The FT reported yesterday that Apple will be announcing some sort of smart home ecosystem next week at WWDC. Interestingly, I’d written about Apple’s potential to do something interesting in the smart home space a couple of months ago on Techpinions, as part of a longer piece about how Apple has the potential to de-fragment various industry sectors, including wearables, payments and the smart home. Monday’s report got me thinking about some of those themes a bit more, and triggered several more thoughts, some of which I shared with Tim Bradshaw of the FT (who broke this news as well as the Apple-Beats news) for his follow-up piece on the subject. I thought I’d write up some of them here in more detail too.
Current state of the smart home market
In a word, fragmented. This market is characterized by a wide range of players with their own approaches to knitting together the various components of what might make up a smart home. No-one does everything end to end, so you’re either stuck with various islands that can’t talk to each other, or reliant on trying to find devices that participate in one of several ecosystems which are emerging. Qualcomm has AllJoyn/AllSeen, the UPnP forum is extending its work with UPnP and DLNA into this area, SmartThings, Staples, AT&T and others are creating their own proprietary ecosystems and so on. But it’s a messy business and no-one really owns it today. If you’ve bought products from several vendors, chances are you’d have to go into your Nest, Belkin and Phillips apps separately to turn your thermostat, home audio system and lights on separately. That’s not exactly user friendly.
But the point here is that the smartphone is the obvious controller for all these various devices, and yet none of the players currently playing in this market has a direct stake in the smartphone market, at either the hardware or OS layer. Qualcomm perhaps comes closest, but is two steps removed from the end user and as such has little direct influence over user behavior. The players in the strongest position here are those who craft smartphone hardware and software.