If you buy an IoT- (smart) enabled device, it comes with an app. It will show you the recent data and, with luck, some insights. Also, it let you control the device.
That device makes you happy, so you go and buy another. It comes with its own app. And the third comes with yet another app. Soon, you'll find yourself asking, "Are we supposed to switch apps 30 times every day? I hope you got the point. This is not correct.
For the consumer side of IoT (which is home and wearables), this is a deal breaker. Unfortunately, it is a hard problem because there are n*n connections to manage, given n vendors. Devices will come from many vendors. Vendors need to make sure devices and apps will find each other and fit into a single experience. Of course, it is not clear how to solve this problem.
We have seen a milder version of the problem with enterprise software. Each organization has many systems, usually built by different vendors. But the systems have to work with each other. We created SOA and services to solve this problem, but figuring that out took close to 20 years. And like I said, it's a milder version of the problem we face today because enterprise integration didn't try to do UI integration.
How Do We Solve the Problem?
I see several ways this will work out.
We can all get charitable and cooperative. We get together in a big chat room and decide on IoT specifications. One of the specifications should be a UI plug-and-play specification. Then we live happily ever after. If history is any indication, this is NOT going to happen.
A third-party company takes over IoT apps, and all vendors work with them. Although this is a viable solution, interfacing the user is too valuable to be given up to a third party. I do not think this will happen either.
Big players (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) provide SDKs, which device vendors could support. Then, all control and information interfaces can plug into one app provided by said big player.
Devices adopt chat + voice-based interfaces. Unlike apps, it is easier to merge chat + voice controls from different vendors. Chat + voice interfaces are ad-hoc. Hence, control interfaces like Alexa can amalgamate separate voice APIs. Alexa does this to some level already.
The third version is already happening via Google and Microsoft. Amazon is pushing the fourth version.
The Crystal Ball of IoT App Integration
A few observations thus far:
I do not believe apps will make it. Making many sub-apps work in one large app is hard. They will be around, though, so this approach will likely die a slow death.
Chat + voice with some integration of the UI will win. For example, when I say, “Alexa, show me my fitness stats”, it will show me the UI).
It took me some time to see how strong Amazon’s position is and how Alexa might play into the story.
Success in these settings will depend a lot on partnerships. Hence, smaller IoT players do not have a future. The only path I see for smaller players is to go for voice aggressively and building an open source ecosystem. If they can pull it off, they have a fighting chance.
If only the big players are left, all parts of our lives will be accessible and monitored in that scenario. Then, we would have created the George Orwell’s 1984 in its full glory.
All these only apply to the consumer side of IoT. The Industrial Internet and other enterprise deployments are often designed by a single vendor. Hence, they do not face this problem.