A subject of science fiction just a couple of years ago, "internet of things" or "IoT", referring to connected devices, collecting data and interacting with users and each other, is now entering mainstream consumer vocabulary. Several brands (e.g. Lockitron, Goji and August) compete for customers for their smart door locks, Twine/Supermechanical and Nest (acquired by Google) sell smart sensors to detect damp or smoke, while Belkin's WeMo app connects smartphones with coffeemakers and lamps. As "internet of things" makes itself comfortable in our homes, which of the business giants will claim the lion's share of the market?
Apple, Google and Amazon have been investing in IoT to achieve first-mover advantage. In 2014 Apple announced the launch of HomeKit, marketed as home automation platform. HomeKit works by using Siri (Apple's digital assistant) to control and monitor third-party gadgets. The first shipment of devices, manufactured by Ecobee and Phillips Hue, are set to appear in retail later in 2015. With HomeKit, any connecting appliances must be compatible with Apple's operating system. According to Apple, it is a security measure, but it's also a barrier to entry.
In May 2015 Google followed Apple's footsteps announcing a launch of Brillo, a new "internet of things" operating system, which is designed to run on and connect multiple devices from a washing machine to a rubbish bin and link in with existing Google technologies. Brillo includes Weave, which allows apps in devices to connect to each other. For example, an electricity metre app would connect to the washing machine so that the latter can switch on when electricity costs are low (e.g. at night). Brillo will also have a voice interface so that users can talk to their devices. Earlier in 2014 Google bought Nest Labs (for $3.2 billion), a producer of smart thermostats and smoke alarms.
Amazon entered the race with Dash, wirelessly connected buttons which can be placed at home and report back to Amazon when a household has run out of certain items like coffee or paper towels.
Perhaps the most interesting competitor on the IoT arena is Samsung. In August 2014 Samsung bought Smart Things, a company which connects devices through an open system. In January 2015 Samsung pledged to make every item it produces, from washing machines to smartphones, "IoT-ready" and connected to the internet within five years. Samsung's chief executive BK Yoon promised more than $100 million in funding for developers to create an open system and "kickstart an IoT revolution". Samsung's open technology proposition is a smart move from its position of strength as a hardware manufacturer.
It remains to be seen whether software or hardware will prove to be the trump card in the game of "internet of things".