Game of Homes: Google, Apple, and Microsoft
One of the fiercest battles in technology is about to kick-off – and it’s for our very own homes. Even if only in passing you are sure to have heard of the “Internet of Things” concept where every modern day object – even the most mundane – is expected to be connected and accessible from the Web in some form or another. Connected devices are nothing new, we’ve been doing it for years, but we are yet to find a winning platform where information provided by hardware can be accessed by developers to create forward-thinking innovations.
We are some way off from a connected grid similar to cTOS portrayed in Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs game released today – where the protagonist can hack and control a fictional Chicago’s infrastructure including traffic lights and automated barriers – but the “Connected Home” arena is heating up and is set to explode at some point later this year.
There are already popular products which can control your home and automate it more efficiently such as the Nest smart thermometer, or Philips’ Hue smart lighting. Whilst cool products in their own right, they are segmented and cannot work together and instead must be controlled independently which somewhat removes the point of an automated home.
For this dream to become a reality, you need a huge ecosystem. And who owns the world’s biggest ecosystems? Why that would be Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Each of these mighty players have been making big moves and acquisitions which all but confirm their intentions to take over your home in the near-future.
Remember we were just talking about Nest? Well Google bought the incredible startup for a cool $3.2 billion earlier this year. Nest has two key products at the moment; their smart thermometer, and a smoke alarm. The company’s motto is to “take the unloved products in your home and make simple, beautiful, thoughtful things.”
Google isn’t known for sitting around – it’s a fast-moving company which only this month has acquired six various companies. According to The Information, Google is considering a purchase of Dropcam—the worldwide leader in cloud-powered remote monitoring systems which features advanced video analysis technology. An investor in Dropcam, Kleiner Perkins' Trae Vassallo, said last year that "Dropcam can do for surveillance cameras what Nest did for the thermostat."
Google, being primarily an advertising company, has a hard time convincing people their privacy will be respected and not used to target ads across all the products you use by the company. Their internal slogan is “Don’t be evil” – but do you trust Google with automating your home?
Ever since Apple acquired voice assistant Siri and integrated it into their iOS devices, industry-watchers have expected a home automation platform based around it. Similar to how manufacturers can build ‘AirPlay’ into their audio products, Siri could be built into everyday objects to control them intuitively.
Is it hard to imagine a near-future where you could say “Open the garage door” to your iPhone – especially now iOS is built-in to the dash of upcoming vehicles? Or how about: “Siri, record upcoming episodes of The Walking Dead” for your TiVo (or, more likely, your Apple TV) to set recording?
At the Cupertino company’s annual developer conference this year, WWDC, it is expected we’ll see the reveal of a “Connected Home” software platform which will let iDevices become a remote control for connected devices.
Apple, as a hardware company, doesn’t have the same privacy stigma attached to them as Google. Yet, as a hardware company, they also prefer to push their own products rather than play nice with others. If Apple goes solely with creating their own connected home hardware – it’s not likely to be as comprehensive and varied a choice as more Open platforms such as Google’s but will undoubtedly be a tight and well-integrated system.
Arguably, Microsoft has been onto the connected home well-before terms like the Internet of Things were even coined. Microsoft’s “House of the Future” was a project set-up by the Redmond-based giant to show their vision of what they believe general consumers’ homes will realistically look like in the relatively short future.
It contained things like conductive charging dishes – which have recently started actually taking off with the QI wireless charging standard being built-in to many modern smartphones. It also featured worktops which can display recipes or other information to help around the home, and blinds which can be activated at the sound of your voice.
Voice recognition is something which Microsoft has been pushing and optimising as part of the Kinect peripheral available with their Xbox home games console which itself has always been pushed as being the all-round media centre of your home (all-round is where the “360” came from in Xbox 360, whilst the Xbox One is the “One” system for your home... Get it? Good.)
It has been made clear that beyond gaming, the Xbox One is an important Trojan horse into customers’ homes for Microsoft. Due to being built around three different operating systems; the Xbox OS, Windows OS, and a “middle” OS which acts as a layer in-between – it should make development easy once Microsoft decides to open the platform for third-party apps.
TelecomsTech did some digging and found a patent from Microsoft which was published only this week that describes using a depth camera (like the Kinect) to “compute an aspect of the human subject from the depth data” so that the person can create changes “in the environment and actuates appropriate hardware in the environment to make the change.” If I can sit on my couch and point to my Philips Hue lightbulb to switch it off before starting a movie – then I’d be a happy man.
The voice assistant Microsoft recently added to their Windows Phone platform, Cortana, features its own “notebook” which stores the user’s important data for recall later (it can be manually deleted) and would be very powerful for learning when you are likely to arrive home so things like heating can be adjusted automatically.
Microsoft, as primarily a software company, doesn’t have the privacy stigma of Google or the hardware-pushing necessity of Apple. They need to get their Xbox consumer Trojan horse to as many people as possible and then onwards foster a healthy ecosystem – not as open as Google’s due to licensing – but still one which all the innovative hardware manufacturers can benefit from.
Which ecosystem do you think has the most potential when it comes to home automation? Let us know in the comments.
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