Google And Apple Square Up For The Smart Home

Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Brillo both look towards the connected home.
Published: Mon 08 Jun 2015

The smart home, with its multiplicity of connected devices and functionalities to control, has been attracting ever closer interest from the technology and IT giants. Google has been making inroads, with a significant step being the acquisition of Nest and its smart thermostat. [Engerati-The Google Smart Home Play] Samsung is in the race, and so is Microsoft. [Engerati-Samsung Gets its Piece of the Smart Home and  Microsoft Plays For The Smart Home Market]

Now Google has made its intentions clearer, with the announcement of the Brillo platform, to extend its Android platform to an Internet of Things and allow all connected devices to be controlled from an Android smartphone or tablet.

But Apple, whose move into this space has been somewhat lower profile, appears to be a step ahead. Just days after Google’s announcement, Apple revealed that the first products based on the iOS8 HomeKit framework - which was announced this time last year - are now hitting the shelves.

Brillo strips down Android

In essence Brillo is a stripped down version ‘based on the lower levels’ of Android, making it suitable for lower power and lower memory devices, of which there could potentially be many in the home. Think switches and locks, for example. The accompanying Weave protocol, which was released simultaneously, is the communications layer to provide seamless connectivity between devices. As part of a certification programme that device manufacturers must adhere to in order to drive interoperability, Weave provides a core set of schemas that will enable apps and devices to seamlessly interact with each other.

Brillo is expected to be released in preview form by the end of September, and in full, including Weave, by the end of the year. In the little published information so far available, Google states that with Brillo, manufacturers will be able to build devices quickly and securely, without having to worry about software updates. For other operating systems, a compatibility library can be added to connect with Brillo devices over Weave. App developers are also able to build one app to control multiple devices in the home and work environments, leveraging Google services such as voice actions.

Unsurprisingly, Nest and Nest ecosystem devices will also use Weave.

HomeKit products available

HomeKit is a framework in iOS 8 for communicating with and controlling home devices, individually or in groups and via iPad or iphone or using Apple’s voice recognition app Siri.

The first two products to be launched include a smart home system from Insteon and Lutron Electronics’ HomeKit-enabled Caséta Wireless Smart Bridge lighting system. For example, with this system a user can tell Siri to dim or turn off lights, or to check and switch off a light in a basement or another room, according to Lutron. Both of these products are now available in Apple stores.

Other products coming up include the Eve range of sensors from Elgato, which gather data on the home including air quality, temperature, humidity, air pressure, energy and water consumption and more. In July ecobee will launch its Siri-controlled smart wi-fi thermostat.

With Apple’s developers’ conference to come, more announcements can be expected.

Multiple home platforms

From a product perspective many developers are likely to integrate with both of these platforms, and for example Lutron offers both Apple and Android apps.

But how the platforms will pan out, and whether Apple’s early market advantage will result in much of a shift by current Android users, is an open question. In any event as has been seen with the smartphone market and with a growing IoT market – currently worth $656 billion and set to reach $1.7 trillion in 2020, according to the latest figures from IDC – there is certainly space for both. However, as also has been seen in the smartphone market with the low uptake of other systems such as Windows, later entrants are likely to have a harder task in marking out their territory.