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5/28/2014
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Apple Eyes Home Automation

An Apple home automation platform would turn iOS devices into controllers for networked appliances.

Google I/O 2014: 8 Things To Watch
Google I/O 2014: 8 Things To Watch
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Apple reportedly is preparing to launch a software platform that will turn iOS devices into controllers for networked appliances.

According to a Financial Times report (registration required), Apple plans to introduce its interface for the Internet of Things at its Worldwide Developer Conference next week, challenging similar initiatives by Google, Samsung, and other companies.

A select group of appliance makers is said to be participating in an Apple certification program that will ensure their smart home products will work with Apple's platform.

We've been here before. Back in 2001, at the Macworld Conference keynote, then Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that reports of the death of the personal computer were premature. US computer sales were down about 30% during the 2000 holiday season, prompting earnings warnings from Apple and others. Industry angst at the time echoed the worries of PC makers a few years ago as they lost share to mobile devices, as well as the concerns of mobile device makers more recently as growth in mature markets has flattened.

[Apple users battle a new foe in Australia. Read Apple Users Fend Off Ransom Attacks Against iPhones & Macs.]

"We think the PC is on the threshold of entering its third great age," Jobs declared. "And that age is the age of digital lifestyle. And that's being driven by an explosion of new digital devices. We have cell phones everywhere. We have portable music players: CDs and their cousins, the new solid-state MP3 players now, everywhere. We have digital camcorders everywhere. We have DVD players exploding in consumers' home and in businesses as well… And we believe the PC, or more importantly, the Mac, can become the digital hub of our new emerging digital lifestyle, with the ability to add tremendous value to these other digital devices."

Assuming the Financial Times report proves accurate -- there's no guarantee Apple's plans won't change -- the home automation strategy should resemble its digital hub strategy: Apple adding value to a set of network-ready appliances.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Apple has already started down this road. Its CarPlay platform for automakers allows in-car systems to integrate with iOS functions such as Siri, navigation, telephony, music, and messaging. The introduction of a similar platform for networkable home appliances would simply be a logical extension to that strategy. It also would be a logical response to Google's acquisition of Nest Labs and its rumored interest in Dropcam, Microsoft's HomeOS, and Samsung's push into smart appliances.

But the logic of a digital hub strategy for networked devices doesn't ensure the popularity of such devices. Technology companies hope the Internet of Things and wearable devices will become as popular as mobile devices, but they haven't yet.

When the iPhone took the world by storm in 2007, it had three compelling features: It was a music player, an Internet-connected portable computer, and

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 7:52:49 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
If anyone here has found real benefits from home automation, I'd like to hear about them.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 4:05:05 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
Agreed.


This has been one of my biggest questions as Apple's slowly marched toward Internet of Things-themed products. I think they can get away with the closed garden with wearable devices, at least for the present. An iWatch that provides standalone health-monitoring functionality and also syncs to iOS and OS X devices for extra features-- that would be a big deal, even if Windows and Android are ignored or included only in rudimentary ways. But home automation? That demands a degree of openness that Apple's never seemed willing to explore.
Heydiddle@1
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Heydiddle@1,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/28/2014 | 2:32:20 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
Shane I totally feel your pain here! We develop apps and Apple is the biggest pain in the butt, with all of their hoops you have to jump through because they're Apple and they think they're "special."

For instance, they recently changed their policies for uploading binaries with in-app purchases. There was no indication it had changed...it was in a video that they had as "help." Which under normal circumstances would be sufficient...but in this case the video was updated without so much as a notification or email.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 12:43:21 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
Yep, Apple doesn't play well with others. Never has. Their walled garden approach may have worked with iPod/iPhone/iPad ecosystems, but it doesn't jibe with something as sweeping as Internet of Things and home automation, where compatibility among many appliances and platforms is essential.   
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 10:31:30 AM
Re: Building on a Rep
That is a very good point. Those who want to use home automation tools should be wary of getting tied to one OS for appliances. It will be interesting to see how/if Apple addresses this. Their strategy has worked just fine in mobile and music, as you point out, but when you're investing thousands of dollars into your home it is a very different equation. 

I still believe privacy is a huge hurdle for the home automation market but, as we've seen with apps, not everyone's concerned with that.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
5/28/2014 | 10:27:43 AM
Re: Building on a Rep
As someone who is pretty platform agnostic, the big issue that I see is that when it comes to home automation, folks want a platform that isn't tied to specific hardware.  I'm less likely to purchase a platform that only works with devices from one company (such as Apple) if there is a solution that offers the same functionality across multiple devices such as a PC running Windows, tablet running iOS and a smartphone running Android.  I don't expect many folks are going to invest heavily in a platform that is limited to one OS, as many are already feeling lock-in if they have already purchased many apps from one app store which won't carry should they change OS.  It's fine when you are looking at a 99 cent app, but purchasing larger items, such as appliances and other home automation devices will require a more compelling story in mixed-OS households.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 9:20:03 AM
Building on a Rep
It will be interesting to see how Apple fares here, given the response so many had when Google acquired Nest. It's not scientific by any means, but many friends of mine -- some of whom write extensively on or are involved in the fight for consumer privacy -- immediately unplugged their Nest devices once the Google acquisition hit the news. Apple's rep differs from Google's, but is that legit? Or is it just well-maintained and cultured?
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