Amazon's smart speaker, Echo, paired with its proprietary voice-enabled virtual assistant Alexa, has already laid a fine groundwork for intuitive integrations of smart home devices, and although the ecosystem sometimes missteps, the technology has proven very effective and useful.
Amazon's field foothold poses threats to Apple and Alphabet's Google, both of which are vying for a significant space in the notion of a connected "smart" household, and the competition is moored to a tech industry dynamic that's all too familiar, as per Reuters's analysis.
Amazon And Apple Keen On Smart Home Space
Amazon's pursuit denotes an open-systems approach that paves the way for rapid development of a myriad of features, while Apple is trotting a slower pace, attempting to wring more control over the core technology to foolproof security features, in addition to ease-of-use.
In the connected home space, as with any others, strategic inroads spell a great deal. For Amazon, its approach is to own customer interactions without said customers using a non-proprietary product, like say, an iPhone or a web browser, to facilitate those interactions — online shopping, for instance, an activity it helped pioneer.
In terms of development of pairable devices with Alexa, Amazon's approach only requires software developers to write software code and hand it out to Amazon for review. For them to earn the "Works with Alexa" label, which isn't even required to function with Alexa — more of a promotional schtick, presumably — startups must have their products physically tested, but Amazon can facilitate that, and indeed it does via its third-party laboratory.
It may take 10 days before Amazon can hand down a "Works with Alexa" label.
Apple on the other hand, wants its products to be the intermediary for smart home features. As such, it has built Homekit, a whole smart home ecosystem slash control panel, right into its smartphone platform. As Reuters's noted, Apple needs to keep the iPhone at the center of its customers's lives. In fact, to earn a certification from Apple, third-party developers must include a special HomeKit chip in their devices.
Reuters's report states that small volumes of the chips, according to developers, cost 50 cents to $2, with lower prices for larger buyers. Furthermore, these devices should only be made in an Apple-certified factory.
For the connected smart home concept to come into fruition, developer partners are crucial, given that they're the ones making the devices that promote and herald the ecosystem. There are currently 250 devices that are certified to work with Alexa, and Amazon is hell-bent on further encouraging developers to create third-party applications with its open-systems approach, even offering financial extras for select partners.
Apple's HomeKit has about 100 certified devices, sorely behind Amazon's figures. As highlighted previously, Apple's lockdown approach may be detrimental to the growth of its connected home platform. Of course, the company's approach does hold advantages, namely in relation to security and ease-of use, which ensures Apple's vaunted "it just works" mantra.
"The danger I see for Apple and the home is they're assuming that because I have a smartphone that may be an Apple device, that alone is enough of a Trojan horse to establish their mindshare," said Andreas Stavropoulos from venture capital firm DFJ. "I wouldn't say that's certain yet."
Predicting whether Apple's much slower approach can combat Amazon's rapidly ballooning lead is a bit of a fool's errand. Down the line, other competitors can break into the fore, or Google, by some plausible metrics, may come up with something that'll vibrate the foothold of Apple and Amazon in the connected home field.
The point is, as it stands, Amazon is more welcoming than Apple when it comes to third-party devices, and ripples propelled by such an approach remains to be seen.