Apple and Google Pave the Path: Why Universal Hubs Could Be the Next Big Thing in IoT

Posted by Victoria Arrington | 10-Sep-2015 13:02:37

How do you picture the ideal connected world?

Is it the promise of a future where IoT (Internet of Things) devices do the thinking for you, with technology being a much-welcomed watchtower over your life? A world where these devices act as shepherds for the most tedious of life’s tasks, guiding them to where they can gleefully be forgotten and taken care of by automation?

Well, the ship has landed. The world I describe is not that of tomorrow - all of this technology is waiting on today’s doorstep. But wait - in that case, why isn’t my coffee machine talking to my thermostat yet?

The reason why, is that these very new innovations are encountering one of technology’s oldest hurdles - incompatibility. Just as Macs and PCs were not too long ago siloed in terms of software and communication, different versions of IoT now stagnate when the average user needs access to their various connected devices, refusing to speak to one another.

And herein is the issue for the world of IoT as a whole - the moment something becomes just a little bit too inconvenient, consumers will write it off, and they are often lost forever. Two incompatible apps can be a burden that some will grudgingly work around - but when the number of hurdles multiplies to 10 or 20 incompatible systems, the user’s experience will cross from excitement to frustration. Even worse is when these frustrated consumers end up venting out their discontent on social networks, spreading the news amongst friends, followers, or potentials buyers. All of this could result in ruining the chances for a company's growth by tarnishing its reputation, and lead to lost revenue.

So, what’s the solution? 

Companies are now looking to locally connect smart devices for each user by the way of hubs. These hubs act as central “mothership” to connect a number of satellite devices and unify them into a connected ecosystem. This is particularly advantageous in the hands of one of the “household name” companies noted earlier. A company such as Google, who has created such a hub with their OnHub router (pictured below) are at the forefront of such technology, allowing all of a user’s IoT devices to connect to one central dashboard-style app, where modules can be added depending on what devices they have around the home. Google is not alone however - Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft are amongst the companies with their own hub technology.

A couple of days ago, Apple announced their latest iteration of the popular Apple TV, which has been reborn as not only a streaming device, but as their version of a hub. That, coupled with Google’s recent release of OnHub last month, may very well be the catalyst of opening the doors of the greater market, and empowering SMEs, start-ups, and enterprise to create their own complimentary IoT devices. But, the benefit is mutual - the hub hosts will give these smaller organisations a stage to release and sell these IoT applications, creating something akin to an “IoT App store”. Users would be lured in by the the trusted names of the enterprise host companies, and the vetted smaller companies would be able to quickly push updates and manage sales for add-on features for IoT. The market would open the gates of possibilities for the consumer.                                                                                            

Google’s OnHub Router. Image via Google Inc.

Google unveiled its android based IoT programming language Brillo earlier this year, featuring WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity. Brillo’s OS is the first step for Google pushing themselves as the leading platform provider. Google's CEO Sundar Pichai says they have "thought about security from the ground up to create an M2M-focused cross-platform IoT OS that users can "control from a centralised management control system". This system is to become a centralised dashboard where you can control your whole specialised IoT ecosphere via mobile devices.

But, the question remains, in the ongoing competition of Apple vs. Google, who will be the ultimate winner when it comes to IoT? Only time will tell - and we cannot forget that the technology industry in by its very nature, volatile and disruptive. Any number of other entrants (such as Samsung) could emerge as the market leaders in the new hub, and have even other unexpected plans. However, regardless of the winner, many amazing developments will orbit around the hubs - just like the devices themselves, dominoing into IoT development spin-offs.

So, how can your organisation create it’s own IoT “tour de force”? From learning where you stand within the greater world of IoT. One way of achieving this is to attend IoT-focused summits such as IGNITE November 2015, which will deliver heaps of best practice guidance, collaboration, and masterclasses from the UK’s top thought leaders in IoT and tech in a concentrated two-day format. There will also be a technology showcase that will bring to life a wide variety of IoT applications, including a mind-reading control for BBC’s iPlayer. To register interest in attending, click here

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