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Apple doesn't need its own gadgets to dominate the smart home

Susie Ochs | May 29, 2014
If you believe the weekend rumors, Apple will announce a connected-home platform next week at WWDC. But before you get too excited about an iThermostat and an iFridge and an iCamera watching you sleep, consider this: If Apple does get into the home-automation market, that doesn't necessarily mean it'll make smart-home gadgets of its own.

For example, Apple's iBeacon technology uses Bluetooth to pinpoint the location of your phones; that information can then be used to send you targeted information. That's why iBeacons have been particularly touted for use in retail. (For example, you could be in in Macy's looking at a shoe display when an iBeacon sniffs out your phone and pushes a notification offering you a discount on the very shoes you're gazing at.)

iBeacons haven't really made it into the home yet, but that could change soon. Mike Elgan at Cult of Mac has outlined a particularly vivid scenario for using iBeacons in the home. (My favorite part: "You spill some mustard on the floor, so you say: 'Siri, I spilled something.' As you leave, you cross paths with the floor-mopping robot, which Siri has dispatched at your request.") If home iBeacons could keep tabs on exactly what room you're in and send connected home gadgets to clean up after you, please sign me up.

Setting up smart gadgets could be streamlined with iOS integration too. Technologies like Bonjour and AirPlay already take some of the confusion out of networking: your Apple gadgets seem to just see each other and know how to work together. Imagine how great it would be to plug in a new connected camera or sensor and have your iPhone recognize it instantly.

Fighting for shelf space

Smart-home companies will still want to make their own apps, and they should: Once the gadget is installed, the app you use to control it becomes the entire experience. Whatever umbrella app Apple comes up with to give you a look at your smart home as a whole could be as handy as location-aware, context-sensitive Passbook, or as utterly useless as Game Center.

But Apple has a huge carrot to use in getting the very best gadget makers to partner with it: the Apple Retail Stores. Every maker of connected-home hardware wants to be in Apple Stores — they're always packed, and they make more money per square foot than Tiffany. Apple could create a wall of smart-home "Made for iPhone" products and watch companies fight to get their own answer to the Nest, the Dropcam, and the Philips Hue lights included in it. Those companies would surely be more than willing to use Apple's software tools, or whatever else the company might demand of them. And as connected-home trends evolve, Apple doesn't have to worry about developing new hardware to keep up: Just restock the shelves with the new hotness, and boom, done.

We'll all know a lot more about Apple's connected-home plans (or lack thereof) on Monday June 2, when Apple convenes its WWDC keynote. If iOS 8 adds meaningful connections to the connected-home market, we promise to stop wishing for an iWatch or Apple-branded TV. (Until the next Apple event, anyway.)


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