Person with digital tablet showing smart home concept and open source standard
Rival Tech Giants Apple, Google, and Amazon Join Forces to Build an Open-Source Smart Home Standard

Rival Tech Giants Apple, Google, and Amazon Join Forces to Build an Open Source Smart Home Standard

The three tech giants Amazon, Apple, Google and the Zigbee Alliance are collaborating in the creation of an open-source standard for smart home that will ensure interoperability between devices. The smart home standard will ensure that smart home devices will work regardless of the smartphone or app that the user is using.  The new standard will also make the development of new devices easier, and keep everything secure in the process

The open source approach

By taking an open source approach, the companies intend to leverage market-tested smart home technologies from member companies to accelerate the development of the smart home IP protocol. Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home, Google’s Weave, and Zigbee Alliances’ Dotdot data models will be the main technologies that the companies intend to leverage during the project.

Apple has agreed to work on an open source smart home standard after it has been marketing its Apple HomeKit as the next solution to Smart Home connectivity.

The Zigbee alliance

The Zigbee Alliance started its operations in 2002 with the aim of creating open standards. The Alliance board of directors includes top executives from tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Comcast, and Google. Other companies with their executives on the board include IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, The Kroger Co., LEEDARSON, Lutron Electronics, MMB Networks, Silicon Labs, SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Somfy, Texas Instruments, and Wulian.

Goals of the smart home project

The aim of the project called project connected home is to increase compatibility across companies and devices. The project also intends to allow seamless communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services. This will make it easier for other hardware makers to create devices that can easily communicate with the already existing smart home and voice products such as Alexa, Assistant, and Siri. In addition, the project aims to define a specific set of IP based networking technologies for device certification. The tech giants will also address issues regarding the security and privacy of smart home devices.

Security is a major concern for many users after reports of various breaches surfaced.  Researchers have found various loopholes in Amazon’s Alexa and Google speakers that allow hackers to eavesdrop on conversations, record them, or even ask for Google’s passwords. Without proper security guarantees, some users have reservations about using the affected products.

The connected home over IP standard

The companies plan to use the existing connectivity protocols that are well tested and widely used. The IP standard is popular with most applications and various infrastructures already exist to support the protocol. In addition, using the standard will benefit developers by simplifying app development by allowing them to work with technologies they are familiar with. It will also grant them the freedom to work with any device as all support the protocol.

IP protocol is the most used standard across the world. The protocol is implemented in various networks such as local area networks, internet networks, as well as enterprise networks. By choosing this protocol, the new standard will be well received in the tech market.

The fate of other technologies

The companies also decided to support other technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth low energy alongside IP instead of replacing them. The devices will likely support Thread, a smart home protocol which is hardly used, but has become popular in discussions. By keeping these standards, devices will not be required to be connected to the internet at all times to function within the smart home setup. Connection to the internet will only be necessary when sending data to “another device, app, or service” with “end-to-end security and privacy,” as explained on the project website.

Although the devices will use these technologies, it will be the responsibility of the manufacturer to decide how this process will take place. This will give the companies, such as Apple, an opportunity to provide exclusive services limited to only their devices. However, doing so is likely to undermine the initial plan of the project. We can only wait and see whether Apple will stick to the purely open-source IP standard for all its products.