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The battle to become the center of your connected home - insights from CES

By Terry Hughes / Jan 27, 2016

Blog Connectedhome

When we think about the connected home of tomorrow we assume that Google will be right there in the center with its OnHub smart WiFi router and its Nest intelligent thermostat. Or maybe Apple with its HomeKit initiative. But the battle for control of the smart home has only just begun, as evidenced at CES last week.

From out in left field Samsung announced TVs that have the ability to be the centerpiece of the connected home.

Samsung's new TVs feature IoT hub technology, developed by Samsung with SmartThings, a smart home company that Samsung acquired a year ago. SmartThings lets you use products from a number of different smart home platforms by connecting them all up in the cloud. Until now, you've always had to buy a SmartThings hub to get started. But Samsung is going to start shipping SmartThings functionality with its newest TV sets, letting everyone connect just by plugging in a free dongle. Their SUHD TV can connect with and control over 200 SmartThings compatible devices – whether it’s to see who is ringing the doorbell, lock the doors or turn off the lights – all from the TV. So the TV has the potential to serve as the centerpiece of all your connected appliances. If those appliances work with SmartThings, you'll be able to control them through the TV interface. So dimming the lights, turning up the temperature, and other tasks will be easily accomplishable from your sofa.

Samsung's goal is to make sure everything you need to start building a smart home is already inside your home. Once you own a Samsung TV, you can start buying any of the 200 or so products that are certified to work with SmartThings — products that, by and large, aren't made by Samsung. Eventually, you can imagine SmartThings functionality being built into all Samsung appliances, quietly opening up smart home products to even more people. Samsung's goal is to create a true ecosystem, something they have struggled to do in other sectors like mobile, but maybe their SmartThings initiative is truly a smart move.

Google is developing Weave, a communications platform for IoT devices that enables device setup, phone-to-device-to-cloud communication, and user interaction from mobile devices and the web. Google has also launched Brillo, a new operating system for IoT devices based on Linux.

Amazon's Echo is another contender for the centerpiece of your smart home. What makes the Echo router so powerful is its ability to link to and control other devices. For example, Echo can control both the Belkin WeMo Switch and Philips’s Hue light bulbs (among other smart home devices). Link either of them to your Echo, and you can turn your lights on and off with your voice. The voice aspects of Echo (and Amazon's entire smart home strategy) are powered by Amazon Alexa, its voice recognition system. Think a couple years into the future, as more devices get added to the Internet of Things and are able to connect to Alexa’s voice-powered brain. Amazon is embracing IFTTT (If This Then That) which has pre-made recipes that can connect your devices to each other. You can use the service to program your devices to run routines, react to triggers, or pass commands to other devices in your home. The Internet of Things is a string of connections between pieces of hardware, so IFTTT can set them up to control each other.

Why are the world's biggest tech companies going head to head over the connected home? In the case of Apple and Google it's because they always like to own the consumer wherever he is, whether that's at home, in the car, or while mobile. In the case of Amazon, it's to make purchasing and commerce easier from anywhere in the house. In the case of Samsung it's because they want to sell another 20 or so smart devices into every home, everything from the fridge to the alarm panel, which represents their biggest growth market for consumer electronics. The big question is whether SmartThings will work with Weave and Apple HomeKit and IFTTT, whether Nest will embrace SmartThings, or whether we will end up with another fractured fragmented value chain as we have seen in mobile.

My opinion is that we will see years of fighting. Technologies will come and go, Google / Apple / Amazon will ride the wave and stick with their strategies due to their deep pockets, many start-ups will get funding to go after these new markets, many parallel ecosystems will emerge, some consumers will always choose Apple while others choose Google, and the role of the telco that provides in-home cable, TV, internet and entertainment can't be underestimated. With all of that there are opportunities for companies to provide solutions to knit all of that together and to manage the apps and software that come along with the connected home ... which, by the way, will need to be linked to the connected car and the wider Internet of Things. There is money in the connected home and it's not under the mattress or down the back of the sofa.