Bob Harris
All posts from Bob Harris
Bob Harris in Bob Harris,

Apple v. Google: Are Standards Possible for the Internet of Things?

Companies have been battling it out for years.

It’s a fight over the personal devices we use every day and the software and hardware we use at work. As these environments blur, the fight has moved to our living rooms, vehicles, and even into wearables. But with competing protocols and evolving standards dividing the Internet of Things into different camps, who has the inside track? And what are some of the implications for your business as it continues to transform?


Apple’s recent HomeKit announcement is a move that underscores how others—namely Google, Microsoft and Samsung—are positioning themselves to bring the internet of things into your home. Besides market size, the home automation sector is an important gateway for vendors to sell more software and hardware licenses, while acting as a beachhead to win mindshare as platforms and standards mature.

But the challenge seems to be the moving target around which protocols and standards will emerge.

As an example, look at Google’s Nest acquisition. In the course of a few years, a slick-looking thermostat has evolved into a hub for other devices and software to route their functions through. If you’ve used Google Now, you can appreciate what Nest co-founder Matt Rogers said:

“Google itself is a partner, allowing its personal digital assistant, Google Now, to set the temperature on a Nest thermostat automatically when it detects that a user is coming home. Nest will share limited user information with Google and other partners.”

Nest could be the hub—and common language—that all future Google or Android-based devices use to talk to each other. And that’s not a minor thing, when we’re talking about what could eventually be a market that’s worth trillions. The first company to put their stamp on this slumbering giant is likely to profit handsomely from it.


But not everyone in the industry seems to be saying that these types of hubs are a viable solution – for home or business. Wink, a spinoff from smart device maker Quirky, is building its business around removing hubs and is pushing open-ended software that works with all sorts of devices. Though its hub can handle Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi, it says most products haven’t standardized on one in particular, and that this near-term necessity is not part of its ongoing business plan. “We would love not to be in the hub business,” Wink VP Brett Worthington told the New York Times.

So, let’s imagine a world in which hubs go away. What remains? We’re left with software, OS’es, and the internet. And that opens things up. If we go to back to the Nest example, a good way to see everything in action is to look at all the Nest IFTTT “recipes” as they’re called. If you’re not familiar with IFTTT, it’s an online integration service that connects applications together – for example, a recipe could be a simple as “If I post a picture on Instagram, then post a tweet about it on Twitter.” With the internet itself managing the handoff and automation, engineers can focus on building new capabilities instead of worrying about integration.

Here are a few takeaways for your business from this battle for the internet of things:

Press your vendors about their hardware and software strategies. The internet is finally becoming the integration mechanism we’ve talked about since… forever. Software and hardware will have connection points. Make sure your alliances and vendors are planning for both.

Don’t get blindsided by the developer community. Talk to internal teams and external sources that can help you navigate what’s important to developers. After all, there’s a reason Google paid developers $5 billion to write code over the last year — two and half times the amount it spent in the preceding 12 months. As the Economist article succinctly puts it: “they have a plan.”

A standards-based approach will bring new capabilities and products to enterprises from anywhere. The days of single purpose data are gone. It’s too easy to unbundle or repackage data into something different or apply it to other functions. It’s ok to develop for different standards, but you should always be mindful that there’s nothing proprietary that will hold back future development or connectivity.


Perhaps the most intriguing, if not opportunistic piece for businesses to keep an eye on is where innovation will eventually converge around the Internet of Things. In other words, what will be the blurring point where B2B capabilities and consumer-facing services create new opportunities?

Home networking and wearables might provide the best prelude. Both are driven by easily configurable software and well-designed devices – two things that generally aren’t hallmarks of open source. While Android isn’t completely open source, it’s the closest that exists on a large scale — and betting that Google won’t continue to provide large subsidies to commercialize Android is a bet I wouldn’t take. For now, it seems Android has an advantage, at least in volume. Apple, on the other hand, will continue to lead the consumer mindshare because of its lineage in product design and its reputation for things that just work.

However this specific internet of things battle plays out, it’s likely we’ll see familiar standards like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi continue to bridge connectivity. What’s left will be the fight between all the applications and services that will live in our cars, on our watches, and in our living rooms. Which of those survive will tell us a lot about which platform will emerge as the dominant one. But it’s still naive to think an Apple or Google won’t need hybrid products that can adapt to different platforms. While heterogeneous technology environments tend to last longer in the enterprise world, homogeneity—for better or worse—will win the consumer fight.