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Apple versus Google: who will win the smart home war?

Home automation
The smart home is a potentially massive source of revenue
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The home automation sector is a wide open market that is valued at billions by analysts. But unless the technology becomes more user friendly – and fast – there's a very real danger that it won't see the kind of widespread market penetration that businesses are hoping for.

The potential for huge profits has led a large number of companies to enter the race at different levels of the supply chain, yet several years down the line we still don't have a dominant player on the field.

Both Apple and Google want to be that dominant player. But is there enough room at the top for both of them?

Issues with standards

The sheer number of home automation products and services on offer has not made life easier for typical consumers. One of the major problems is that these different products often use different networking protocols, meaning that the 'connected home' isn't interconnected at all, unless you buy all of your devices from the same manufacturer or use a professional installer.

The consumer, and the market in general, would benefit greatly from an industry-wide networking protocol standard that could do the same thing for the smart home that Wi-Fi did for laptops and tablets.

Naturally it would take a tech company with a lot of clout to enforce a standard networking protocol. They also wouldn't invest the resources needed to implement one networking protocol unless it benefitted their company more than their main competitors.

Apple and Google both have their own networking protocols that they would like to see used as industry standards. If their networking protocol sees widespread adoption, then their products become more valuable to consumers, their presence in the house will be maximised, and their profits will rise. If their networking protocol dies out, then their products will quickly become about as useful as a Betamax video cassette player.

Will home automation use low energy Bluetooth (and Wi-Fi)?

Apple's networking protocol of choice, low energy Bluetooth, already has several significant advantages over its competitors. Firstly, there's already a certain amount of consumer recognition in place. Users are familiar with the name Bluetooth and are confident that it will work with a number of different products.

Secondly, Apple has already invested a huge amount of work by putting low energy Bluetooth into all of its devices. This means that developers for HomeKit, Apple's system for home automation, will be able to make devices that communicate easily and effectively with Apple products, including the all-important iPhone and iPad.

Thirdly, Apple as a company has done much to encourage developers, and smaller companies, developers and hardware manufacturers are working hard to develop products and services that they hope will become an important part of Apple's vision of the smart home. If these companies are successful in creating products that appeal to consumers or services that add value to an Apple smart home, then the overall Apple/Bluetooth package will become more attractive.

Arguably, Apple already has an important edge here. The iPhone, which would act as an interface for an Apple-powered smart home, has such widespread market penetration that many consumers will naturally gravitate towards smart lights, locks and thermostats that they can control with their iPhone. The keys to an Apple smart house are already in their pockets. iDevices with its iGrill meat thermometer (and Switch just revealed at CES), along with Savant with its Made For iPhone smart appliances, are two companies already demonstrating that working with Apple can be a shortcut to success.