How would Apple's smart home system work?

How would Apple's smart home system work?

Summary: After CarPlay, Apple's next push into the Internet of Things market could be home automation.

TOPICS: Apple, Smartphones
Today a smartphone, tomorrow the centre of your connected home?
Today a smartphone, tomorrow the centre of your connected home? Image: CNET

Apple is reportedly planning a major push into home automation with a new software platform and partner program that's looking to make iOS the control centre for connected devices in the home.

Apple will unveil the platform as part of a "big play" in smart home tech at its Worldwide Developer Conference next month in San Francisco, according to the Financial Times, citing people familiar with the plan.

If the plan unfolds as expected, the platform will offer an easier way to set up and control the raft of iOS-compatible smart devices that have appeared in recent years, including the Google-owned Nest home thermostats and Phillips' Hue wi-fi-connected lightbulbs. Another maker of such connected devices, Dropcam, is reportedly the target of an acquisition by Nest.

The software platform would let iPhone owners wirelessly signal their arrival at home and, for example, switch lights on or activate home security systems.

If the report is correct, Apple's vision for home automation would borrow from its iBeacon system. Apple has been trialling the indoor positioning tech — which relies on low-energy Bluetooth transmitters to trigger a push message to iOS devices directing users to the Apple Store website — at its own retail outlets.

The centrepiece of the home system will be a new version of Apple TV, which may be released later this year and will equip the Apple content hub to handle connected devices other than TVs.

The Financial Times report points to an Apple patent published last year which depicts a home relay server that communicates with phones and tablets to estimate the location of a user and work out from there what signals to send to things such as garage door openers, climate controllers, music systems, and home security systems.

Rumours of Apple broadening its TV portfolio have been around for nearly two years, although no significant new launch has been forthcoming. However, speculation around the smart home platform, and Apple TV's central role in it, lend the rumours more credibility.

To ensure it has compatible home products, Apple is planning to set certification standards for product manufacturers under a similar scheme to its existing Made for iPhone program for makers of iOS peripherals such as headphones. The products would then be sold through Apple's retail outlets.

The move is being viewed as a response to Google's push into home automation with its $3.2bn acquisition of Nest Labs — a company that includes former senior Apple execs among its founders. Apple's other big rival Samsung is also thought to be planning for its smartphones to play a central role in controlling its other smart devices, such as refrigerators and TVs.

Apple's first move on the Internet of Things, however, came with the launch of CarPlay, its systems for dashboards in cars.  

News of Apple's push into the home automation market comes shortly after an old regulatory filing from Google — ahead of its acquisition of Nest — revealed it believed it could soon be serving ads to smart-connected devices in the future in addition to smartphones and tablets.

While a smartphone at the centre of home automation technologies could be a great convenience, it raises the security stakes around connected devices, with a reminder coming from Australian iCloud users on Tuesday. As ZDNet reported, affected iOS owners woke up to discover that their device had been hacked and a passcode added that prevented them from accessing or restoring their devices. 

Read more on Apple

Topics: Apple, Smartphones

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Apple home automation

    Do you really want me to tell you how it will work? Hackers will demand 100.00 bucks to turn your electric back on, like with find my phone.
    • Can't trust Apple to manage, protect, or secure my personal property.

      I never considered that.

      Considering how Apple will also weasel its way out of claiming ownership for problems and defects related to their products, your likely right. Remember "Your Holding It Wrong" controversy, which was only resolved with a class-action lawsuit? It's similar to the current iMessage issues, which also relies on the courts to get something fixed.

      I simply can't trust Apple to manage, protect, or secure my personal property considering the way they handle issues involving product they design, and supposedly test before placing on store shelves.

      The last thing you want is someone doing Granny a favor by purchasing an iPad, iPhone, and iHome devices, with the intent to assist her living, safety, and security while she's in a wheelchair, and on a breathing device. If she accidentally push the wrong button, she could turn the power off, or open the window to let a burglar in.

      Maybe it gets programmed wrong, and when she turns on her TV, the neighbor's garage door goes up.

      Still, I see where Apple is going with this. Apple should petition the Government to have it included as a benefit of Obamacare. Apple prefers contracts where devices are subsidized, and competitors are shut out of markets, the only option is to purchase into the entire Apple Ecosystem.

      Should that be the goal, hopefully Apple will use it's Democratic Board member and former Vice President, Al Gore and his lobbying power to get an Obamacare subsidy. Apple needs the additional subsidy so it can claim the 80% margins for the devices it manufactures in China, and provide excellent salaries to the in-house legal staff when things go wrong.
      • Who would you trust?

    • For parts or repair

      iHome 8s, front and rear windows cracked, pentalobe bolts rounded from attempts with flat blade driver.
      Was working fine untilI I upgraded to the new iOS 9 and now its activation locked to previous owner who was an old lady and she died 6 months ago.
      $0.99 no reserve.
    • Funny, but simple minded.

