In recent years, the tech giants have been facing off in an ‘ecosystem’ arms race. Apple has its iOS devices, allowing owners of iPhones, Mac computers, Apple TVs and wearables like headphones or the iWatch to move smoothly between them, taking advantage of the same services and data syncing between them. Google has been doing the same thing with its Android operating system, software services and other devices from wearables to smart home tech and Amazon building its own infrastructure of services and devices.
The strategy seemed to be a competition to attract consumers into one ‘main’ tech ecosystem. However, it seems a new approach has now been decided upon. Several of the biggest U.S. tech companies have taken the ground-breaking step of agreeing to a pact of work together to improve the latest consumer technology in the world.
Google, Apple and Amazon have agreed to make their smart home devices compatible with each other’s digital voice assistants. That means that the owner of an Amazon Echo would, in theory, be able to opt to pair it with Apple’s Siri voice assistant, or the Google Assistant, instead of Alexa – Amazon’s own technology.
The surprising cooperation treaty has come about through the mediation of the Zigbee Alliance – an industry body whose aim is to improve overall standards in IoT (Internet of Things) devices. These include not only voice assistant devices but also internet-connected household technology including heating and security systems, fridges, ovens and lighting. Other producers of IoT devices such as Samsung, Comcast and Ikea are also part of the Alliance and will cooperate with Google, Amazon and Apple on the initiative.
A Zigbee Alliance spokesperson commented:
“The project is built around a shared belief that smart home devices should be secure, reliable, and seamless to use.”
As well as improving IoT devices for consumers, the pact will also make the life of manufacturers easier. The currently have to pick one smart home operating system to make their connected devices compatible with. That has led to a battle between the big three of Amazon, Apple and Google to be chosen as the compatibility choice by device manufacturers. For consumers, it has also locked them into buying devices with the same compatibility if they want all their IoT devices to be able to ‘talk’ to each other.
Google Nest engineers Nik Sathe and Grant Erickson stated:
“The lack of an industry-wide connectivity standard leaves people confused and frustrated when trying to understand what devices work with each smart home ecosystem. It places a heavy burden on manufacturers to make sure devices are compatible with each other.”
The Zigbee Alliance added:
“The decision to leverage these technologies is expected to accelerate the development of the protocol and deliver benefits to manufacturers and consumers faster.”
IoT smart home devices are a quickly growing market with 2019 sales expected to show 23.5% growth on 2018. A total of around 850 million IoT devices will be sold globally this year. That, estimates the International Data Corporation, will rise to 1.4 billion shipped IoT units by in 2023.
The pact has been named “Project Connected Home over IP” and IoT device packaging will feature a project logo so consumers can understand if the device they are considering buying is part of the mutual compatibility initiative.
The first devices that will adhere to the new agreement will be those used for safety and security such as smoke alarms, carbon monoxide sensors, smart doors and locks, security systems, electrical plugs and window shades. But the pact will subsequently be extended to devices used for convenience, energy efficiency and entertainment.