19 Comments

Summary:

Apple’s smart home news in the Financial Times got people excited, but my sources reveal a program that’s much less about a whole-home experience and more about fighting fragmentation.

applesmarthome
photo: Shutterstock

Apple’s move into the smart home isn’t actually the grand experience I had hoped for. Instead, it is a much simpler program that will basically certify a bunch of connected devices on the market or set to be launched as products that are certified under the Made for iPhone label.

My sources, who spoke only on background because of their involvement or knowledge of the program, explain that the smart home effort will have a heavy focus on connecting devices easily via Wi-Fi and will likely offer voice control via Bluetooth as well. However, it won’t have some sort of software-based automation layer controlled by Apple that supersedes the original apps.

Will this be part of new connected devices for the home?

Will this be part of new connected devices for the home?


In some ways, that’s a shame. I was really hoping Apple would show the industry how to get automation and programming right, but instead this is more of an effort to deal with the trouble of fragmentation in the smart home. Still, this is a good thing.

Instead of worrying about hubs and what might work with other devices, consumers can look for the MFi label and be assured that they can pull their smart home setup together — and control it from their iOS device. It’s technically possible that the user could control some device functions from a handset or tablet without opening the app, or that the app would open automatically based on a voice command or eventually through presence detection. That gets us a bit closer to magic and would be welcome for the consumer. The devices will require chips that are certified for the MFi program, including Apple’s Wireless Accessory Configuration (WAC), but those exist today.

The idea is actually not new. At CES Apple launched a partnership with Chinese appliance maker Haier that used the MFi program to certify the Tianzun smart air conditioner. That A/C was the first connected appliance to meet Apple’s MFi standards, which certify third-party products for design, quality, and iOS compatibility. The ability to connect the A/C at Apple devices via Wi-Fi without registration or passwords was the key to it getting the MFi certification, CNET reported. Imagine if setting up your doors locks, thermostats or light bulbs were that easy. That’s what the WAC-support will enable.

So what we’re likely to see next week is a roll out of participating partners, devices and chips that support the MFi standard, all set to assure people who purchase those devices that they will work with their iPhones and iPads, with the promise of a few special features. Of course, Apple could shake things up at the last minute or add more elements, but this is what we know today.

The launch of partners and the expansion of the MFi program for the home doesn’t mean Apple can’t overlay software on top of all of that eventually, but my sources say that’s not happening at next week’s event. This isn’t Apple’s smart home play as much as its Apple’s attempt to get a feel for the market and help consumers carve a path through the confusing mess that connected devices for the home can be today.

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  1. Nicholas Paredes Thursday, May 29, 2014

    I received my GE connected air conditioner a week or so back. Looking forward to getting the thing set up to check out the experience.

    1. Quirky? Let us know how you like it. Hearing it’s loud.

  2. Taste_of_Apple Thursday, May 29, 2014

    Reblogged this on Taste of Apple and commented:
    Interesting how rumors can lead to disappointment. Let’s see what comes out of all these rumors. Chances are they’re going to dip their toes into this space, without devoting a great deal of resources to it.

  3. Jeff Grayson Thursday, May 29, 2014

    Here I thought Apple was going to do something creative like turning on the lights using iBeacons when I arrive home and off when I depart like I do using RoboSmart LED Bulbs.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham Jeff Grayson Thursday, May 29, 2014

      They could and eventually might. Nothing here precludes that scenario, and this program should open that scenario up for device makers to tap into in their own apps (if you have an iphone)

      1. Somehow I just can’t imagine Steve Jobs standing up in front of the crowd saying “And just one more thing – we are going to fight fragmentation in the smart home with a certification program!” A fragmented MP3 music market lead to the iPod. Let’s hope a fragmented smart home market leads to more than just a certification program. Time to dream big Apple.

      2. Thank you Stacey for being level headed about this stuff (unlike the nut jobs at Business Insider who are talking as if iBeacons is already here today and going gangbusters). I much prefer to read GigaOm over the fruit cakes at NYC-based Business Insider.

    2. The developers will do this for you, such as the phillips hue has an open sdk, essentially could launch from an ibeacon. Apple makes the tools for the creative developers, engineers , artists etc.. There is wifi connected lights and devices that when certified will grant the devs access for you. It’s really huge news, but the average consumer looks at a tech company as a one stop shop for every market available. Apple does what it does, and does it great. They are one company, but a company that cares about standards. Standards that apply to big dev shops as well as single devs, so getting tools in these coders hands in all apple needs to do.

  4. Actually, this is a good place for Apple to start, and doesn’t preclude the company from producing it’s own connected devices down the road.

  5. If Apple’s involved in neither the hardware nor the software, then this will basically be a yawn of an announcement.

  6. What happens when you lose you iPhone? Can you still get into your home and start dinner?
    Leslie

  7. Buck Virga-Hyatt Thursday, May 29, 2014

    Wi-Fi is not really the best option for the connected home. Wi-Fi chips are quite large and power-hungry. So placing them in something like a light switch is problematic. That’s why the Z-wave, Zigbee, Insteon and other Home Automation protocols came about. It is getting easier to do it but not really ideal. I don’t even want to think about having 20 or 30 devices trying to connect to my Wi-Fi network. Talk about a lot of interference.

    1. Not sure what you mean by “interference” when talking about multiple Wi-Fi devices.. Wi-fi is perfectly capable of handling 20-30 devices. I do it today in my home without any issues at all.

  8. This approach by Apple, if true, seems to be reasonable (Apple is mostly conservative but only pushes the envelope in a few small spaces). This may also be a wise move.

  9. “Apple’s upcoming smart home program is about ‘Made for iPhone’ certification, not deep product integration”

    And GigaOm is about anti-Apple propaganda, not Tech Journalism.

  10. Stacey – EETimes (http://www.eetimes.com/document.aspdoc_id=1322557&_mc=RSS_EET_EDT) is indicating that the program will cover ZigBee as well using a single chip that combines ZigBee, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. What are your thoughts?

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