The Internet of Things market sure is getting busy. Google, Apple, Quirky and others have recently announced plans to bring order to the chaos of applications and provide a seamless consumer experience for the home automation market. Not to be outdone, several retailers and service providers also have announced solutions targeting the consumer. Lowes, Staples, and most recently, Sears have launched home initiatives while AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and several others are promoting a path toward a combined service platform.

This is actually great for the consumer! These technology and consumer giants are not only lending credibility to the space, but also seeking to provide a simple, unifying experience to provide the elusive feel of “automation” for the consumer. The competition among these players will be significant, and it will ultimately lead to better products, applications, and new services.

But if you are a manufacturer that actually makes one of the “things” that will work with these platforms, what should you do? Do you really have to create a different product for each of these platforms? Of course not. It would drive your engineering team crazy. Creating a universally compatible device would be cost-prohibitive too: IoT devices rarely have enough spare memory to include special firmware for all of these platforms. Not to mention the fact that when the inevitable change is required to add a new feature enabled by one of these platforms, there is a daunting level of testing you will have to do to make sure you haven’t somehow broken the connection to a different service.

Of course, even if you somehow manage to create the “super sku” that connects to multiple services, do you really want to just give away all of your data to the platform providers? Data is the real “golden nugget” here and through the data, manufacturers can learn how their products are being used and create products that better map to consumer needs. Just ask Apple or Google about the value of customer data.

The answer to these challenges for a manufacturer lies in the new definition of a “product.” In the Internet of Things, the product is no longer the tangible “thing.” Instead it is that “thing” and its virtual representation in the cloud. Virtual products are very flexible. They not only enable easy connectivity to all of these great consumer-facing platforms and a myriad of other cloud services, but when backed by the right technologies and platforms, they provide a path to store and learn from massive amounts of unstructured big data, and provide analytics to the appropriate constituents.

There is great power in the flexibility of products that are both tangible and virtual. The nearly unlimited resources in the cloud enable the virtual product to traverse the many options in the Internet of Things in ways the tangible never could (and definitely never should).

Don’t worry about which of the consumer platforms to support. Support all of them – and more – through your virtual product.