      Your "iHouse" won't be turning off your power. There is a huge difference between controlling the lights in your living room and disconnecting from the power grid. This system won't have access to anything unless you specifically give it access. Generally, this even requires the purchase of an additional device for each thing you wish to control. In reality, these systems have existed for many years. The most elaborate control systems were mainly in the homes of the rich, due to the complexity and expense of setting them up. What Apple will do differently, is to make the technology more accessible and friendly for the masses, by integrating it with the rest of their ecosystem.
      • Accessible and friendly?

        Any IoT technology should be made to work with standard connectivity, meaning that, it should not work with iOS exclusively, or Google exclusively, or Microsoft exclusively. Any device which will be owned by a consumer, should be controlled by whichever device the consumer wishes to use. So, if a consumer leaves the iOS ecosystem, and goes to the Google ecosystem, or the Windows ecosystem, his/her IoT devices should be able to be used as if they were designed for those other ecosystems. In fact, there should be no ecosystem considerations when it come to IoT devices; they should all be designed with standards that allow cross-platform connectivity.

        Friendly should mean, easy to use across all platforms. User-friendly should mean that, even a fool can use the system and devices.
      • Blind and Ignorant at the same time

        and what do you suppose a hacker will do once he gains access to your devices? Gee, I don't know. Perhaps turn off all your lights and appliances and lock you out so you can't turn them back on?? DUH!
  • the market is ripe

    home automation has been the "next big thing" since the X 10 protocol was developed in the 70's. There is a huge untapped market for the company that gets it right. Apple has a history of taking a product idea that other companies haven't quite refined and turning it into a goldmine. Those successes were all part of the Steve Jobs era. Whether Tim Cook can create a new product category for Apple remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see what they release
    • perheps Apple should get into healthcare business

      and finally get it right for us.
    • I, too, have 'concerns'

      I feel that you have brought up valid considerations - but you might be a bit early since there are so many facts not in evidence at this time. I am willing to wait-and-see on what is announced, then released, then implemented on a 'sizable' basis. In short, I would not care to be on the BLEEDING EDGE of hopping on the bandwagon until proof of concept becomes a reality.

      I do not distrust Apple per se, but hope a hopeful wait-and-see attitude. It is far too early to pre-judge based only on "leaked information".
  • How it works

    They will come out with a system missing features that everyone else has had for years, then in 6 months you will have to buy an entirely new system that is almost the exact same, with an S on it and a couple minor updates.

    Then, they will sue every other competitor for existing.
    • @Turismo

      If they follow their own statistical history, your exactly right! :-(
  • Home automation / connected home

    I've already been there, having been Director of a Home/Building automation (domotics) company, with an interesting product.
    And I say, forget it. The last thing I want are electric window shutters (the day electricity goes down will be the day I will most need to shut the windows - maybe because there is a hurricane just around the corner!). The other last thing I want is a connected home. "thecrud" said it eloquently. I don't want to have an internet thing (the most I would accept is a phone call, tone coded commands and that's it. no Internet of things in my home)
  • It's here already, but inconsistent...

    Using my iPhone, I control my pool via iAquaLink (which uses the innovative ioBridge technology so I don't have to mess with my router's port forwarding to get it to work from the Internet), control my sprinkler system with Irrigation Caddy (which requires port forwarding to control from the Internet), and control my Denon receiver (which can't be controlled from the Internet). Of course, all have different apps with very different interfaces and a range of quality. I think it would be great to put all of these (and more) together under a common umbrella.
    • seems the market for home automation is limited

      to pool and sprinkler system owners
      • Not just

        I have my garage door, thermostat, and remote controllable (pan/tilt/zoom) webcams online also. After the fires in San Diego last week I'm looking to add remote sprinkler control (would have been nice to turn them on as a safety measure before I left work to race home). In the future I will add lights. A unified experience would be awesome.
        • IrrigationCaddy

          IrrigationCaddy works pretty well, and it's easy to replace your existing controller with it. You can even name your zones and you don't have to relearn how to program twice a year. But I wonder how many companies would jump on a new platform to control their existing devices?
    • already there

      There are already many hotels where you use a tablet to control your room using intranets.
      Same thing, different scale, Apple logo.
  • Okay...I give

    After years of Apple bashing, I think this idea may be the ticket for Apple to shine. I am reading here is using the iOS interface instead of the more protected OSx. Hasn't Apple figured out that iOS is not nearly as robust as OSx? They own the darn thing but just do not see the potential.

    But alas the problem once again, as it is always with automation, how do you power it. Hybrid electrical systems (i.e. Gas-to-electric generators, Solar, Wind) combined with the grid could compensate for this and yes, an old Honda generator could help. There are MANY opportunities in the market place for solutions to the power issue.

    But easily for security, this would be a far better solution than any other software and you need not attach it to the internet. Use cellular outbound only for emergency services notification and updates with encrypted USB key. If there was a need to contact the software from the outside, simply automate inbound communication through an encrypted analog-to-digital device if absolutely necessary. That would secure the communications from hackers.

    The ideas are boundless, the problems arise in that Apple corporate will be managing the outcome and that means as profitable as possible.
    • iOS HOME

      Kids have to use dads password to enter home.
      One of the kids watches the iTV logged in as dad and switches to pay per view channel.
      Dad gets a credit card bill with $3k of in-home purchases.