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Here’s how Apple’s smart home program will work

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Apple’s(s aapl) 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.

19 Responses to “Here’s how Apple’s smart home program will work”

  1. Christopher Winter

    Being a home automation professional I can assure it is very difficult to meet all the global standards. There is also a question where does home automation start and where does it end and what do I want to control with a mobile device.
    For wirless controll, for instance, we have Z-Wave, which is strong in the US, but virtually not an issue in Europe. Which to back in an initial development?

    One has to see the big picture and this means, that a system has to be open, support as much standards as possible and meet local regulations. A network of “Made for ” Partners can react much more efficiently than Apple could do – on a global perspective.

    We produce a small home server under the brand SystemTera, which is the local data hub. Yes, we also have a webinterface and an app to controll it and all the connected bus systems. However a deep integration, where I can get Siri to start a previously set szene for lightning and shading, or to simply heat up my flat, would be more than cool.

    So I think, Apple is just on the right way, providing a eco system as they did with the appstore.

  2. is it just me, or does this seems more like a “rant” about apple instead of an educated guess as to “how their smart home program will work”

  3. “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.

  4. Eddie

    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.

  5. Buck Virga-Hyatt

    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.

    • 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.

  6. tech-52

    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.

  7. Jeff Grayson

    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.

      • Jeff Grayson

        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.

      • Eddie

        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.

    • Michael Kane

      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.

  8. Nicholas Paredes

    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.