Smart Home Appliances – Key challenges software must overcome
Android revolutionized the smartphone industry. The success of Android is due to the combination of several unique capabilities that make it the leading software platform of choice for developers:
- Android platform is powered by virtualization which hides low-level software and electronics to application developers
- Virtualization offers high portability of applications across hardware from different manufacturers,
- Virtualization also brings a high-level of security that is fundamental for devices connected to the Internet,
- Android leverages a community of about 10 million of (Java) developers
- And, finally, Android established a simple way to manage software content for devices from an application store.
Over the last few years, the smart home appliance market has been largely influenced by the smart phone industry: we all want nice graphical user interfaces (GUI), smooth page scrolling, connection to Internet and the ability to add more features as our experiences as a user is evolving
Smart home manufacturers have well understood these expectations but when exploring how they develop their future products, we discover they fall into three groups.
The first group is focused on cost of electronics. OEMs keep using legacy programming technologies to develop applications, user interfaces & connectivity (assembly and C languages). Those programming languages are the indisputable standard for coding the low level software, but they are not efficient anymore for coding complex applications like GUI or Internet connectivity. Moreover, each software is unique because it is dependent upon on the hardware in use and reuse of software assets across different products requires engineering efforts.
The second group are developers using more advanced frameworks like Linux or other complex Operating Systems.The software is quite portable across several hardware options, software can be developed on a PC using some kind of simulator for prototyping. But the issue here is that the solution does not fit most embedded systems cost structure like cookers, coffee machines or vacuum cleaners for instance: the software platform requires costly electronics such as advanced processors and large memory.
The third group looks for mixed technologies that are able to deal with low cost electronics and able to offer an “all-in-one” kit for GUI, connectivity and apps. This is the kind of platform MicroEJ has been providing for years: a virtual platform that brings the benefits Android brought to smartphones: virtualization, large programmer ecosystem, GUI, connectivity, applications store, etc. while being compatible to legacy C/assembly technologies.
Let’s review how such a platform allows home appliance manufacturers to reach their goals.
Hyper Segmentation: create a product for each customer segments
Home appliance companies constantly renew their product ranges to adapt to customer specific expectations to differentiate from other vendors.
MicroEJ solution allows to reuse software across a high numbers of product variations:
- Encourage software reuse by creating software independent from different hardware choices, to leverage lasting innovation in electronics or to optimize cost structures.
- Offer customers to extend product features on-demand thanks to MicroEJ ecosystem management solution: let partners create niche features to reach new markets, keep customer’s attention with new features offered after market.
Build a strong brand image
Branding is an important aspect of home appliance and Graphical User Interface with large displays are now part of the product design.
MicroEJ platform enables developers to keep the same Graphical User Interface software for an established (branded) User Experience on all products, regardless of their hardware architecture.
Large Appliance OEM’s also face another issue with branding: they own a large number of brands. How can a central R&D offer other divisions to develop a User Interface while reusing out of the box software to develop the core product? Like Android, MicroEJ helps developers define a software platform with API’s to guide other developers to design consistent software across a product range.
Make a hub to connect peripherals
Home Appliances such as Kitchen Electronics embraces many types of products: cookers, blenders and scales. Combining all products together allows the creation of new use cases.
MicroEJ multi-application execution environment allows a flagship product to behave as a hub. When a new peripheral device is detected by the hub, it can simply load the related peripheral driver from an application store and instantaneously control the peripheral device.
Update software, stay reliable
As home appliances become connected to the Internet, they face new challenges like all IoT devices. One that drives Total Cost of Ownership is maintenance: indeed, Cloud APIs change more rapidly (every month) than embedded software (once a year, sometimes never).
To avoid long and continuous embedded software validation activities combined with fast changing software related to Cloud, the MicroEJ platform multi-app capability allows for partially updating embedded software: firmware that needs heavy qualification is kept unchanged while Cloud related applications are updated dynamically from an application store.
Smart home manufacturers are often facing the famous “matrix of pain” when it comes to choosing the appropriate microprocessors and/or microcontrollers, real-time operating systems, software stack, etc. for a future smart product. You have millions of possible permutations in the consumer electronics market today. Once you eventually make a choice, if you went the traditional way, you may feel sooner or later the limitations of your choices (development time, flexibility, software assets reuse, etc.).
The good news is that smart home software is now more mature, and once you have chosen to add a Virtual Execution Environment that abstracts hardware, you – CxO, Product/Marketing Managers and Developers – will focus less on electronic matters and spend more time on your creativity by launching new, smart products that answer your consumers expectations.