Samsung vs. Apple (vs. just about everyone) in smart home wars

The same day that Apple announced their ‘control everything in your home with an iPhone’ HomeKit platform, Samsung showed off their own Tizen smart home platform powered by something like their Gear 2 smartwatch.

Samsung is pushing its Tizen platform to developers, and pushing hard, but so far it hasn’t taken the world by storm. Seems like everybody who isn’t Android wants to distance themselves from the dominate mobile OS.

Trouble is, when you try to swim against a current that’s as strong as Android it’s tough to get people to follow you.

When Apple first introduced the iPod it was enough to kickstart an entire industry. (Just for the record Apple didn’t invent the portable digital music player or digital music or music, they just put it in a cool package with a simple interface.) Just about everyone thought the iPod was a good idea but when it came to integrating Apple’s proprietary compression algorithm into car audio systems car companies balked. (Again, just for the record, iPods use MPEG audio compression algorithms with just enough tweaking to make their version incompatible with ISO-compatible MPEG players.)

Car companies were reluctant to tie themselves to a non-industry-standard format and they also didn’t want to tie themselves to a single vendor like Apple. They worried that if their customers insisted on iPod compatibility then they would be forced to buy Apple components no matter what price Apple demanded.

The smart home proposals by both Apple and Samsung face the same problem. Device makers will be reluctant to build in support for any proprietary control system unless it has a dominant share of the market. Why spend extra time and money to be compatible with a minor player?

Apple has a slight advantage over Samsung in the fact that they have name recognition and an image of innovation that appeals to an affluent demographic – exactly the kind of people who would spend money on automated home devices. Apple also offers a fairly stable platform with very predictable device specifications. Samsung on the other hand, has a record of dropping products without warning and if they can’t get enough developers building on Tizen it could easily disappear. But both Apple’s HomeKit and Samsung’s Tizen approach have the same problem – they are closed, proprietary systems and that should scare device makers. It’s a struggling market and they all want to be as universal as possible so they can attract as many customers as possible – and not just customers who can afford a pricy iPhone or Gear 2 smartwatch.

The third alternative is, of course, Android (okay, technically Windows Phone is somewhere in the running and you could argue that the Microsoft platform has more followers than Tizen). Android devices are cheap, ubiquitous and power over 80% of mobile devices. Yes the Android market is somewhat fragmented, devices are not standardized and different versions of the OS can be found everywhere. But Android has one giant advantage over either Apple or Samsung – if you support Android your potential market is roughly 13 times larger than Apple and Samsung’s Tizen combined.