Amazon, Apple, and Google and the Future of Home Automation

There's a quiet war going on for the future of home automation, and some of the biggest companies in the world are participants. When you buy an Amazon Echo smart speaker, an Apple TV digital media player, a Google Nest learning thermostat, or another like device, you are becoming another data point in this contest.

These devices all gain entry into the home by performing a single task or a set of related tasks, but their ambitions are far greater. They usually do not directly support traditional home automation standards such as ZigBee or Z-Wave, but rather try to implement their own. The key is the "Works with ..." phrase and how many third party products are sporting it.

Amazon is perhaps the biggest surprise, since they don't own a mass-market operating system to make home automation tasks easier, but their Echo with its Alexa voice recognition engine is likely the current market leader, with over three million sold in the United States alone. Amazon's Smart Home store is full of Echo-compatible thermostats, power outlets, ceiling fans, and lights.

Nest was an early leader in this space and it looked like Google's acquisition would accelerate this status. It didn't, for what seem to be organizational reasons. Google now has a multi-pronged strategy which includes their Chromecast and an upcoming competitor for the Amazon Echo called Google Home, which is expected to be released in October 2016.

As has become the norm, Apple is taking their own path. iOS 10 includes a new Home app which can set up and control HomeKit compatible devices from an iPhone, iPad, or iPad Touch, while an Apple TV 4 acts as the default always-present device, controllable by Siri. Apple's HomeKit store includes alarm systems, thermostats, and (of course) lights.

A major technology company with surprisingly little presence in the home automation space is Microsoft. Their Cortana voice recognition technology would appear to be a good match for home automation needs, and the Xbox One has some potential in this area, but they don't seem to have any underlying strategy.

Interestingly, some third parties are playing it safe, at least for now. It is not uncommon to see devices that work well with more than one of the major players. We'll see how long that reasonably consumer-friendly trait lasts.

Visit Amazon's Smart Home accessories store at:

Visit Apple's HomeKit accessories store at:

John Mulhern III, posted 9/29/2016