Icontrol Pushes Marketplaces To Achieve Smart Home Interoperability

Had an interesting call yesterday with Greg Roberts, the VP of Marketing for Icontrol, who told me that the company has evolved its thinking about how best to communicate and achieve interoperability of smart home devices for its consumers (and its customer's customers).

Before I explain what this means and what Icontrol is doing about it, first a quick backgrounder:  Icontrol's OpenHome program was designed to ensure interoperability for third party connected devices. The company developed a certification process to ensure devices worked together, and its plan to communicate which devices were interoperable centered around a consumer-facing branding effort in an OpenHome mark/logo, which would tell consumers which devices they could buy that would plug into their Icontrol-powered smart home networks.

The problem with this? Just over zero percent of consumers know or would ever know what OpenHome is. Icontrol is are a B2B company, which means it would be up to the cable or security service providers to build awareness among end-consumers about OpenHome, and that wasn't ever going to happen. 

But the bigger problem - and Roberts' main point when telling me about the changes - is consumers don't shop this way.  They likely would not know where to get an OpenHome product at retail, and even if they somehow stumbled into a store that had certified products, they still won't look for interoperability marks on packaging.

To Icontrol's credit, they realized that while the idea building an OpenHome interoperability mark was a noble idea, it was largely worthless when it came to communicating anything of meaning to end consumers. Because of this, Icontrol stood back and looked at how consumers actually buy things and tried to figure out how to get interoperable devices into their hands.

Their idea? In-app marketplaces. 

This approach, which has already been rolled out for Piper platform (their security/smart home appliance), means when consumers bring up their Piper app, they will have an option to add products to the smart home network and be able to shop through the app. 

Icontrol sees this approach as one they want to roll out to their other platforms, first with Icontrol One (their offering for independent security providers) and later to IControl Connect, Converge and Touchstone which power offerings for service providers. 

Roberts pointed out with their service provider offerings, it's ultimately up to the service provider to decide how they sell third party interoperable devices, but that Icontrol wanted to make the in-app marketplace an option for them.

My gut reaction is that Icontrol's largely right about the fact that interoperability marks mean nothing to consumers. They don't and won't look for them. 

My concern is consumers also like choice, and I think some will bristle at the idea of being forced to shop through an in-app marketplace. My suggestion would be the in-app experience also direct them to brick and mortar retailers, and to perhaps even create a Kayak-like cross-retailer comparison for each device, where they can buy it, and maybe even enable in-app purchase for each retailer. 

That said, Icontrol's move is a good first step. I expect over time their approach will expand, become more omnichannel, and make purchasing interoperable devices easier. They just need to make sure the consumer feels as if they have choice and, as a result, are not being forced to buy products at a higher price through service-provider managed sales channels. 

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