Is Apple about to formally enter the smart-home market? A new report says the tech giant will soon announce a system to control appliances and security systems in a home -- a move that could overlap with the needs of small offices.
According to a report in Monday's Financial Times, an Apple system will be presented at its Worldwide Developers Conference next week. The Times said the Apple system, which of course would be controlled by iOS mobile devices, will include certification of compatible products.
If the company does take such a move, it could be seen as attempt to counter Google's entry into that market in January, when it purchased smart thermostat maker Nest. It could also be seen as a classic Apple move to connect the dots in a nascent industry that has all the pieces, but has not yet come together into being a robust category.
It's not like no else is trying to offer smart home systems. Microsoft has been showing demonstrations for years, there are systems from companies like AT&T, Honeywell and Belkin, and there are open standards.
And, as Current Analysis' Avi Greengart pointed out to us, the iPhone and iPad are "already being used by the major players in the market as a control device," because, with such a large installed base of mobile devices, "Apple is by default one of the control devices." Greengart didn't predict that Apple would make this smart-home move, but he noted that the smart home is an early adopter market, the kind "that Apple might go after."
Greengart said it wasn't clear "how Apple would attack this situation," in part because it would require the company to become a standards-keeper and enforcer among a wide range of electronics -- security systems, entertainment systems, standalone appliances and built-in heating and cooling systems.
Additionally, Apple's solutions are known for their ease of use, and an Apple system covering such a diverse group of multi-functional devices and system will be a major challenge to work easily and smoothly.
'Does Not Play Well'
In other words, the large number of potential issues in controlling so many devices not made by Apple would appear as a potential jeopardy to the company's good name of making things "that just work."
Some Apple-watchers point to other hurdles that Apple would have to overcome to offer a complete solution for smart homes. For instance, Endpoint Technologies Associates' Roger Kay wrote in Forbes magazine Monday that "Apple does not play well with others," having turned on more than a few partners in its belief that integrated systems it makes and controls work better than federated systems. A smart home, by definition, is a federated system.
Another question is the impact that any emerging smart-home standards will have on smart offices. Greengart told us that there could be "overlaps" between a smart-home solution by Apple and a smart-office solution, such as for a small office, "but targeting one is not the same as targeting the other" because of the many differences between home and office systems, equipment and needs.