The Connected Home Over IP Working Group

Project Connected Home Over IP:

The industry Working Group will take an open-source approach for the development and implementation of a new, unified connectivity protocol. The project intends to use contributions from market-tested smart home technologies from Amazon, Apple, Google, Zigbee Alliance, and others. The decision to leverage these technologies is expected to accelerate the development of the protocol, and deliver benefits to manufacturers and consumers faster.

The project aims to make it easier for device manufacturers to build devices that are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and others. The planned protocol will complement existing technologies, and Working Group members encourage device manufacturers to continue innovating using technologies available today.

Tech alliances rarely deliver on their initial promises. Some seem to exist for years without anything meaningful to show for it. Others break up after a bit. Some work. Some work for a while until the big companies have a fall out, the commitments waver, and you slowly end up back at square one.

The smart home industry has certainly seen a plethora of partnerships in recent years, most not really achieving anything of significance. What Connected Home over IP has going for it, is that they have somehow managed to get every big player together; platform leaders in Apple, Google and Amazon as well as the main accessory manufacturers like Samsung, Philips Hue, the lot. They also have noble aims; an open source smart home protocol for smart accessories. This isn’t some private pact that locks others out.

Arguably, this whole thing benefits Apple the most. It’s a way to dramatically increase the number of HomeKit compatible accessories on the market.

Positive intent is better than none at all, and so the chances of a better smart home ecosystem are unquestionably higher today than they were the day before this was announced. Like everyone else, I was sceptical the moment the news broke. Why would these companies suddenly want to play happy families, after five years of constructing fiefdoms?

Well, I think I’ve figured out the motivations. This open protocol commoditises access to appliances and accessories. For manufacturers today, getting their stuff to work (and certified) with proprietary platforms is expensive and time consuming, especially for HomeKit. An open initiative should break down those walls and reduce costs. For Apple, Amazon and Google, they don’t base their business on the smart home accessories themselves. Their interest is in the voice assistants, in the intelligence layer, in the hardware and services that manages the accessories. And this doesn’t threaten that at all.

So, with that in mind, I’m not as doubtful as I was initially. The wins for customers may be small, but still welcomed nonetheless.