First, it's best to think of home IoT in terms of layers. Most of the choices consumers will face involve just two: network and application. One determines how data packets travel through wires or the air, while the other handles how devices understand each other and tell each other what to do.
For two products to work together, they need to speak the same language on both of these layers. If not, you'll need something else, like a hub device or software, that can talk to both.
Second, the future is not yet written for these would-be unifiers. Products certified for the same standard should work just fine, and there are likely to be many more carrying a logo in 2016. But it's too soon to tell if one standard will eventually rule them all. It's also too early to know how well plug-ins and other methods to make them compatible will work.
It will probably be five years before devices from different home IoT ecosystems can carry out complex tasks like setting up the whole house when you arrive home, IDC analyst Michael Palma says.
"I think we're going to see a lot of frustrated people trying to expand whatever they have invested in so far," Palma said.
Several big names working at the application layer are likely to show up on the CES show floor. Another will avoid the noise at a hotel suite nearby.
-- AllJoyn: Based on software developed by Qualcomm, AllJoyn is now an open-source framework administered by the AllSeen Alliance. Members include Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Panasonic and Sony. The group just started certifying products and making sure they work together, and only four are approved so far. Other devices have been using AllJoyn for months, and their makers are working to bring them up to the latest version and get certified, said Philip DesAutels, AllSeen's senior director of IoT.
-- OIC: The Open Interconnect Consortium includes Intel, Samsung, Dell and Cisco. (Some vendors have their fingers in a lot of pies.) It's tested a number of products for interoperability and plans to show them off in a hotel suite near CES. Through an open-source project called IoTivity, people with other technologies, including competing ones like AllJoyn, can introduce plug-ins that let OIC products work with other types of gear, according to OIC Executive Director Michael Richmond.
-- HomeKit: This software framework developed by Apple is designed to let users control home devices directly from an iPhone over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It can also tie into an Apple TV for access when your iPhone isn't in the house. Other smart-home platforms can connect with HomeKit through systems like the Insteon Smart Hub Pro. But Apple controls the HomeKit ecosystem and approves the products that can use it.
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