Will Apple Play Nice On The Internet Of Things?

Posted: Jun 2 2014, 1:30am CDT | by , in News | Apple

Will Apple Play Nice On The Internet Of Things?
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Rumors are flying with some vehemence that Apple will introduce smart home technology at its Worldwide Developer Conference June 2.

While Apple fans and investors have been hoping for something to punch up the brand for years now (pretty much since a couple of years after the iPad introduction, which would be about 2012), this latest foray may not be the thing.

The reason is that Apple does not play well with others, a well-documented behavior. It has been known to turn on partners as diverse as Adobe, Logitech, and Google when its interests diverged from theirs. Even now and without Steve Jobs, who instituted the philosophy, Apple is working to cut Samsung’s share of component supply and edge Intel out as Mac processor vendor.

This modus operandi is not a character flaw. It’s driven by a view that integrated systems work better. The fewer the chefs in the kitchen, the better the soup. This guiding principle is what makes the iPhone and iPad such perfect devices. Apple controls the entire user experience. App vendors must pass through a gauntlet to get in the App Store, ensuring uniform quality.

Apple bird-dogs its manufacturers in China and Taiwan like no other American brand, watching over their shoulders to ensure that its specifications are met on every device.

And that’s why they’re so good.

But the Internet of Things is going to be a necessarily collaborative effort. No one company is going to own it all, not Google, which has staked a claim with its Nest thermostat, not Cisco, which has been touting its own version, calling it the Internet of Everything, not Whirlpool, which has been showing smart appliances for a couple of years already. And not Apple.

No, the Internet of Things will be about standards and interoperation. Qualcomm pointed the way with its AllJoyn open source project, which it recently handed off to the AllSeen Alliance. This latter group is now more than 40 strong, including Panasonic, Sharp, LG, Cisco, Harman, HTC, and Imagination.

The Internet of Things will arise from the collective contributions of all these companies and others.

Bluetooth Low Energy (a.k.a. Bluetooth Smart) is allowing battery-powered beacons to interact with devices that come near them, letting, for example, retailers craft loyalty programs so that top customers get special offers on their phones when they walk in the store. In a future revision of the standard, Bluetooth devices will get IP addresses and will be able to transmit to and receive from the cloud. This development will bring a whole new list of devices into the Internet of Things.

Some years ago, when the industry was trying to gather around a consumer standard for digital entertainment in the home, it formed the Distributed Living Network Alliance (DLNA) to specify at six levels the protocols that companies would have to use in order for their devices to be compliant and interoperate with one another. At the wired connectivity layer, the DLNA board chose Ethernet. Apple chose FireWire. Luckily, at the wireless connectivity level, both chose 802.11. And they agreed at the networking layer to use IPv4, which was pretty much what was available at the time. But it was at the discovery and control layer that things broke down. The DLNA wanted to use Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), but Apple was set on Rendezvous (now called Bonjour). The two camps could agree on transport protocol, file formats, and link protection, but because of that one layer, never the twain did meet.

At the time, I asked my Apple contact about UPnP compatibility. He said, “We could do it. We’re just not going to.” Apple has all kinds of reasons for this type of decision: it thinks its technology is better; it doesn’t want to allow anyone to swap out its gear, which would be possible if it were a standard component; its technology is better-integrated with its other products. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. Apple stands on its own, with prostrate vassal partners, and everyone else stands elsewhere.

This strategy worked really badly in the PC era, and Apple almost went out of business in 1997. But it worked really well in the high-mobility era, starting in 2007 with the iPhone. However, there is some evidence that the go-it-alone method is fraying, even with Apple’s huge war chest to finance its efforts. Google’s partners, particularly Samsung, are now growing faster than Apple in various segments. It’s a bear against a pack of dogs, which usually ends badly for the bear, even though it is stronger than any one dog.

And every market is different. High mobility was not like PCs, and neither is like TVs. The Internet of Things will require a lot of cooperation among industry participants if they are to achieve their goal of giving the consumer a pleasant and useful experience. Vendors can compete on device features and characteristics, but will have to adhere to a common standard. Otherwise, consumers will reject the Internet of Things as complicated, time-consuming, and unhelpful.

Twitter: RogerKay

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