Tech Firms, Lawmakers Tussle Over Digital Keys to Accessing the Entire Connected Economy

connected economy

It’s hard to resist Tolkienesque “one ring to rule them all” zingers when talking about competition to dominate the connected economy. As Big Tech and adjacent players slug it out over connected tech, government is trying to level the field, ensuring room for small innovators as we edge closer to something that resembles single sign-on for everyday life.

In the forming vision of a near-total digital world of voice-controlled smart car and homes, contactless ordering and payment, digital identification and proof of vaccination, and the technologies eliminating items we’ve long carried for those uses — cash and cards, keys, even physical wallets and purses — who, if anyone, is pulling out ahead in the early going of 2022?

Much of the battleground at present is focused on IoT innovations for the longer view of pandemic lockdown living, and aspects of it that we’ll keep after the all-clear sounds one day.

Formation of numerous ecosystems from Apple to Amazon, Google to Meta is both a both enabler and barrier to such connected efforts, as each is proprietary. Those walled gardens must be opened to achieve the promise of a connected and manufacturer-agnostic future.

Many are looking to the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), formerly known as the Zigbee Alliance, of which Apple, Amazon and Google are board members, to sort out this issue.

In a recent press release, the CSA said it “comes out of the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show with tremendous momentum for the new standard, Matter. As a global, open-sourced standard, Matter creates the ability for IoT devices and ecosystems from participating manufacturers to simply and securely communicate with each other, regardless of brand, removing barriers to interoperability and ushering in a new era of innovation.”

The Matter standard is the most ambitious push to date to unify a universe of assorted connected devices and ecosystems from Big Tech firms and other suppliers and is seen as a potentially crucial step towards the goal of easy movement through digital experiences.

Earlier this month Consumer Reports said, “The goal of the standard is to make all smart home devices interoperable. That means if you buy a product emblazoned with the Matter logo, you can use it with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, or any other ecosystem that joins the standard. The first version of Matter is set to launch in the middle of 2022,” and the CSA says 200 or more companies have signed on to date.

Efforts of individual players are also leaning in this direction, but still with a brand-centric approach that makes interoperability between platform ecosystems friction-filled now.

At the recent CES 2022, for example, Apple products were widely displayed in the company’s typical “invisible” presence (it does not formally exhibit), and it’s clear that Apple and its third-party partners are vying to be the device maker with a ruling share of the connected economy.

CNET reported that while no new Apple product were displayed at CES 2022, “its technology can be found in everything from new backpacks to earbuds and smart door locks. CES 2022 saw a deluge of new products designed to work with Apple’s Find My location service as well as its connected-home platform and MagSafe charging system.”

With Amazon and Alexa trying to own the voice space as Google Nest and others including Samsung Home Hub make big moves into connected cars, homes and accounts accelerated by pandemic necessity, there’s no clear leader yet.

How efforts to standardize change interoperability of connected economy ecosystems pan out — or don’t — in 2022 are already deciding the landscape for 2023 and after.

What’s clear is that the government is watching this situation as it develops.

As The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday (Jan. 19), the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) is launching an ad campaign called “Don’t Break What Works” aimed at curbing regulator’s efforts to keep internet ecosystems open.

It primarily opposes the proposed American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S.2992), supporter of which say “the internet dominance by a handful of big companies prevents smaller technology companies from gaining market share, stifling innovation. Big technology companies counter that the proposed legislation would prevent them from providing free or low-cost services to consumers and small businesses.”

See also: IoT Platforms Aim to Speed Connected Economy’s Evolution