ESP8266 took the developers hearts for no time. To have WIFI stack and processor resources in tiny chip with only 4 external components necessary to operate was great success story by Espressif.
Needless to say this didn’t remain unspotted by others and now we are going to see boom of similar modules.
IMO they are doomed to not gain such success though. Why? It’s simple – nobody can make simplier device.
ESP8266 is already simple and well optimized. If you buy it in reel price for 5000 pcs is $1.50/each, if you can buy in volume I’ve heard you can buy it for less than $1.
Espressif sells about 1 million of these chips now per month. Their sales warned me that if I want to order more than 500K pcs I have to warn them 4 weeks in advance, small orders like 5-10K they ship same day from stock.
So whoever decide to beat ESP8266 should make something better which cost less $1 which is quite steep goal.
We saw now next competitor MXCHIP it’s nothing fancy STM32+MarvelWIFI chip and TCP-IP stack. it’s sold for about x2 end user price, but we are not impressed at all from it. Why? Because it’s in the same league like ESP8266.
We develop IoT Firmware for more than 4 months now and we work extensively with ESP8266 so we learned his good and weak sides.
Good side: incredible simplicity as hardware – you have everything in the chip. High integration, reliable work. Most of the problems are due to the not so good software implementation, although Espressif now rised their bug bounty award to $2000 for reported bug i.e. they are confident the bugs in their firmware are fixed.
Weak side: their RTOS is binary blobs which make hard to contribute, we see lot of missed events when you enable more timers etc, but we can’t see where these comes from as the software is closed. We do workarounds on higher level to make sure IoT Firmware works reliable though for end user who do not have to worry about what happens at low level. Another issues is lack of memory to run normal TCP-IP stack. https? forget it no memory, once one https connection is made there is no resources to handle other, so in practice is not usable. SSL? forget it, no memory for more than 512 bit encryption which is assumed compromised already, so basically with ESP we do not advice you to connect to anywhere else than your local WIFI net, as WIFI is encrypted, it provides you with good security, but if you want to make your “IoT” available to outside, you have to put between ESP and Internet something with real TCP-IP stack and good security, like RT5350-OLinuXino running real Linux, where you can install SSL with 2048 bit key, and hide well your devices which otherwise could be hacked from outside. We already work on such ‘broker’ which to allow access to ESP8266 IoT Firmware from outside.
So whatever comes next as ESP competitor will be in the same league unless have at least few megabytes of RAM to may handle properly https and ssl encryption, and I highly doubt one could make such for less than $1 to compete with ESP.
ESP8266 already deeply penetrated the low cost low security market. Good luck to the others trying to compete them!