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Will Apple's Internet of Things vision hurt a beautiful idea?

Patrick Thibodeau | June 9, 2014
With HomeKit, Apple promises easy home automation.

Ah, the connected world. You wake up in the morning, and give iPhone's Siri a pleasant command: "Good morning." In response, lights turn on, music starts playing and the coffee maker begins brewing just as your day begins.

Apple's just announced approach to home automation and the Internet of Things is via its new Homekit, a framework and network protocol for controlling devices in the home. It promises a seamless user interface for organizing and controlling connected devices.

Homekit is part of iOS 8, which Apple unveiled at WWDC on Monday.

To work in this connected-home environment, product manufacturers will need Apple's MFi certification (Made for iPod, Made for iPhone, Made for iPad). But the connected world will never belong exclusively to Apple; it's just too big. So how will Android, Windows and other devices operate in this Apple universe? Will they be able to all work together? Or will the grand idea of a seamlessly connected Internet of Things environment slip away?

One answer comes from Marvell, which makes a system on a chip (SoC) that may be used in many of the products that make up Apple's Internet of Things universe.

Marvell recently announced a low-power WiFi, ZigBee and Bluetooth microcontroller SoC. It combines what had been separate components into a fully integrated unit, said Philip Poulidis, vice president and general manager of Marvell's mobile and Internet of Things business units. It is low power, has the capability for long battery life and is small enough for wearables.

The Marvell SoC will be used by manufacturers to create connected products, and Marvell has decided to back Apple's HomeKit by shipping its SoC with Apple's protocols built-in -- including secure pairing. That should help ease MFi certification for product makers, said Poulidis.

"We felt that Apple really has a knack for building things that are very user friendly," said Poulidis.

But Marvell's SoC is agnostic. It supports multiple protocol stacks and different methods for dealing with security, discovery and control across multiple operating systems. There's a reason for that.

"All of our customers are designing for both Android and iOS," said Poulidis. As a result, the SoC will simultaneously support multiple operating systems.

Support for multiple operating systems on the SoC means that a manufacturer who makes coffeemakers, for instance, won't have to stock shelves with multiple coffeemakers: one that supports Apple, another for Android, and so on.

The complications may arise in the level of control a user has over a device. If you are using Apple to connect, will there be features that aren't accessible to Android users or vice versa?

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, noted that the iPhone initially worked best with cars while other phones had reduced capabilities. "But eventually Android worked just as well, because it was in the car makers' best interest to embrace both platforms."


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