The Internet of Things. It’s a term that started cropping up over the past few years to help describe the world that we see ourselves moving into. Where only 30 years ago we were just starting to link a couple of machines together to pass information between them, we now have information whizzing from place to place. The Internet of Things promises to take this idea a step further. Soon, not only will you talk to your devices as you do now, your devices will talk to each other, and lying over the top of this loose collection of connections will be hardware and/or software smart enough to tie it all together into one (or many) logical unit(s), most notably in the form of Smart Homes.
…as excited as many people are about the Internet of Things powering their home, there is an underlying problem: it doesn’t exist. Not yet, anyways. Right now, nearly every company offering Smart Home technology resides in disparate, distinct, and private silos. If you’re someone lucky enough to have a number of different products that can be controlled or automated via a phone or web app then you’ve seen this for yourself. There’s an app for your Lutron lights, an app for your Sonos speakers, an app for your Nest thermostat (and now Dropcam with a recent update to their app), an app for your sprinklers, your locks, another brand of lights, etc.
There are some proposed solutions to this problem. Apple has started rolling out HomeKit, a Siri controlled framework for iOS devices which HomeKit enabled devices can be controlled by. That said, the WSJ was fairly critical in an article this week saying:
“Unfortunately, Siri just isn’t very reliable. I’m running the first HomeKit hardware in my house, with hubs by Insteon and Lutron Caséta, but when Siri gets involved, I sometimes want to throw the iPhone out the window.”
Google, similarly, has announced Brillo and Weave to compete in this space. And while these should certainly take us a step closer to a proper connected home, the onus is still on device makers to adopt these paradigms or, preferably, open up their API’s (API stands for “application program interface” and lies at the heart of connecting software to hardware). It’s way too common to see a cool new device hit the market and realize that it has no API, or if it does, find out that the API is not very good.
Lutron’s Caséta, while controllable via HomeKit, doesn’t have a public API. The only way to connect with the Caséta is either writing an iPhone app or by being an approved third party to plug in to their Smart Bridge Pro. Nest, while providing a good API for their thermostats, still hasn’t opened or published a Dropcam API even though Dropcam was acquired over a year ago and had a beta for their own API already in place prior to the acquisition. Sonos, being built on a UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) architecture, has some self documenting XML files detailing how it can be controlled to those savvy enough to understand it or willing to learn how it works, but creating a controller that uses this functionality is not publicly supported and an update to the firmware could feasibly break DIYers who’ve made their own controllers.
Those are a small sampling of the large list of devices which are out in the world but are in no way connected or feasibly connectable. Without some way for third parties to connect to these devices, the Internet of Things is simply an idea. One that can never come to fruition without opening up ways for these devices to make connections. Obviously it’s possible to do; each device has its own app which controls it. Opening up those means of control is the first step towards realizing the Internet of Things as more than just a pipe dream.
Until then, the best we can produce is an Internet of Disconnected Things. And that’s not enough. This is the goal with Josh.ai, to create a seamless, single app for consumers to control all their gadgets.
This post was written by Michael at Josh.ai. Previously, Michael was a software engineer at Microsoft before joining the Josh team where he works on interconnected device control. Michael plays hockey, loves Chipotle, rocks out to T-Swift, and has a love-hate relationship with Destiny Potato (the best band you’ve never heard of).