How any of the Big 3 could own connected products

20.23, Wednesday 15 May 2013

I’ve been doing some competitive landscape analysis around connected products/Internet of Things platforms – I’ll write up my thoughts soon. During research I touched on Bluetooth 4, which seems like it could be the connective tissue of a peripheral ecosystem around smartphones just as USB was for peripherals around the PC.

And in this section, I hadn’t included Apple’s MFi Program in the list (MFi is hardware and certification for iPod, iPhone and iPad.) Greg asked me why. Well, I said, they don’t do enough UX integration, and besides, I don’t want to give them any ideas. If they did what I think they should do, they would totally own connected products.

But hell! The Big 3 are full of the smartest technologists on the planet!

It’s not for lack of ideas that they aren’t doing this.

So here’s how Apple, or Amazon, or Google could totally become the platform for the future world of connected products, and - with a connected products platform of my own - the thought that one of them might make a move like this is what keeps me up at night.


Starting point: With the Kindle, Amazon have an amazing chip that has global connectivity via 3G. They also have a billing model where the content provider pays for delivery (currently $0.15/MB for deliveries to the US, which explains why you don’t get many graphics-heavy books on the Kindle). This kind of billing infrastructure is hard.

What happens: Amazon apply their genius for service oriented architecture (SOA) to Kindle’s Whispernet functionality, take advantage of their economies of scale, and provide wireless chips that any developer can use. Just as they SOA’d their storage requirements into S3, and their server farms into EC2 - now both services that are the tarmac of the modern web - they couple this SOA’d hardware connectivity with Amazon Web Services, and create the perfect platform for connected products. Of course Amazon also own an identity system with associated credit cards/payments platform. Plus they really get APIs.

Amazon would own connected products. You wouldn’t build on anything else.


Starting point: The emerging smartphone peripheral ecosystem (appcessories and whatnot) is built around Bluetooth 4, the low power wireless standard that Apple have been including in their products since 2011.

What happens: Right now dealing with appcessories on the iPhone sucks (claiming and syncing), so Apple add some minor UX support, adding hardware products to the homescreen with a parallel to Newstand called Nightstand – a virtual table for physical things. You associate each product with your Apple ID. Then, to solve the problem that connected products need to talk to the web without a smartphone present, they activate the Bluetooth 4 already present in the Apple TV (and maybe add one to the Airport Express), and make it so that any product that can connect via your smartphone can also connect via any Apple TV you’ve signed in on using the same Apple ID. For bonus points, iCloud is used for the messaging layer, so any data sent via the Apple TV also shows up on your iPhone. Of course Apple owns an identity system with associated credit cards, fully capable of micro-payments and subscriptions.

Apple would own connected products. You wouldn’t build on anything else.


Starting point: Android. Motorola.

What happens: Google take cheap cellphone guts - the peace dividend of the smartphone war -and use Motorola to release a development platform that runs Android, rebooting the Android @Home program that was launched back in 2011 with smartphone-controlled lightbulbs. In this new 2013 world of Arduino and Raspberry Pi, hardware is way more accepted… but loads of people already know how to develop for Android. So developers flock to this new platform. You’re not locked into Google’s hardware, because Android hardware is commoditised down to the CPU, unlike similar offerings from Amazon or Amazon. The UX is provided by Android apps, of course. Google Cloud Messaging is used to link the connected hardware to regular ol’ websites that developers build themselves. Websites are easy, and Google trusts the web. The platform is a great combination of open and familiar. Google also owns an identity system, and a payments platform.

(A note: I don’t think Google could pull off the Apple model of a peripheral ecosystem built around Bluetooth 4. Google doesn’t have enough non-smartphone presence in the home, and Android fragmentation would be a major problem – especially Samsung’s ownership of the front room via the Smart TV platform, which would put the two companies at odds.)

Google would own connected products. You wouldn’t build on anything else.

Who I’d back

I wouldn’t back any of ‘em.

It’s true, if any of the Big 3 made a move like this, you’d be dumb to use anything else for your Kickstarter project or new hardware company. It would be great. So many common problems would be solved.

But I’d be sad. We’d be stuck with a platform that met our imaginations only of today. It wouldn’t evolve; big companies are too slow.

We’re only going to discover the weird and wonderful opportunities of connected products once we’ve rolled our sleeves up and got our hands dirty. How are connected products going to change our homes, our offices, our cities, our social lives? Who knows. It’ll take years to find out. And at that point, maybe we can have a dominant platform. That’ll be fine. Until then there’s BERG Cloud and a dozen others to help figure it out. There will be more. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

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