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Want smart-home devices to get along? Get the industry to do it first

Stephen Lawson | May 21, 2015
IoT may simplify home automation, but not without a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

All of this calls for big players with deep pockets, according to Farooq Muzaffar, who not coincidentally is vice president of corporate strategy and development at Verizon.

Startups need to focus on selling one product at a time to satisfy their investors, and none yet has had the resources to solve the bigger issues, he said.

"We do need the beautiful devices and the great user experience those companies bring, but a bigger player needs to ... put that together and put it out in the market with the scale that they have," he said.

Muzaffar praised products like Google's Nest thermostat but said buying them individually has its downsides if you want them to work together. The alternative is a traditional system from an integrator or home security company, but the devices they install don't have the kinds of design and user experience that consumers want to show off to their friends. And combining the two worlds is technically challenging. "Consumers don't want to be programmers," Muzaffar said.

Muzaffar advocated a "mobile first" approach to connected homes, saying some processes need to be reinvented from the ground up to take advantage of the mobile era. He cited Uber, Airbnb and car-rental startup Silvercar as examples of mobile-first businesses. He also thinks consumers want a single app to control all their connected-home devices.

Verizon sells Nest thermostats and other third-party IoT products for homes and provides guidance about which devices work together and which Verizon smartphones can be used to control them.

Whatever form it takes, IoT integration in homes will require a wide range of partnerships, including both technical cooperation for interoperability and business relationships to make products viable. That's already happening with arrangements like electric utilities subsidizing the cost of energy-efficient products, which in turn can reduce the peak demand that utilities spend big bucks trying to meet.

Even companies that do integrate systems in smart homes are counting on the industry to build an ecosystem of products that work together.

"We absolutely cannot do it alone," said Adam Mayer, vice president and general manager of Time Warner Cable's IntelligentHome division. "I can't have my technicians understand how to install every single door lock or every single thermostat."



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