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Google takes on IoT with Brillo and Weave

Google is releasing its own IoT OS, Brillo, and IoT communication protocol, Weave. Will it find success in the competitive IoT landscape?

Despite the fact that Brillo is a registered trademark -- property of the scrubber and cleaning products company based in London, Ohio, and now owned by Armaly Brands -- tech giant Google has borrowed the name for its Project Brillo, announced at the company's I/O developer conference in 2015. An outgrowth of Google's Nest acquisition, Brillo is based on the Android OS but "polished down" (thus, the name Brillo) so that what's left is mostly the kernel and hardware abstraction layer. The Google Brillo OS is intended to run on a wide range of devices with a minimal footprint and its own built-in security.

In addition to Brillo, Google is also fielding Weave, an IoT-oriented communication protocol. Weave is the communication language between the device and the cloud. Google Brillo is the OS for IoT products and Weave is built right in, explained Hanwook Kim, product manager for both. "Our vision is to make every device connected, smart, accessible and secure," he said.

With something like 1.4 billion devices already running Android, Kim said Google Brillo and Weave are natural extensions. "We want to make it easy for developers to build connected devices in an open ecosystem," he said. "If you're building a new product from scratch or find that your current OS isn't providing the flexibility you need, Brillo could be a good fit." On the other hand, he added, if you're already using an OS or have an existing product, Weave can still be used to provide a way to connect your device to the cloud and other Google products.

At present, the technologies are being evaluated and adopted by a wide range of device manufacturers in the smart home, enterprise and commercial spaces, Kim said, adding that the company "wants to make it easy for developers to connect devices to the cloud and have access to the many APIs and services from Google."

It's not really intended for the smallest IoT devices but is definitely suitable for gateways, hubs and some heavier devices.
Mark Hunganalyst, Gartner

For example, an employee's access badge can become a virtual feature of her phone -- she walks to the door, the door recognizes it's her and unlocks. "She is automatically clocked in, the lighting and air conditioning in her office area automatically set to her preference and her computer logs in automatically; her workplace is ready without her having to lift a finger," Kim explained.

However, Gartner analyst Mark Hung pointed out that the Brillo world is still small in that it's still in beta version and is only available by invite from the company (or sometimes upon request). But in another sense, it isn't so small. "It's not really intended for the smallest IoT devices but is definitely suitable for gateways, hubs and some heavier devices," said Hung. In other words, he noted, it could be useful for the connective tissue of IoT and for something like a full-featured surveillance camera. However, he added, it would not work well for devices such as tiny moisture sensors designed to support smart agriculture.

Brillo and Weave competitors

Mark HungMark Hung

Hung said Brillo competes mostly with ARM, which dominates the architecture for embedded devices. There are also offerings available from third parties, he noted, so the company is entering a crowded field. The fact that it's supported by Google is its most significant advantage.

"I would say the first adopters for both Brillo and Weave will be vendors using an IoT cloud service, in which case there are probably some APIs available that may make integration easier," Hung said. For others considering adoption of Brillo and Weave, it should be more of a wait-and-see mode, he added.

Weave also presents an additional complexity. There is a version of Weave originally developed by Nest and then the newer version, and, at the moment, they are not completely compatible. "At some point there will be a consolidation of the two, but that's one more reason why there is no need to hurry into either Brillo or Weave at this point," Hung added.

Will Google win over the IoT world with Brillo and Weave?

Boston-based IoT executive Mats Samuelsson brings a developer perspective to the topic, and he is somewhat skeptical of Google's efforts born from the acquisition of Nest. "Nest had ambitions to be something like the next Apple, but all it really came up with was the thermostat," Samuelsson explained.

As far as Google goes, he sees it trying to repeat in IoT what it managed to do with Android. "It seems to think it can succeed by engaging smaller companies that are developing IoT devices," Samuelsson said. But he contrasted that goal with the Android model in which the company managed to get phone giant Samsung on board. With that dominant player in its court, almost all the other phone manufacturers (except Apple) adopted Android, too. "Those that didn't, such as Nokia, no longer exist," he added.

Mats SamuelssonMats Samuelsson

Yet Samuelsson isn't sure the company will reach its goals. "I'm not sure they are going to be able to achieve the same kind of coup with Brillo and Weave because the circumstances in IoT are different," he added.

Echoing Kim's explanation of Google's intent, Samuelsson said Google is shooting to create a simple development environment that can be ported to an existing embedded environment. However, the competition -- which includes most leading chip manufacturers and especially ARM -- has plenty of alternatives in place.

While ARM is tiny compared to Google -- somewhere around $1 billion in revenue -- it has been very successful in focusing on the embedded market. Samuelsson said he has experience with its ARM mbed offerings, which include a cloud platform and development tools. Every embedded chip manufacturer also has its own development tools, and device makers will also have tools and vendors with whom they have already begun working. "In other words, Google is running against a world where development tools are already out there and established," Samuelsson said.

Google is running against a world where development tools are already out there and established.
Mats SamuelssonIoT executive

Furthermore, he noted, vendors and others in the IoT community have already made extensive use of the two leading IoT cloud platforms: Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. In that sector, Samuelsson added, Google is not that strong.

Regarding Weave, Samuelsson said it will have to compete with MQTT and CoAP -- both open, lightweight IoT standards that can run on IP and provide the same functions. Google's bet is that the Android developer community will force the adoption of Android as the device development OS and language of choice.

"Ultimately, Google is entering a very competitive field where there are already many competing solutions from many different suppliers, including AWS and Azure," Samuelsson said. "It will not be easy to attract substantial developer support."

However, Google is optimistic. "The team has been hard at work over the past year making the developer experience even better," Kim said. Based on the feedback he has received from its early access program, system-on-a-chip makers and hardware partners, he is hopeful.

Google's deep experience in software/cloud services and a vibrant app ecosystem "makes it uniquely equipped" to deliver a smart, simple, synchronized connected home experience, Kim said, adding that, "Brillo and Weave are at the heart of this experience."

Next Steps

Check out 10 legacy giants -- including Google -- changing the IoT landscape

Read up on two IoT communication protocols: MQTT and CoAP

This was last published in October 2016

Dig Deeper on Internet of Things (IoT) Standards and Certifications

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How do you think Google will fare in the IoT space with Brillo and Weave?
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The article needs a deeper link to how Google IoT services are/are not able to avoid malware penetration. Especially contrasting with Apple HomeKit.
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