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Amazon, Apple and Google partner to improve compatibility

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home
Managed by the Zigbee Alliance, the project titled "Connected Home over IP" has brought together major players in the smart home industry such as Amazon, Apple, and Google to create a new connectivity standard that will improve compatibility among smart devices from different brands. The combined efforts will help to streamline communication between devices and voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. As a result, this initiative is expected to improve the overall user experience, helping to tackle other important aspects such as security and privacy.

For a long time, the limited compatibility between devices has been a major bottleneck in the smart home industry. The willingness to work together to solve this problem is good news for all market participants and, most importantly, for consumers. The goal of this alliance is to lower the entry barrier for mass market adoption, but the promise of a new standard is also an acknowledgement that no single company or business model have managed to dominate the smart home space. The future will eventually show to what extent all players are truly willing to reconcile their differences in search for a greater good.

 

Apple releases an open-source version of the HomeKit development tools kit

Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Technology
Apple is open sourcing parts of its HomeKit platform in an effort to help boost adoption. Crucially, the entire technology is not being open sourced and any company seeking to release HomeKit compatible devices will still need to enroll in Apple's partnership program. The move will allow companies to test HomeKit and prototype devices without needing to commit to supporting the platform until they are convinced that they want to release.

The move is also designed to accelerate the development of the new smart home communication standard in partnership with Google and Amazon. That project is intended to be open source, so Apple open sourcing any pieces that it would like to become part of the eventual standard is a logical move and can also potentially allow Apple to base development of the new standard around its existing technology. This would give the company a head start in supporting the new technology and also puts itself in a primary position for the remainder of the development of the new standard.

 

Z-Wave to become an open smart home standard in 2020

Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Technology
The day after the Amazon, Apple, and Google compatibility project was announced, Silicon Labs, the company behind Z-Wave, announced that the low-power connectivity standard will become fully open in 2020. Previously, radios for Z-Wave were only available from Silicon Labs, but the change will enable other companies to compete and make the technology a more price-competitive option for device manufacturers. Z-Wave's strict certification meant that compatibility between Z-Wave devices was never an issue; it also has a longer range than ZigBee and consumes far less power than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The main drawback has been the lack of scale which limits the network effects any communication standard needs to success. The lack of competition for radios would doubtlessly have contributed to this lack of scale.

The timing of this announcement is no coincidence. Amazon, Apple, and Google are the three of the largest players in the smart home space with huge market influence via their digital assistant platforms. If all the large internet players decide to unite behind a single standard, then that would effectively signal death for competing technologies like Z-Wave. Silicon Labs will be hoping that Z-Wave can gain enough momentum in 2020 from this change that it can credibly compete against it or, in the very best-case scenario, the promised joint standard never materializes as companies all migrate toward Z-Wave completely. While Omdia is skeptical that Z-Wave can generate that momentum quickly enough, the natural tension and friction between the internet players may give Z-Wave enough time to emerge as a compromise solution that does not favor any of the big three internet companies.

 

Amazon's Alexa smart home ecosystem supports 100,000 devices

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home
Amazon has recently announced that Alexa is now compatible with more than 100,000 smart products from more than 9,500 brands. Google Assistant, on the other hand, currently supports 30,000 connected devices from 3,500 brands. The difference in the scale of the partnership ecosystem, together with the development of dedicated functionality such as Alexa Guard and Alexa Hunches, have become key differentiators that Amazon is leveraging to win the race for the smart home. The rapid expansion of Amazon's smart home ecosystem has also turned compatibility with Alexa into a standard feature across the industry. This is driving many device makers to prioritize integration with Alexa before considering other alternative voice assistants. However, as Omdia's 2020 Trends to Watch: Smart Home AI Assistants report highlights, the support of multiple AI assistants will gain rapid traction during 2020. This will be particularly important in the smart speaker market, but also in other smart home device segments. Therefore, it will be crucial for device makers not to wait too long before bringing in other AI assistants on board in order to stay competitive.

 

Xiaomi launches new smart display in China

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services
Xiaomi has launched a new smart display in China, the XioaAI Touchsreen Pro 8, to compete directly with its Chinese competitors, Alibaba and Baidu, and potentially with the likes of Amazon and Google if it was ever to launch outside of its home market. The new smart screen comes with an eight-inch screen, three sub-woofers, a camera, and of course the XiaoAI voice assistant. The staggering part is the price. Priced at only around $70, the smart screen would be almost 50% cheaper than standard price of the Echo Show 8 and the Nest Hub, albeit both these devices sold in the Christmas sales for roughly the same price. The big debate around smart screens is: is there a need for another screen in the home? But at these low prices many consumers will start to conclude, why not?

 

Further reading

2020 Predictions: Consumer and Entertainment Services, CES006-000117 (January 2020)
CES 2020: What to Expect, CES004-000131 (December 2019)
AI Impacts on Consumer Commerce: The Big Picture, CES006-000114 (December 2019)

 

Author

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home
[email protected]
Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services
[email protected]
Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Tech
[email protected]