Connected-home Babel: There's an app for that, startup says

PCWorld News

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

In the dream home of the Internet of Things, all your appliances would talk to each other. A fragmented IoT industry makes that pretty hard today, but Yonomi says its smartphone app can make it easy.

The free app ties together smart-home devices that can’t communicate directly with each other and lets them work in concert. In the Yonomi app, users can set up routines involving several devices, such as having the lights go off if your fitness band detects that you’ve fallen asleep. Instead of making users buy and install a hub that can talk to multiple systems, Yonomi uses the phone as that hub.

Yonomi is designed for the “casually connected consumer” who wants a network of things but doesn’t want to buy a hub, CEO and Co-Founder Kent Dickson said. He demonstrated the app at Demo in San Jose, where the company debuted this week. An Android version is available now, and iPhone users can sign up for a beta test of a future iOS version.

There are several groups promoting standards for IoT devices to discover and coordinate with each other. The AllSeen Alliance is using the open-source AllJoyn technology pioneered by Qualcomm, while Google’s Nest is at the forefront of another body, the Thread Group. Intel is a major backer of the Open Interconnect Consortium. There are others, and analysts expect multiple standards for a long time.

Dickson doesn’t think all home IoT vendors will ever see eye to eye. Years of participation in standards bodies while CTO of energy management company Tendril has taught him that, he said. So consumers will always need some central system to bring their various appliances together.

“There’s got to be a brain somewhere that does that,” Dickson said.

So far, Yonomi can discover and manage Nest thermostats and smoke alarms, Sonos amplifiers and speakers, Philips Hue lightbulbs, Jawbone fitness trackers, and devices from the WeMo home automation ecosystem. The company’s working on adding more, including FitBit devices. Most connected-home systems have open APIs (application programming interfaces) that Yonomi can use to integrate them into its app, Dickson said.

Most also have a way to communicate over IP (Internet Protocol), and that’s the level at which Yonomi connects with them. For devices that use the ZigBee low-power network protocol, which isn’t available in most smartphones, typically there are bridges that come with those products so they can be reached via an IP network like Wi-Fi, Dickson said.

When the Yonomi app is installed, it automatically detects all the nearby devices it can work with. Through drag-and-drop and other inputs, the user then sets up home automation routines. They can be set to take place at a certain time, such as sunset, or based on location, such as when a user’s phone comes within range of the house.

The company is studying a premium, paid version of the app that would include added features, such as an ability to suggest new routines based on the user’s activities. However, there will always be a free version of the app, Dickson said.

Most consumers with home IoT devices, including early adopters, don’t have enough of them to make a separate hub device worthwhile, said Andy Castonguay, an IoT analyst at Machina Research. But that may change as more appliances get connected. If it works, a phone app is probably the easiest way for consumers to manage connected homes once they’ve accumulated a lot of products, he said.

Castonguay agrees the industry won’t converge on a single standard for all devices, though it may boil down to just a few.

“This market, especially, is one of heavy fragmentation, and of innovation, which essentially throws a wrench in the works of a single interface among devices,” Castonguay said.

Yonomi’s job may get harder as more products hit the market, said Technalysis Research analyst Bob O’Donnell. The company will have to scale up its efforts if it wants to connect to each device that comes along, he said.

“Can an app keep up with all the options that are out there? It’s a challenge for anybody,” O’Donnell said.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon