such as “Set up for a party, Siri.”

Early Siri-supported devices include the Philips Hue Bridge and Schlage door locks. Siri commands can be communicated through iOS9 devices, including iPhones, iPads, the iWatch, and Apple TV. The Amazon Echo speaker hub and Alexa natural language processing platform have also brought voice-support to smart home accessories through integrations with the Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Belkin WeMo, and Insteon home control platforms.

2016 brought the launch of iOS10 with a dedicated “Home” control app and a new SiriKit that opened developer access to Siri voice control, and expanded support for Siri functions such as ride booking and personal payments.

Apart from integration with the major personal assistant applications, smart home point solutions will also likely begin to support voice-controls at the application layer by integrating natural language processing into their proprietary control apps.

IoT cloud platforms offer device makers and companies the opportunity to greatly expand the value of a product or service by enabling remote control and monitoring, firmware and software updates for security protection and repairs, post-purchase feature enhancements, coordination with other devices, and application development and deployment for related services.

This article originally appeared on IoT Agenda.

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Brad Russell

Brad Russell

Research Director, Connected Home

INDUSTRY EXPERTISE: Connected home technologies and services, IoT data privacy and security, home networking, insurtech, connected health, housing innovation, home energy management

Brad leads Parks Associates’ connected home team, exploring leading-edge issues converging in the connected home—smart home devices and services, residential security, home networking, IoT data privacy and security, data-driven applications, and platform services. Brad’s custom research work includes market sizing and forecasts, ecosystem and competitive landscapes, channel analyses, and go-to-market strategies.. Brad balances the art and science of market research to generate insights that lead to more astute business strategy and value-generating practices. He has a background in marketing communications, technology startups, and online media.

Brad received his Bachelor of Science degree in advertising and marketing from the University of Texas at Austin. He also earned a M.Div. and a D.Min. with concentrations in ethics and cross-cultural collaboration.

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