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With Parse for IoT, Facebook Could Have the Next HomeKit Home Automation Platform

Facebook subsidiary Parse has launched an IoT SDK for cloud-enabling IP devices, and eventually could link all these newly smart devices with cloud-based rules engines a la HomeKit or IFTTT.


After Facebook's Parse for IoT gets all these smart home automation devices to the cloud, will it implement some kind of if/then engine a la HomeKit or IFTTT?
Julie Jacobson · March 31, 2015

Facebook announced at its recent F8 conference that Parse, the mobile-platform-as-a-service (mPaaS) company it acquired in 2013, was launching Parse for IoT, a service that could quickly get IP-enabled devices to the cloud.

What it means in my view is that Facebook has an Apple HomeKit-like solution up its sleeves, enabling home automation integration via the cloud.

We’ll get to that.

But first, Parse is a leading platform provider for mobile app developers and those who would like to employ push notifications.

“Parse makes it very easy to build an app and deploy it – all the way from opening the app to entering account information ….” says Roel Peeters, founder of Roost, a start-up that is launching its first product this summer – a 9-volt Internet-enabled battery that makes a dumb smoke detector smart by listening for a blare and reporting the status to the homeowner’s smart phone.

Peeters also notes that Parse has a “very simple API to tie into Facebook,” for apps like games and for routines such as logging into an app with Facebook.

When Roost set about last year to create an app and implement push notifications, it used Parse.

“We’ve never announced it before, but we’ve been working with them for a year,” Peeters tells CE Pro, adding that Parse has been continuously updating its platform to support IoT devices such as Roost.

Some of those updates include accommodations for such things as security and battery optimization, the latter of which has little relevance to apps running on a smart phone versus “apps” running on a tiny IoT device.

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“We’re very constrained,” Peeters says of Roost’s real-time operating system (RTOS). “We’re not running iOS or Android.”

In developing Parse for IoT, says Peeters, Facebook took the special needs of power-constrained, security-minded devices to heart.

Another early Parse partner in the device category is Chamberlain, maker of the LiftMaster MyQ line of remotely-managed garage door controllers.

While so far Chamberlain is only using Parse for push notifications (the company uses Arrayent for two-way cloud-to-cloud communications), the move to a complete IoT cloud solution for Facebook “makes sense,” says Corey Sorice, VP marketing for Chamberlain Connected Products and eCommerce. “They do an effective job of getting into the cloud.”

It is not a stretch, Sorice says, for Facebook and Parse to move from software-centric apps to device-centric communications, going where the hardware manufacturers take them.

“The manufacturing community is starting to move into app development more,” he says. “It makes a lot of sense with connected networks that include the phone, home and car.”

What is Parse Providing?

While Parse did much of the heavy lifting to get Roost to the cloud, the Facebook unit will be offloading much of the development in the future to hardware manufacturers themselves, thanks to a new SDK for the Arduino Yun (for starters).

A Parse blogger notes:

in the spirit of Arduino, we designed it to be as simple as possible. For example, all it takes is a few lines of code to save temperature data from a smart thermostat:

1. ParseCreateObject create;
2. create.setClassName(‘TemperatureReading’);
3. create.add(‘currentTemperature’, 175.0);
4. create.send();

At a very basic level, with its SDK Parse is helping makers easily marry their devices with apps and the cloud.

A Bigger Play a la HomeKit?

But I think there’s more to it than that.

I think eventually once these devices arrive in the cloud on the same platform, Facebook and Parse will create a mechanism to bridge the cumulo-silos, enabling Roost to talk to Chamberlain (open the garage door if the smoke detector goes off), as well as other devices and services via the cloud.

In other words, I think Parse is planning a HomeKit of its own, without the firmware, bureaucracy and other burdens that Apple places on “partners.”

My understanding of HomeKit is that it is little more than a basic if/then engine not unlike IFTTT (if this then that), which doesn’t impose Apple-like restrictions.

So I am predicting here that Facebook and Parse are creating an IFTTT-like environment for Parse IoT-enabled devices and services.

“That roadmap for Facebook makes sense to me,” Chamberlain’s Sorice responded to my suggestion.

But Parse is Late to the IoT Party

IoT-enabling companies have been bringing smart-ready devices online for years. Arrayent, for example, powers Chamberlain’s MyQ, as well as products and services from First Alert, Whirlpool and Maytag.

Former Arrayent employees recently formed a competitive firm, Ayla Networks, that promises the same: bringing devices to the cloud and enabling interactivity from cloud to cloud.

At CES 2015, Ayla demonstrated a “smart hotel room” at Caesars, powered by its platform. The company has announced wins with Owlet, Regen Energy, LockState and TLC, among other device and appliance manufacturers.

Electric Imp was founded in 2011 with the same mission to offer a “complete solution to easily connect any device to the Internet.”

It counts Quirky, Lockitron, Rachio and other IoT device manufacturers as customers.

Cisco, Google, Microsoft and other biggies also have IoT platforms for the taking, especially in the enterprise realm.

So why Parse?

“1. If you think about robustness and scalability, they’re one of the few proven platforms out there,” says Roost’s Peeters. “2. They’re owned by Facebook. I think there will be a significant shakeout and I’m making a bet that Facebook is going to be around.”

Here’s another compelling case for Parse: “If you look at the cloud model, financially speaking, in essence Facebook is giving it away for free,” Peeters says. “When do I pay? It’s going to be a long time to come. Other guys will find it very hard to compete.”

In the end, he says (and I agree): “I think it’s a big deal, quite frankly. I don’t think a lot of people saw it coming. Everyone is following Apple and Google but I think Facebook is a very credible entry.”
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JULIE JACOBSON
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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


News · Facebook · HomeKit · IFTTT · IoT · Parse · All Topics
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