Locking down home automation means locking out success

The best thing to do if you’re developing a home automation product is to allow it to be controlled by someone else, Ryo Koyama, CEO of Weaved, told Parks Associates’ San Francisco Connections conference this week. Hardware designers need to harness the brain power of app developers. “Let them define the killer app that sells your product”, he said.

Koyama was speaking on behalf of Qualcomm and its AllJoyn platform, which is an attempt to create a common interoperability protocol for the Internet of Things. So far, the home automation market is a patchwork of nascent standards and completely vertical proprietary products. From a consumer’s perspective, interoperability can mean anything, from a smart phone screen full of apps controlling solo devices, to user-controlled systems (either cloud or home gateway-based), such as Vera or Lowe’s Iris, to managed collections of hosted apps and products offered by telecoms companies and others.

Mark Van Walters, chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance, another protocol contender, agreed, saying interoperability happens at the product level, not the app or back office level.

Arrayent takes a different approach. It provides a vertical control platform to consumer product manufacturers such as Whirlpool and Chamberlain, which makes garage door openers. Dennis Kyle, a vice president at Arrayent, offered two arguments in favor of manufacturers keeping tight control over their products and not letting them interact with each other. First, companies have to adapt connected services to meet diverse requirements across worldwide markets, while still keeping the list of options manageably small.

Second, companies want to maintain control “so they can see their product is being used as intended”, he said, pointing to liability concerns. “Be aware that people go to court when things happen in a way that can’t be controlled”.

True enough, but companies also want to stay in the content and service revenue stream. Fear of product liability lawsuits is real, but grossly exaggerated when used as an excuse to lock consumers into proprietary services and closed product lines. That’s short term thinking. As Koyama correctly pointed out, the great idea that turns an undistinguished product into a global phenomenon will almost certainly come from someone else.