[WMC 2013] During a keynote at Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs and several high-profile executives like Rob Chandhok were promoting AllJoyn, the company’s open platform for device-to-device proximity communications that allow devices to exchange data over any network protocol, without going through a wide area network.

To shed some context around this new AllJoyn push, you should remember that Qualcomm has been promoting the concept for the past couple of years. We’ve seen demos in previous Qualcomm events and back then, AllJoyn was mainly shown in games, but in theory it works with many types of apps and data. Qualcomm’s idea is that with AllJoyn, smart appliances could be equipped with a low-cost processor and radio that would be sufficient to communicate with a smarter device like a smartphone, tablet or home hub. Today, smart fridges basically integrate an Android tablet: this is not cost-effective and therefore prevents their proliferation. 

So, it’s been 2 years…

When asked “why” it was taking so long for Allhoyn to take off, Rob Chandhok replied very candidly that while the original release of AllJoyn featured the raw technology to abstract the underlying network protocols like WiFi, Bluetooth etc, Qualcomm did originally expect its partners to build other services like notifications themselves. It turned out that many potential partners did not have the know-how, or the desire, to build all that. If you are a gamer, this was a bit similar to providing a graphics card without OpenGL or DirectX.

AllJoyn: Reloaded

That’s why Qualcomm has extended AllJoyn with a new software layer that provides partners with the ability to easily expose and query a (custom) set of capabilities to any device, send notifications and simple commands. This is effectively lifting a huge development burden for appliance manufacturers would have ended up coding the same type of functions anyway. According to Qualcomm, the newly extended AllJoyn has generated a spike of interest. “I can’t stop the meetings” said Rob Chandhok during a meetup with the press.

No smart appliance manufacturer can succeed alone

The hope is that by using a common software interface (like AllJoyn), appliance manufacturers will also enable inter-operability, because most people simply don’t buy all their home appliances from the same brand, and because having one app per brand (or per smart appliance!) is just not sustainable — Rob Chandhok said that “the industry has come to realizing this sometime around August of 2012 — that is after one decade of banging their heads around smart appliances.

AllJoyn is still in a chicken-and-egg situation where app developers have no home appliances to target, and appliance manufacturers often (not always) lack the coding skills to make a product work in a way that really improves the end-user experience. I suspect that manufacturers would need to “believe” and invest in this, and/or that Qualcomm will need to identify, and help, one or two high-profile companies with engineering resources to make AllJoyn take off. From there, the competitive pressure and the experience acquired in the process will accelerate the process for others. It is fair to say that after being intimately familiar with the code base, manufacturers could warm-up to the idea.

Will they come if Qualcomm builds it?

Now, it’s really up to the manufacturers to decide if they want to embrace AllJoyn, another alternative (use HTTP-based communications?) or simply continue to do nothing meaningful. In any case, history shows that a one-brand standard won’t work for home appliances since their purchase is spread over a long period and over multiple brands.

Qualcomm’s interest is obvious: if AllJoyn was to succeed, it would greatly expand their industry’s total available market, and by being the main contributor to the project, it can also take the initiative. However, this is an open-source initiative, so if someone wants to take the code to branch it out, it’s possible — but it does take skills and manpower.

Will AllJoyn succeed? That has yet to be written on the wall, but the argument is compelling, and now it’s up to Qualcomm to convince manufacturers to come on board. Once the hardware is out there (in large numbers), the apps will come and the innovation can start.

What do you think? What kind of smart appliances would you want to use? Leave a comment below to share your point of view.

Transparency: at MWC, Qualcomm is partially covering our travel and lodging. We always pay for our travel expenses to events like CES, CeBIT, CEATEC, etc… but when we don’t, we want to be transparent about it. Read our travel policy to learn more.

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