Smart Home IoT: Best Practices for Partner and Developer Programs

In our previous post about smart home hubs and IoT, we outlined the varying strategies being employed to win in the smart home by major players such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others.

We discussed the importance of third-party partnerships and inter-operation at launch to build credibility and support ease of use. Two great examples spring to mind: ‘Independent’ smart home hubs, Almond 3 and Wink, launched with 15-30 partners each. However, for longer term success, a clear and sustainable programme is the way to engage developers and support a pipeline of ongoing innovation. For example, SmartThings launched with far fewer launch partners although it has also been around for longer. However, they have steadily built their partner base to exceed Almond 3 and Wink, thanks to a successful developer/partner program.

Almond 3 securifi

The Securifi Almond 3 launched with a swathe of device and service partners.

Partnership Programs Remain Critical For Success

With major players plowing millions of dollars into their smart home strategies, it’s tough – if not impossible – for new entrants to compete on a standalone basis. Partnerships are critical for the success and sustainability of new IoT devices and services, and a number of ecosystem models should be considered:

  • Self-contained ecosystem, with either no hub or a proprietary hub.
  • Open ecosystem, connecting to as many third-party products and services as possible.
  • Aligned ecosystem, compatible with one or more big 5 / FAMGA (Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon) platforms.

It’s tempting to think that an alternative model could emerge from an interconnectivity service like IFTTT or Stringify. These services can currently be configured using a web browser reducing the requirement for Google/Apple alignment. However, app control remains the preferred route. At the moment the execution of IFTTT voice triggers can be hit and miss, though we’d expect them to improve over time.

But given the sizeable development and marketing spend being invested by the likes of Google and Amazon, most vendors will choose the path of least resistance and allow platform players to retain interface ownership via their smartphone operating systems or digital assistants.

Launching a hub device which aims to be the center of the smart home is a difficult proposition. On one hand the aim is to create the most effective connectivity solution and claim the reward that comes from that. But each device that attempts to do this – at the exclusion of other ecosystems – only adds to the overall problem of fragmentation. It’s the reason why a pervasive, device-agnostic platform looks to be a sure bet.

While Google, Amazon and others slug it out for primacy, developers will need to hedge their bets, supporting multiple platforms and partners in the short to medium term. As Alan Bird, the W3C’s global development business leader says, ‘”The market is still immature. Developers have to focus on their short-term goals and pragmatically pick standards and to connect to communities to learn about best practices.”

Understanding Best Practice: Make It Easy & Keep It Fresh

For developer program and partnership managers working on projects in this space, the best practices apply as with other software and hardware projects. However, the evolution from early adoption to mass-market scale will require laser focus on ease and simplicity – for developers and consumers alike.

Technical and marketing teams must be doubly engaged with an aligned vision to build and continually communicate ease of use. Raw technical specifications and breakthrough features take second place to simplicity, interoperability and user experience.

Flagship Integrations are needed at launch to persuade consumers to purchase the device, but continued value must also be delivered, through a roadmap of feature enhancements and new partnerships. This can only happen through an engaged, supportive developer and partner community.

As we’ve seen in the case of Apple HomeKit, it means that the difference between short-lived or sustained success in the smart home is not just the technical quality of the underlying platform, but the ease with which it can be adopted and the developer program which facilitates its use.

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