Right now, the home automation industry is incredibly fractured. There are several big players manufacturing collections of home automation devices; there are a lot of small players assembling white label systems or specializing in single devices. At the heart of it all are the ecosystems that tie everything together. If you are just getting started in home automation, remember that word ‘ecosystem’.
Ecosystems could very well be the one thing that determines the future of the smart home. If you need proof, do a little research on the subject. You will discover there are a small handful of well-known companies pouring millions into developing the perfect ecosystem. As the thinking goes, the first company to master the ecosystem will determine how everyone else plays the game.
Proprietary or Open Source?
A good way to look at the current state of the home automation industry is to compare it to computer software. And to make this comparison work, we need to look no further than the desktop/laptop operating system.
When personal computers were still in their infancy back in the early 1980s, you had numerous companies competing for a limited number of customers. IBM was competing against Commodore which, in turn, was competing with a very young Microsoft and its DOS system. The market was just as fractured for home computers as the home automation industry is now. But one company made the right moves and ended up dominating the desktop.
That one company has enjoyed a near monopoly since the late 1990s. But now a new player is lurking on the horizon: open source. Open source software may not be anywhere near dominance on the desktop, but it does dominate the internet and mobile markets. And with every bit of influence it gathers, open source becomes a bigger player in digital technology.
The question for home automation is whether it will follow the proprietary or open-source model. In other words, will one of the big-name players come up with an ecosystem that captures the entire smart home market and holds it for decades, or will the industry choose to adopt open source in order to prevent any one company from establishing a monopoly? That is the big question. It is one that has no answers right now.
Why Consumers Should Care
At this point, the average consumer probably does not give any thought to ecosystems and home automation. After all, those are things only technology geeks think about. So why should consumers care? Because no matter how the ecosystem kerfuffle shakes out, it will have an effect on consumer choices, prices, and availability.
We absolutely need a solid ecosystem if home automation is to ever reach its potential. A solid ecosystem provides standardization. It provides a more uniform user experience and the means of presenting home automation to legions of new users in a way they can understand. But allowing the ecosystem to be controlled by a single entity is to stunt product development and innovation.
There is no reasonable way to regulate the development of the home automation ecosystem to prevent market dominance by a single entity. Nor would it be appropriate to do so. Hopefully, wisdom will prevail in the pursuit of the kind of ecosystem we need. We would all be better served if home automation were left fully open to competition, innovation, and the willingness of all the players to work together to create better systems for a better future.
The ecosystem is the bedrock of integrated home automation. As it goes, so will the entire smart home industry.