Project Connected Home, Broadcom Shopping RF, Facebook’s Hardware Plans

Project Connected Home Over IP
A fascinating turn of events in smart home standards yesterday as it appears Apple has taken the initiative to bring companies together on a standard for smart home product interoperability. The news came out on Apple’s website via a blog post.

Many of us have been pointing out the failure of a truly smart and connected home, largely due to devices not being able to work together. Some may remember an initiative by Qualcomm many years ago named AllJoyn, which got very close to pulling this off only Apple was the large holdout of the forum. But AllJoyn showed the benefits of when devices truly work together how the smart homes’ true potential could be unlocked.

This paragraph sums up the goal of the standard group nicely:

The project aims to make it easier for device manufacturers to build devices that are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and others. The planned protocol will complement existing technologies, and working group members encourage device manufacturers to continue innovating using technologies available today.

The bottom line, this one will work where other connected home standards failed, largely because Apple is committed to it. Apple’s dominance in the US with iPhones assures that anyone playing in the smart home wants to play nice with Apple’s solutions. How deep down this path, Google and Amazon go, will have to be seen. Amazon is the clear leader in the smart home ecosystem and isn’t as reliant as Apple is on a cross-platform ecosystem for now.

Apple taking the initiative here makes sense as it will give them more say/control on the security and privacy point. I’m intrigued by Apple’s motives here because, as it stands, Siri is not the most competitive voice assistant for smart home, and if all things are equal, consumers may choose voice interfaces from Alexa or Google while still playing nicely with their Apple hardware. Plus, Apple’s strategy for the home is still emerging from a first-party standpoint. We should expect more home hardware solutions from Apple at some point in time, but for them to be successful, each Apple endpoint in the home has to work with other solutions.

Since smart home tech started ramping, I’ve been firm in my conviction that it is essential for Apple to play nicely with others and take a more horizontal (not integrated approach). I’m not sure if Apple believed me when I wrote about this years ago, but it seems they are finally moving in a direction that looks like will have success.

Broadcom Shopping their RF Business
The WSJ broke news yesterday that Broadcom is looking to sell-off it’s RF business, along with some other parts of its wireless technology. I had made comments on Twitter that I could see Apple being interested in the RF IP if it could get the right price, but Broadcom may very well be asking too much.

What this highlights, though, is a fascinating development around RF. Not the sexiest of topics, discussion of transceivers, radio frequencies, amplifiers, etc., are not the most exciting things to talk about, but when we look at 5G, and the hope to connect nearly every computer on the planet, RF is essential.

I wrote last week about how significant it is that Qualcomm has created an RF module that is plug and play for a range of connected devices. It is simply easier, and cheaper, for most companies to use something like this Qualcomm RF module than buy Broadcom’s RF business. However, the supply chain has been ripe with rumors that Apple is working on its RF and amplifier in package solution.

Currently, Apple uses a mix of Broadcom, Skyworks, and Intel for RF and pays roughly $13. That price will go up with 5G by at least double, but it is the tight integration of the RF with the modem and the tuning of the software that makes an Apple RF solution attractive.

Ultimately, Apple may not need Broadcom’s RF and the price may be too high and come with other assets Apple doesn’t want or need. Another company to watch is Huawei if they can legally acquire it. This would allow Huawei to bring more RF in-house and continue to limit their dependence on US technology.

Facebook’s Hardware Plans
A great report came out in The Information detailing Facebook’s hardware plans. I laid out my master thesis on Facebook doing anything beyond the basics of a social platform in this article Facebook and Well-Intentioned Failures. I remain extremely skeptical of the hardware successes Facebook will find in the market, with the caveat, that I firmly believe the Oculus Quest is a fantastic product and one of the most interesting tech products I have used in the last few years.

The crux of Facebook’s goals is summarized succinctly by Alex Heath, the author of the article in this paragraph.

Facebook’s determination to become a bigger player in consumer hardware reflects an underlying paranoia about the risks of depending on tech platforms controlled by other companies. For the past decade, Apple and Google have called the shots in the tech industry as custodians of the two dominant mobile operating systems, giving them extraordinary power over companies like Facebook that depend on mobile platforms.

The battle for platform ownership in the next wave of computing is starting now, even if we are years away from any kind of AR mainstream computing solution. Facebook’s desire to control its own destiny necessitates a move to a more integrated company. To that end, they are working on their own OS and developing their own silicon, which are all things you need to do if you want to control a platform.

I wanted to share this point about Facebook, and how to win in the next era they need to be more integrated because of how this, and so many other observations, challenge much of business theorists convention wisdom. Open always wins was a mantra, yet Apple has proven that it is not the case by winning in many aspects of business by being closed. Yet, now to compete in new areas like the home, or services, they need to be more open. Facebook became the largest platform, by active users, by being open yet to control their future destiny, they need to become more closed. Every major tech company, to serve more customers, must have both an integrated strategy and a modular strategy at work simultaneously, and it is market or category dependent. To my knowledge, this sort of business strategy is fairly new and is already causing new revelations on the business and strategy front. But this point is clear, the conventional wisdom on how to run your company in the fast-changing world of technology, and consumer technology, in particular, is out the window.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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