Launched this week, Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) is the latest attempt to sort out the interoperability issue that is looming over the Internet of Things. The consortium’s founding members include Atmel, Broadcom, Dell, Intel, Samsung, and Wind River (a subsidiary of Intel), and its mission is to collaboratively develop a new open standard for device discovery and connectivity. At the moment, details on the objectives are scarce, but most presumably they are very similar to those of AllSeen Alliance that was formed in last December. There has been a fair amount of speculation on the motives driving the OIC, but hopefully there’s room for some more, as I simply can’t keep mine to myself.
As regards Intel, Broadcom and Atmel the rationale is easy to guess. For all these suppliers, AllSeen, despite being outsourced, is associated far too closely with Qualcomm and its AllJoyn tech*. Their perception is that AllSeen becoming the standard would sharpen Qualcomm chips’ and modems’ competitive edge. As a strategic concern, that is not without merit.
Samsung is siding with Intel largely because the two have an existing partnership in Tizen, which is actively being IoT-washed into something new after it failed to take off in smartphones. For Samsung this is all about moving up the stack and reducing exposure to hardware. It didn’t work out in mobile, but that of course isn’t a reason to not try again when the Things go marching in.
Dell, on the other hand, is trying to leverage the consortium to gain traction in the device management market. The company hasn’t seen much of success in managing mobile devices, so the most obvious thing to do is to seek a second chance in IoT. Dell’s involvement, alongside Intel Security (née McAfee), also explains why the consortium is so keenly emphasizing security as a differentiator.
If you were to suggest that many technology groups perceive the IoT as a second chance and a much-needed competitive reshuffle you would be quite right. That’s indeed also a carrying theme in the OIC. The founding members do have a lot of embedded expertise between them, so if their collaborative approach (always a sizeable ‘if’) can get the ball rolling quickly enough the result could well be a real alternative to AllSeen, whose commercial credibility still remains entirely untested despite all those swanky showroom demos.
AllSeen got a recent boost when Microsoft put its weight behind the initiative, but that was mainly an act of necessity than an actual strategic choice. With Google and Apple branching Android and iOS out to new fields, Microsoft desperately needed to rethink its own IoT strategy. Waiting for the OIC to deliver code and partners wasn't an option.
Which then draws our attention to the elephant in the standardization room. IOC may have the promising starting lineup, and AllSeen may have a formidable head start, but in the end any of that may not really matter - as far as the consumer IoT is concerned - if Google and Apple start attracting developers to their platforms. As I wrote earlier, especially Google’s strategy seems convincing.
*Correction - July 11: I first described AllJoyn as "originally proprietary", which was incorrect. It has been open-source from the very beginning.