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Unified Smart home API
These last few years we have seen explosive growth in the number and types of IoT-enabled devices that make out a typical connected home. This results in a sprawl of dedicated apps needed to operate each hardware component, all with a specific learning curve, leading to an incoherent experience only tolerable for the technically inclined. The same problem exists in the interoperability between devices. Most home automation hardware can only be connected to other devices if and when the original manufacturer specifically designed interoperability for it. This kind of support is generally only reserved for other types of devices from the same company resulting in vendor-specific silos. Different providers are trying to unify this market and provide a one-stop solution.
Yonomi is one of the companies trying to bridge the gap between different smart home devices by providing a unified API for smart home devices. Even though they provide a free consumer-focused application via the respective app stores their business is squarely software developer-oriented. They provide an extra layer of abstraction for developers to easily write programs for a smorgasbord of smart home devices without knowing the implementation details of said devices. So using this API you can target a Philips hue smart light the same way you control an IKEA TRADFRI light or a LIFX light. Yonomi doesn’t just provide API unification for smart lights, but they provide a wide array of supported devices ranging from thermostats to vacuum robots.
imagery courtesy Yonomi.co
Providing a hardware-agnostic middleware addressing smart home offers a lot of advantages for ambitious new entrants in the smart home market. The most obvious advantage is that it makes the development time needed to integrate a wide variety of devices considerably shorter, but just as importantly it outsources the burden of keeping all the integrations up-to-date, to provide sufficient security, and to provide the infrastructure to scale to Yonomi.
A good example of this use case is how Knocki, which loyal readers already know from the proptechaweek on Taxel, uses Yonomi to power the integrations. This enables Knocki to focus on their unique selling proposition, making the best remote control interface possible. An added bonus is that every time an extra device is added by Yonomi, it automagically adds extra supported devices for the Knocki.
Even for organizations that are in total control of which smart home devices they target this extra layer of indirection might be interesting as a strategic decision to prevent vendor lock-in in a field that has a bad track record in long-term compatibility.
👎 Why not?
However, there is also vendor lock-in risk involved in using a third party to power an important part of your solution. The risk of divergent interests should be mitigated by a clearly aligned vision between both parties and a contingency plan should be in place safeguarding operation in case of the business failing.
Another risk is that an extra layer of abstraction also means that more recently added or esoteric features available in some devices are not available through the unified API.
Yonomi is a cloud-based service and doesn't have locally installed hardware that can act as a fallback. This lowers the barrier to get started with the system, but also means that extra attention should be spent so functionality degrades gracefully in the case of loss of internet connectivity…
Yonomi was founded in 2013 by Joss Scholten, Kent Dickson, and Garett Madole. It slowly picked up steam and then between 2015 and 2018 raised a total of 8.9M$ of funding. One of the big investors in Yonomi, Allegion, acquired the company at the beginning of 2021.
🕵️♀️ Who else?
Smart home IoT device fragmentation is a major pain in the industry so several other initiatives are being undertaken to tackle them.
There are a ton of applications that add an integrated interface over different smart home devices, but today we will primarily focus on the solutions with strong API support.
Wattle/Homecontrol provides a similar service, but instead of targeting specific devices, it implements specific communication standards. To be able to target these different standards like Zigbee and Z-wave it uses a specially designed gateway.
HomeConnect is a german company with an impressive list of supported devices and a comprehensive API. HomeConnect is part of the BSH conglomerate so IoT devices produced by the members of the conglomerate get preferential treatment.
iHaus also offers a home automation middleware solution hosted on AWS.
Homey is a beautifully designed orb packing the hardware to act as a hub for the most prevalent home automation devices. It allows you to connect a wide collection of hardware and comes with an API to integrate against.
There are also some open-source initiatives providing a bridge between silos. Contrarily to Yonomi and the services described above the software is provided, but you are responsible to host it yourself.
Domoticz is an open-source home automation system with a REST API.
Home-assistant is another open-source option that is widely popular, has a very wide variety of supported devices and a restful API. There is a complementary cloud service that offers a secure way to make your installation available from everywhere.
OpenHab is another popular open-source option with an open architecture and plugins for virtually every smart home device imaginable and allows to interact with them via API.
Also bridging the silos we have the 3 tech giants and their voice assistants all with their own ecosystem of connectable devices: Homekit, Works with Alexa, and Google Home. They use the popularity of their platforms to let smart home manufacturers integrate their products within their ecosystems.
You know the situation is pretty bleak when even these tech giants think the fragmentation is becoming a hindrance to smart home adoption and that is why in December last year they, together with other big names in the industry, joined forces and announced the ‘Project Connected Home over IP’ with a mission to “simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers”.
📚 Further reading?
✨ Things happening
Rethinking how (work)life will resume after corona is quite popular lately and this is a pretty good take… A look forward to 2021 on the twelve most interesting buildings that will finish completion this year from Dezeen… Normally I’m pretty reluctant to share sponsored content, but spaceflows content production quality is consistently high and this article on creating a full building experience through the digital layer is no different… I don’t need a new doorbell, but this IndieGoGo project might convince me anyway.