Simple Engineering IoT Integration Software Is Anything but Simple
Shawn Wasserman posted on January 07, 2016 |
CES presenters show that, without a common IoT standard, a connected home may be just a dream
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is underway and one thing we will be hearing a lot about is how the Internet of Things (IoT) will be connecting our future electronics.

However, engineers in the IoT design space know this to be misleading. Without a common IoT standard, engineers will not be able to fully deliver on this promise.

Take the Z-Wave Alliance. The goal of this collection of industry leaders is to bring together a technology to connect various smart home appliances.

One member of this organization is the Samsung’s SmartThings platform, which will be showcasing its line of new Smart TVs at CES.

It appears that the SmartThings platform meets the goals of Z-Wave quite well: it connects, manages and controls various smart devices through one platform. However, this platform is only compatible with smartphones, Samsung’s new line of Smart TVs, SmartThings sensors and about 200 other devices from Samsung and third parties.

Samsung’s Smart TV line is now able to connect IoT devices through the SmartThings Platform. (Image courtesy of Samsung.)
Samsung’s Smart TV line is now able to connect IoT devices through the SmartThings Platform. (Image courtesy of Samsung.)
It is true that these devices range in function from refrigerators, thermostats, cameras and lights so many customers will be able to find product options they need. However, at the end of the day SmartThings locks you into the list of its compatible devices; a list that is tiny compared to the vast number of IoT-enabled products on the market. Additionally, many of these products are only fully controllable using a USB adapter.

SmartThings is moving in the right direction for the Z-Wave Alliance to create an IoT control standard. However, it is far from an industry standard like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi which provides the front-end connectivity of these devices to the internet.

And SmartThings isn’t the only player in this IoT platform integration game. Big names like National Instruments, Broadcom, Cisco and Intel have all teamed up to create AVnu. This is intended as another solution for protocol, distributed timing and latency issues with IoT connectivity. As these solutions will have slightly different objectives they might take on different hardware, software and protocol solutions to tackle the problem in their own unique way. As a result, there is no guarantee they will play nicely together.

Even when IoT devices are compatible, connecting them isn’t as easy as one would suspect according to Z-Wave Alliance member and IoT integration consultants PlumChoice. “Despite the significant opportunities presented by innovative connected home and IoT devices, device makers are failing to help consumers integrate these products into their already complex technical environments,” said Steve Thompson, vice president of IoT business development at PlumChoice and CES speaker.

This can be a serious issue for IoT engineering design teams. Not only do they have to manage a sea of potential and IoT connection standards, they also have to make the connection as simple as possible for the end user. However, without an industry standard these solutions will inevitably become overly complicated. As a result, companies will need support staff to help their customers integrate their solutions before they become too frustrated.

“Our own data shows that 67 percent of consumers are struggling to use common connected ‘things,’” said Thompson. “Without the necessary pre-purchase and ongoing support enabled, ‘thing’ makers are looking at a long road ahead that involves a lot of unsatisfied customers and many no-fault-found returns. We need to help people derive real value from these investments – and, in return, brands will be more successful.”

Engineers and marketers know that at the end of the day, the average user will want a plug-and-play solution. All of their IoT devices should just turn on and work together regardless of the maker label. Therefore, it is in the best interest of these industry leaders to design these standards and design them fast. Only then will tools like SmartThings be able to truly integrate the control of IoT devices.

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