Mobility

Google solidifies its IoT strategy with its Brillo OS

Google's Brillo, announced at the 2015 I/O conference, is a minimal IoT operating system. Here's what it means for the future of the IoT market.

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Google's Sundar Pichai presenting Brillo at Google's 2015 I/O conference.

Based on its premise of connecting everyday objects, the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential for massive growth of its market size. Wearables and the connected home are merely the beginning for what is bound to be one of the next big things in tech.

But like so many emerging markets, its innovators have all taken off in their own directions, blazing many small trails that rarely converge. This spells out the need for standardization in both platforms and protocols to make sure all these connected "things" can make use of their connections.

Google is one of the companies taking a stab at unifying the system with its new IoT operating system, Brillo, and its IoT protocol, Weave. Both were announced in late May at the2015 I/O developer conference and have big implications for Google's IoT play.

The potential impact for IoT on the daily lives of consumers is huge, but the experience still isn't optimal. Also, the lack of a cohesive platform makes it difficult for developers to get on board. According to a Google spokesperson, Google has been working with the Nest team to help solve those problems.

"The result we're aiming towards with Brillo and Weave is a consistent, easy experience for users with devices that work well together," a Google spokesperson said. "Developers can use a complete solution, or pick and choose pieces that make developing connected products easier."

Brillo as an OS is based on the foundational Android kernel, like the full OS has been scrubbed down by a Brillo pad. It also includes a hardware abstraction layer, connectivity, and a few other features.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said that the minimal nature of Brillo is by design. According to Dulaney, there will be many devices, such as Bluetooth beacons and sensors, that need extremely low power because they will likely be operating on battery power for weeks or months or even years at a time.

Another key to the potential success of Brillo and its ability to advance the industry will be how Google offers Brillo to developers.

"I'm sure that Google will follow the method that's been so successful with Android and make it open source, focus on developers — all that things that have done well for Android," Dulaney said. "And, Brillo probably has a reasonably good shot of being successful in IoT."

Of course many different devices will be built by lots of people, and some legacy systems may even be included, and Weave will help with those integrations. These devices all need a common framework so applications can use them, Dulaney said, because developers can't be expected to build apps that know the protocols of every device on the market. Weave is the middle layer that homogenizes the information these systems are producing.

The ultimate goal is to move the industry forward, the Google spokesperson said. Google is working with partner companies on Weave-compatible devices and Weave APIs for Android and iOS. According to a Google spokesperson, a developer platform supporting Brillo and Weave will be available later this summer, as well as a developer preview of the Weave API.

Both Brillo and Weave show that Google is serious about IoT. It's not clear whether or not Google knew its potential when they bought Nest in early 2014, but it definitely paid off for Google in the long run.

While IoT has been a good bet for Google, Brillo and Weave aren't the final step in the process. Dulaney said that Google must continue promoting its IoT ecosystem, potentially with a developer conference, and work on getting more people using these tools. Creative marketing will play a major role in getting more people on board, but Dulaney also said Google should make cheap developer kits available to encourage more people to build on the platform.

Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond said that much of the success of Brillo will depend on the licensing strategy for the platform. If they use a permissive free software licence, like the one used by Apache, it could be a good move for Google.

Google playing the open source card with Brillo stands in complete contention with Apple's HomeKit, which is a closed system with strict requirements to guarantee the Apple experience to users.

And the open source strategy has worked well for Google when it comes to Android. With that model Google has been able to get a huge number of OEMs to adopt Android in their smartphones, and used that strategy to dominate in terms of global market share. And Hammond said that strategy could work well with Brillo and Weave.

"There's no reason they couldn't do the same thing again, hopefully without the level of fragmentation we see in the Android phone market as the desire to customize UX should be lower," Hammond said.

It's too early to tell how IoT will fully shape up, or who will win out, but Dulaney said it's important to remember one things about the IoT industry:

"It's the Wild West."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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