Facebook Is Entering The Smart Home (But It’s Coming In Through The Back Door)

This past week at Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, the social network giant had a series of product and customer announcements for its Parse platform that show the company has designs on becoming an IoT and smart home powerhouse.

So what’s Parse? It’s a company-turned-platform that Facebook acquired in April 2013. Post-acquisition, Facebook first used Parse to fast-track mobile app development by turning it into a platform to provide developers building blocks for such things as notifications.

But apparently that was just the beginning. As we learned this week, Parse for IoT will provide a combination of a hardware SDK for an Arduino Yun (a Wi-Fi controller board build around the popular open-source hardware) with a suite of cloud-powered services for IoT hardware developers.

The Arduino board is interesting in that it puts Facebook in direct competition, in a sense, with IoT/smart home hardware platform players like Electric Imp, a company that also provides controller boards and SDKs backed by a IoT cloud to enable customers to fast-track product development.

On the cloud-services side, the company is taking its suite of services originally targeted at mobile app developers - Parse Core, Parse Push and Parse Analytics - and enabling these services for IoT hardware. Two smart home companies, Roost and Chamberlain, announced they were early customers of the cloud suite. Roost indicated it would use entire suite of Parse offerings. From the Roost release:

"Parse Core offers Roost the ability to run custom app code in the Parse Cloud, easily schedule recurring tasks and background jobs. It also provides a dashboard to view analytics, as well as schedule and send push notifications. Parse Push allows Roost to create, schedule and segment push notifications from its app. Finally, Parse Analytics enables Roost to track any data point in its app in real-time. This gives Roost the ability to measure app usage, optimize push campaigns and track custom analytics."

Chamberlain’s integration with Parse looks to be primarily with Parse Push, which will enable users of the MyQ app for Chamberlain’s smart home connected garage doors to get push notifications alerting them when the door’s been left open or when it’s been open while they are gone.

Facebook’s move here with Parse likely created a little discomfort for a number of players in the smart home and IoT enabling technology space. Perhaps most uncomfortable are those companies creating smart home and IoT clouds - like Electric Imp, Greenwave and Zonoff - who have to be wondering if this move could put in direct competition with a giant like Facebook.

WeChat was also served notice. This move by Facebook looks to be a response to some of the initial moves we’ve seen from Chinese mobile messaging service, which announced a hardware API effort in 2014. In January 2015, smart home and IoT cloud platform provider Ayla Networks showed off an integration with WeChat to enable notifications and command/control of connected devices through the WeChat app.

In many ways, the move into IoT makes sense for Facebook. Like Amazon and Google, the company sees an opportunity to leverage its leadership position in cloud tech by turning it into an enabling platform for third parties. With Parse, its cloud platform now becomes the tip of the spear for Facebook's entry into IoT. This is all fairly good timing on Facebook's part since this area - cloud-powered services, messaging and notifications and analytics - if fast becoming one of the key battlegrounds for IoT. Unlike Amazon and Google, I don’t get the sense - at least for now - that Facebook wants to create any consumer-touching hardware for the smart home.

So yes, Facebook has most definitely entered into the smart home. Only for now, it looks like it’s coming in through the backdoor.

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