Ready, set, race to the IoT hub

IoT hubBattle lines are being drawn. Armies are being marshaled. Territory is being eyed and strategies drawn up with military precision. But this war is about to be fought in your home and the giants squaring up to fight for supremacy are already household names – Google and Amazon.

Both of their offerings for home smart hubs, Googles Home and Amazon’s Echo family, are just starting to gain traction. And while they may be often positioned as smart speakers, they are clearly much, much more than that.

As more companies offer up new smart tech for the home, the idea of leveraging existing systems becomes highly attractive. Understandably so – as a manufacturer, having a pre-established platform to plug into (Nest is a great example) is a short cut to delivering a smart product without having to worry about a lot of the issues associated with managing the connectivity and security. Not only does the ecosystem offer a starting place for product development and innovation, it also enables the manufacturer to potentially avoid some of the complications around connecting to the internet and securing access controls. For example, building a smart mattress is a lot simpler when you can connect it to an existing ecosystem rather than build all the capabilities in from the ground up.

With the number of opportunities smart technology affords, the battle is on to build and own the not only the individual devices that compromise the smart home, but the full ecosystem for all connected devices. And whoever owns the human/IoT interface will be well positioned to drive everything else behind it.

And that’s probably the best thing that could happen because we can start to build not just a convenient, smart ecosystem, but also a secure ecosystem for connected devices. Rather than having dozens and dozens of devices from an equal number of different manufacturers, many of whom will have little security knowledge, we could have a single, master hub that implements good security, manages encryption, and keeps the rest of the devices in line. There’s incredible value here, especially in terms of standardizing the connected world, and for once we could actually satisfy both the need for convenience and the need for security and privacy, without compromising availability.

A single management plane for your home, delivered to mobile devices, and to which all other devices connect would enable manufacturers to focus on what they do best – building features, while adopting a set of pre-defined, enforceable, and measurable security best practices as they connect to the hub. Think of it rather like the old days of Apple versus Android app stores. Apple gained a reputation for being more secure precisely because it set more controls on what apps were available. On the other side, a more open and less managed approach for Android app stores resulted in a number of security issues early on, which Google has been at pains to address.

If, as a consumer, I can buy a device that is already certified to securely plug into a central management hub I own, then the level of uncertainty about what is, and what is not, secure is significantly reduced. That simultaneously means that some of the friction for manufacturers is reduced too. Of course, this setup does introduce a single point of security failure – the hub – but I believe that a single secure hub is a far better proposition than many, many unsecured devices, each of which could be an open invitation to attackers.

So, here’s my challenge to Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and yes, Apple. You want to be the central heart and brains of the connected home (and you should, you really should), then up the ante on security, and do so by looking at the possibilities that exist beyond individual connections. Let’s see security and privacy as a real part of the overall value you deliver. You get once chance at this – so let’s not screw it up, okay? Thanks.

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