Embrace the incumbents: Zonoff wants to help large companies break into the Internet of Things
There is no shortage of startups hoping to unify all of the connected devices trying to enter your home. There's SmartThings, which raised over $1 million on Kickstarter for its connected device hub; Spark Devices, which graduated from the HXLR8R program with plans to introduce micro-chips and cloud services for hardware makers; Berg, which is trying to encourage active sharing between connected devices and the companies that make them with the Berg Cloud Sandbox; and Ninja Blocks, which seeks to "do for connected devices what Twilio has done for telephony." By now you may have heard about more companies trying to build cloud platforms for connected devices than you have companies actually connecting everyday objects to the Internet.
Zonoff (which, surprisingly enough, is not a sleep aid) is trying to do something similar with its Open Device Software Development Kit, a suite of tools launching today to help connected device makers interact with other companies' products through Zonoff's cloud platform. Unlike other platforms, however, you might not even be aware that you're relying on Zonoff to manage your newly-connected devices. The company functions largely as a white label solution meant to help retailers and large companies embrace the Internet of Things without sacrificing their own brands.
"What we're finding is that [large companies are] very fearful of giving up the differentiation of their product, the branding of their product, to some software provider that's going to own the whole consumer experience," says Zonoff CEO Mike Harris. These companies, which partner with Zonoff to preserve that differentiation, are "very afraid of their products being commoditized," Harris adds. They would rather use proprietary technologies and develop closed services than see their product become a sideshow to some startup's software platform -- Zonoff is trying to help them get the best of both worlds.
Zonoff's platform supports open standards -- it's not strictly focused on keeping some companies' products separate from others -- but its main selling point is that it allows its customers to decide which products they would like to work with. Honeywell's new thermostat, for example, might be able to interact with other connected devices without having to be open to SmartThings, IFTTT, and so on. It's a bit like the process through which manufacturers change Android to suit their purposes; everything is based on "open" technologies but presented in a branded, clearly-differentiated way.
Harris says that it's this branding that could allow incumbent companies, which Berg CEO Matt Webb positioned as the worst possible companies to be taking control of the Internet of Things, to bring connected devices into more consumers' homes. "If you want to get past the hackers and makers and the really tech elite and enthusiasts and you want to get into the soccer moms that have this, it has to be something that's trusted and proven. It has to be safe. It has to be the quality that comes with that confidence," Harris says. "New companies can show up and emerge that do that, but there's a lot of really big companies that are also participating as well. They just need help because, guess what, they don't do cloud software and they don't do apps, but they can really do door locks."