Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant might soon all speak the same smart home language

Connected home harmony.

google nest mini with amazon echo dot
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As anyone who has tried to build a smart home can attest, getting all of your speakers and devices to work together is no easy task. A new alliance spearheaded by Amazon, Apple, and Google hopes to fix that once and for all.

Called Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP), the goal is one that’s eluded the smart home space since its inception: “To enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services and to define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification.” As it stands, device makers need to choose which protocol and smart assistant to support from the outset, so naturally, the landscape is extremely fractured. For example, the popular Ring Doorbell doesn’t work with Siri, and the Nest x Yale lock doesn’t support Amazon Alexa.

The new alliance understands those frustrations and seeks to solve them with the adoption of “a new, royalty-free connectivity standard to increase compatibility among smart home products, with security as a fundamental design tenet.” That sounds like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, and without all of the major players on board, it’s easy to dismiss as another forgotten project with lofty ambitions. But everyone’s on board, not just Apple, Google, and Amazon, but also Zigbee, IKEA, Samsung, Hue, even NXP, which makes chips for everything from Roombas to iPhones. So it has a very real chance of success.

Conspicuously absent, however, is the Z-Wave Alliance, which is seemingly in danger of being shut out. Z-Wave and Zigbee have been close competitors, with most companies building smart home hubs opting to support both protocols. If Z-Wave doesn't sign on with CHIP, however, it could give Zigbee a major leg up.  Scratch that, Silicon Labs (which makes Z-Wave chips) is part of the alliance. Updated December 20, 2019 to report that Silicon Labs has announced that its Z-Wave protocol and chip will transition into an open and multi-source smart home standard in 2020. Click here for more details.

The focus of the project is obviously on new products, so anything in your home now won’t be magically retconned to fit into the new standard. But starting in late 2020, CHIP hopes to release a “preliminary reference open-source implementation” developed and maintained on GitHub. That means device makers will have a single standard that replaces Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home, Apple’s HomeKit, Google’s Weave, and Zigbee Alliance’s Dotdot data models into a single protocol that works across all platforms.

While CHIP specifically says it “does not intend to standardize smart home user interfaces such as voice assistants, smart displays, or desktop and mobile apps,” the advancement of a single protocol will clearly benefit all of those things. With a single open standard in play, devices will be as platform-friendly as USB, with relatively minor adjustments needed to support all three major assistants.

An industry-wide partnership could also beef up security. Since the standard will be built on IP, end-to-end security is built in by default. To ensure adoption, the project will “define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification,” which should help mitigate “hacks” like the one recently experienced by a Calabasas, Calif., family. It’s unclear whether two-factor authentication will be included in the standard or how individual accounts would tie into the new standard.

Apple stands to benefit the most from the new project, as Siri seriously lags both Alexa and Google Assistant in the number of supported devices. But more than that, consumers will win, as the choice between which smart device to buy won’t come down to which smart speaker you have.

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