Apple, Amazon, Google, and Zigbee Alliance continue to make progress, unifying smarthome devices

I love smarthome automation. I love nothing more than being able to turn things on and off at different times of day, based on other triggers, with my phone or voice. What I hate is the idea that someday I’m going to move and I’ll either have to uninstall everything, or sell it to someone who’s an iPhone user: all my stuff is HomeKit compatible. But the future looks a little better. The alliance between Apple, Amazon, Google, and Zigbee is still making progress.

My requirements are simple:

  • Works with my iPhone and Siri
  • Doesn’t require an account with a third party
  • Doesn’t require a third party’s servers in order to work

That is, if the internet goes down, as long as my own Wi-Fi router is up, stuff should just work.

Zigbee tends to get 2 out of those 3. Alexa and Google Assistant devices are the worst for requiring third party servers and third party accounts.

But basically, this is a mess. If I were to move out, if the prospective new occupant were an Android or Amazon Alexa fan, they’d be mad – none of the existing stuff would work with their chosen platforms.

Project Connected Home over IP is aiming at a 2021 release of the first standard for unified home automation devices. This should make buying devices and having them work with whichever assistant you like a lot easier.

Amazon has been integrating Zigbee into Echo+ and Echo Show in order to make device discovery and setup easier. Apple has been using NFC and QR codes in an attempt to make it easier. Google had tried to replace Zigbee with their own Android-based firmware (which failed).

Meanwhile hubs like Wink and Revolv tell a lesson worth remembering: if you’ve got a hub with a proprietary protocol and not enough money behind it, you can be left out in the cold when they shut down.

Are there privacy concerns? Sure, if you (reasonably) don’t trust Amazon or Google. But you also have to imagine that Apple wouldn’t take part in anything that would contradict the privacy stance that they’ve gone all-in on.

Instead, what’s more likely to happen is that this standard defines a common communications layer so that manufacturers can make one comment device, and Apple, Google, Amazon, and so on can worry about the top layer, interface, and privacy, abstracted away from the device layer.

This should make it better for everyone: more device availability, compatibility concerns go away, and no one has to be worried about being invested in a platform that could go away.

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