Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance today announced a new working group that plans to develop and promote the adoption of a new, royalty-free connectivity standard to increase compatibility among smart home products, with security as a fundamental design tenet (Project Connected Home over IP).
Zigbee Alliance board member companies such as IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian are also onboard to join the working group and contribute to the project.
One continuous struggle of not only consumers but also manufacturers and service providers has been choosing a standard. Amazon’s Echo Plus supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Zigbee natively but not Z-Wave. SmartThings supports Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and Zigbee naively but not Bluetooth and only certain devices, that are software or hardware compatible, work with HomeKit.
What this means is that the smart home has been notoriously difficult for the casual consumer, especially the do-it-yourself (DIY) consumer. It also has been expensive for manufacturers and service providers to support the various standards.
Although this could be a game changer for the smart home market, it doesn’t necessarily solve the biggest problems with the smart home today. Many brands and devices already work across Amazon, Google and Apple so having a logo on the box will help consumers but not solve the biggest pain points. It was also noted that the other protocols won’t be going away (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.) nor is it explicit what the standard will be able to accomplish in terms of functionality/controlling devices.
What would make this announcement an unequivocal game changer is if it removed the need for each device to have a dedicated app and allowed for full control of the device, regardless of platform. For example, today, Wemo, LIFX, Arlo, Ecobee, etc. all require a dedicated app for initial setup, which means consumers need perhaps dozens of apps installed. So will this new protocol remove the need for a dedicated app and a Wemo switch and be natively assigned to an Amazon Echo Plus or HomePod without the need to create a user account with Belkin? Also, will the protocol allow for full functionality. For instance, Philips Hue released Bluetooth lights but the features are not as strong as through the native app.
Moreover, the implications of this standard could have the biggest impact on Apple, which is currently a distance third place in terms of device compatibility. What this means for the requirements to connect devices to HomeKit is not clear in the initial announcement but could bring Apple to the similar playing field as Google and Amazon.
This announcement is a big step for the smart home market – for not only consumers but manufactures, developers and service providers too. But unless this new standard can remove some of the pain points and hoops consumers need to jump through in order to connect the devices, as outlined above, then unfortunately this standard could end up being just another cog in the wheel of an already super-saturated market.
Initial draft is due out in late 2020.