Right now, the Internet of Things has serious communication issues. Unless you pick your products carefully (or just extremely lucky), you’re likely to end up with a smart product that has trouble conversing. The set of connected bulbs in your living room may not be on speaking terms with the ones in the hall, or your smart lock may not be able to get a message through to your security system.
Ideally, these devices would have a standard way to communicate, so users wouldn’t have to worry about making sure every product works well together. Some companies, such as Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Intel, are trying to figure out how to make that happen.
Even so, the ambitious goal of a common Internet of Things language is starting to seem like a pipe dream. Over the last year, tech’s biggest names have established their own ways of connecting to smart products, but these companies have shown little interest in creating solid standards. As these platforms gain traction, is it too late for a unified language to take hold?
The notion of IoT interoperability typically refers to one of two different issues, which sometimes gets a little lost in translation.
First, there’s the network layer, which determines how devices connect to one another through the airwaves. Although the network layer is a conundrum in itself, it has a partial solution in bridge devices, which act as switchboards for products that use different protocols.
The trickier problem with the IoT has to do with the application layer, which is the language devices use to accomplish specific tasks. If a thermostat and motion detector can talk to each other, they can figure out how to turn down the temperature when no one’s home. Likewise, a device with voice recognition could control other devices around the house provided they understand one another.
So far, the tech industry has decided the best way to handle this is to create their own application layers. For device makers, the sheer number of languages on offer poses a dilemma: which ones do you support when building?
Meanwhile, consumers are left to untangle a web of integrations. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to think about this?