We consumers love our gadgets. And as technology gives us the “latest and greatest,” we jump to acquire it. From Apple watches to Fitbits, to controlling our home heating and cooling and locking systems, we have become a people wedded to convenience and efficiency.
New “smart homes,” in which everything can be controlled remotely through a single smartphone with a single technology, are the future for sure. But what about the homes that have added smart devices one at a time, each with its own manufacturer and proprietary technology. And these device manufacturers are very jealous of their technology. They want it to be unique and are not particularly fond of collaborating with other manufacturers to standardize the architecture. As a result, there is one app for the refrigerator, another for the heating and cooling, and still another to operate the home locking and security system.
What began as a revolution in convenience and efficiency has turned into a quagmire of device fragmentation.
Middlemen Offer Solutions
Several services have tried to fill the mess created by incompatible smart devices by offering packages of “smart” lights, thermostats, and security cameras that will all work together.
Companies like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, and Verizon are happy to sign consumers up for a monthly fee, usually around $40. This may be fine for some basic devices, but appliances and other smart home devices are not included. This doesn’t seem like a truly viable solution for the consumer who only gets a partial “fix” to his incompatibility issues.
Individual Manufacturers Want a Solution that Involves a Monopoly
Manufacturers such as Sony and Samsung have expanded their smart device product lines, hoping that consumers will “dump” their current smart devices and take a package from them. So, a consumer could buy a Samsung washer, dryer, TV, fridge, etc., and they could all talk to one another, but this could obviously be pricey. And a manufacturer like Samsung will not produce every smart device that a consumer may want to purchase. They are savvy, and they will research the quality of everything from slow cookers to robo-vacs and make purchasing decisions based upon reviews and recommendations, not on manufacturer name.
So, What is the Solution?
There is no single solution at present, although many are working on it. The goal is to have a technology that, when inserted into every device, no matter the manufacturer, will allow a consumer to control everything from a single smartphone app.
And there are people working on this right now.
Recently, Qualcomm unveiled two innovations. The first is a chip-based integration system. What it claims is that if consumers put this into their connected products, then those devices will connect to anything. It has also developed a technology that uses Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri, and Google Home. Consumers can ask a question of any of them, and supposedly, the best assistant for the task will answer.
Quirky Wink Hub
A New York startup by the name of Quirky claims that it has the solution to smart home fragmentation. It has developed a $79 box that will allow communication among numerous smart home products, over a variety of architectures. The Wink app can control devices no matter who the manufacturer and no matter what the system.
Zigbee and Z-Wave
Two other names in the attempt at standardization of some sort are ZigBee and Z-Wave. Both of these are using wireless networking that will let devices from different manufacturers and different technologies to talk to one another. While hundreds of device manufacturers have “signed on” to one or the other of these standardization technologies, manufacturers of appliances have generally not. And until the manufacturers of the bigger items agree to allow standardization, no progress will really be made by either of these two concepts.
Another hub which sells for $99 can communicate with appliances over Wifi, once those appliances are connected wirelessly. Everything is accessible through one smartphone app, which is at it should be.
The Consumer May Need to Step In
It doesn’t appear as if manufacturers are ready to agree to any standardization which would reduce their control. And if they will not “sign on” to such as Zigbee and Z-wave (or some other standardization element), then the consumer must look to work around them.
Right now, the biggest promise is some type of hub and, while it means another item to buy, at least it is a one-time purchase. Middlemen services’ monthly fees go on forever.
Purchasing the technology that will bypass the proprietary technology of individual manufacturers will ultimately make their technology meaningless. And once that is meaningless, they may be willing to agree to standardization. Remember, while they are certainly on a smaller scale, phone chargers, USB ports and cords, Bluetooth devices, etc. have all been standardized to meet consumer demand. And at one time, Mac and Windows didn’t “speak” either.
Yes, smart homes are still a “hodge-podge.” But we can probably take heart that there are those working on solutions.