Apple May Connect the Smart Home of Your Dreams
The hottest tech rumor of the week already happened, and it's only Tuesday: Apple is finally breaking into home automation. That's right -- connected lights, thermostats, security systems and home appliances. And the key? the iPhones that already are carried by millions of consumers.
The Financial Times unleashed the rumor Monday, and it's exploded with a flurry of newsy posts and opinions. So where did the rumor come from? And why now?
The now is easy: Next week Apple will hold its Worldwide Developers Conference, which is where it typically reveals new Mac OS X, iOS and developer-focused ecosystem initiatives.
The new Apple home effort clearly would interest developers who might build apps beyond the smartphone that could integrate with a smart home.
The Smell Test
As for sources, FT is extraordinarily vague, noting only that "Apple has been talking to a select group of other device makers whose smart home products will be certified to work with its forthcoming new system and then be sold in its retail stores."
The report doesn't even outright say that third-party device makers were sources. So is this true or just wishful thinking?
It smells true. When you connect rising home automation interest with a player that can be the catalyst the home automation niche needs to break into the mass market -- Apple -- the rumor takes on a life of its own. As for importance, is this rumor overblown? No way. Here's why Apple has the power to very quickly amp up the home.
The iPhone Is the Key - and the Remote Control
With millions of iPhones in the hands of homeowners and renters, a single mobile platform has the potential to "just work" with Apple-certified devices -- like light bulbs, security cameras, thermostats or door locks. An iPhone could unlock a door, for example, with or without a Touch ID security print, as well as turn on the lights and queue the music. Thinking farther out, an iPhone could turn up (or turn down) the thermostat when the home owner crosses some predetermined threshold while driving or walking home.
Home devices already use the iPhone for apps, but Apple has the potential -- through a new program -- to consolidate a bunch of discrete apps for different devices into a coordinated system.
Apple Has Ecosystem Experience
Plenty of companies have wanted to jolt the home automation industry with their own ecosystems of products. Google bought the company behind the popular Nest smart thermostat, for example. Samsung is building and shipping smart refrigerators and washing machines.
No company has yet been able to muster a significant wave of app developers and hardware builders to make front door-to-back door home automation real, however. Apple's developer community loves this sort of thing, and Apple can deliver a sizable money-making opportunity.
Apple's Retail Stores, which put Apple's devices in front of buyers, also can serve as showcases for smart home products.
Positioned in key markets around the world, they can turn an idea for a home product into a tactile, sensory experience. The only downside might be having to endure the wailing of small children who don't want to stop playing with the pretty rainbow of colors shining down from connected light bulbs.
Privacy Built In
While companies like Google mine user data to deliver targeted advertising experiences, not everyone is impressed with the way it scoops up data -- whether it is or isn't used in specifically identifying ways. Apple has a chance to be the one company that could provide controls for a smart home, while simultaneously assuring customers that it's not tracking their bedtime habits and making assumptions to deliver ads.
If millions of homeowners really do care about privacy, this sort of edge has the potential to affect companies that run their business on data.
Ease of Use
Of course, what's driving the Apple home automation rumor juggernaut is Apple's legendary ease of use. Until now, few customers really have been interested in taking the time to automate their homes or invest in expensive, integrated solutions.
However, what if Apple created a home automation ecosystem of products, either made by Apple or certified by Apple? That would open up a whole new level of consumer confidence in this product segment.
Apple's CarPlay effort, for example, is showing promise in a similar way -- it has reignited interest in smart automobile dashboards while at the same time attracting auto manufacturers to use Apple.
In addition, Apple has managed to keep its systems reasonably secure, giving it a foundation of confidence for customers concerned about cameras and sensors in their own homes communicating with hackers or criminals.
Apple's Foot in Door
This Apple home automation rumor is more than an interesting play for a new consumer product. It has the potential not only to elevate the entire home automation industry, but also to destroy the competition.
Why did Apple sell the Nest thermostat in its retail stores but not bother to buy the cool device? Apple likely would rather connect an entire ecosystem of devices than build all of its own hardware for everything. With Apple connecting the experience, millions of consumers will have the confidence to finally act -- by buying into home automation.
At the same time, Apple knows how to tap into emotions and ideas through mass media marketing campaigns. When Apple turns on its advertising lights and spotlights the home, consumers will act.
This has the power to elevate Apple's certified partners and build awareness of an entire industry while obliterating fledgling competition that tries to go it alone.
Of course, none of this is a given. Google is building out its own ecosystem, and Android has the potential to connect many devices in ways similar to iOS. As for Samsung, it has the world's bestselling Android smartphones. Plus, it not only is building appliances for the home right now, but also building its own device operating system -- Tizen.
All that said, as of right now we're still talking rumor. Could it all be revealed at next week's WWDC event? You bet -- or it might not be mentioned at all.