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.
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.