Apple Eyes Home Automation - InformationWeek

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5/28/2014
08:00 AM
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Apple Eyes Home Automation

An Apple home automation platform would turn iOS devices into controllers for networked appliances.

a mobile phone, wrapped in an easy-to-use touch-based interface.

Networked devices and wearables fall short of that. They tend to offer similar functions but with more constraints, or they offer information such as exercise data that's potentially interesting to a few but isn't critical. Despite its attractive design and interface, the Nest Thermostat's value is shaky. Some users report saving energy with the device; others report the opposite. Ultimately, energy savings can be achieved with any programmable thermostat, or without one, because smart consumers can do what smart devices can do and more. Apple might be able to use its familiar iOS interface to offer a better user experience with appliances and wearables, but few of these devices will be as broadly useful or appealing as a smartphone.

Further magnifying Apple's challenge, the passage of time has made some aspects of the company's digital hub strategy obsolete. In 2001, Jobs cited five advantages to using a Mac as a front end for digital devices: the computer's large screen, the ability to run complex applications, the ability to burn CDs, the computer's more affordable storage, and the computer's ability to connect to the Internet.

Of these, only the first two remain relevant. Smartphones and tablets tend to have nicer interfaces than wearable devices or networked appliances. And they can handle complex apps more effectively than most appliances. But even so, these two distinctions are dwindling, because voice-based interaction does not require a screen, and because appliances like Samsung's T9000 refrigerator might run a full-blown Android operating system. Computing power has migrated from the center of the hub to the edges.

As for the other aspects of Apple's digital hub strategy, they're obsolete. CD burning no longer matters. Storage can be accommodated in the cloud or on small, affordable, high-capacity peripherals, and pretty much every electronic device these days is networkable or Internet-ready.

That said, Apple still has something to offer: It's one of a handful of companies that can actually manage an appealing interface, and it can ensure there's sufficient privacy and security in its device ecosystem. And its brand counts for a lot. It's a more recognizable name than other home automation players like ZigBee or X10 to most consumers.

But if Apple is looking to establish a product line to rival the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, it's not likely to do so with networked appliances. With Apple TV now a significant business, expect home automation to become Apple's next hobby.

IT is turbocharging BYOD, but mobile security practices lag behind the growing risk. Also in the Mobile Security issue of InformationWeek: These seven factors are shaping the future of identity as we transition to a digital world (free registration required).

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 9:20:03 AM
Building on a Rep
It will be interesting to see how Apple fares here, given the response so many had when Google acquired Nest. It's not scientific by any means, but many friends of mine -- some of whom write extensively on or are involved in the fight for consumer privacy -- immediately unplugged their Nest devices once the Google acquisition hit the news. Apple's rep differs from Google's, but is that legit? Or is it just well-maintained and cultured?
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
5/28/2014 | 10:27:43 AM
Re: Building on a Rep
As someone who is pretty platform agnostic, the big issue that I see is that when it comes to home automation, folks want a platform that isn't tied to specific hardware.  I'm less likely to purchase a platform that only works with devices from one company (such as Apple) if there is a solution that offers the same functionality across multiple devices such as a PC running Windows, tablet running iOS and a smartphone running Android.  I don't expect many folks are going to invest heavily in a platform that is limited to one OS, as many are already feeling lock-in if they have already purchased many apps from one app store which won't carry should they change OS.  It's fine when you are looking at a 99 cent app, but purchasing larger items, such as appliances and other home automation devices will require a more compelling story in mixed-OS households.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 10:31:30 AM
Re: Building on a Rep
That is a very good point. Those who want to use home automation tools should be wary of getting tied to one OS for appliances. It will be interesting to see how/if Apple addresses this. Their strategy has worked just fine in mobile and music, as you point out, but when you're investing thousands of dollars into your home it is a very different equation. 

I still believe privacy is a huge hurdle for the home automation market but, as we've seen with apps, not everyone's concerned with that.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 12:43:21 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
Yep, Apple doesn't play well with others. Never has. Their walled garden approach may have worked with iPod/iPhone/iPad ecosystems, but it doesn't jibe with something as sweeping as Internet of Things and home automation, where compatibility among many appliances and platforms is essential.   
Heydiddle@1
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[email protected],
User Rank: Apprentice
5/28/2014 | 2:32:20 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
Shane I totally feel your pain here! We develop apps and Apple is the biggest pain in the butt, with all of their hoops you have to jump through because they're Apple and they think they're "special."

For instance, they recently changed their policies for uploading binaries with in-app purchases. There was no indication it had changed...it was in a video that they had as "help." Which under normal circumstances would be sufficient...but in this case the video was updated without so much as a notification or email.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 4:05:05 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
Agreed.


This has been one of my biggest questions as Apple's slowly marched toward Internet of Things-themed products. I think they can get away with the closed garden with wearable devices, at least for the present. An iWatch that provides standalone health-monitoring functionality and also syncs to iOS and OS X devices for extra features-- that would be a big deal, even if Windows and Android are ignored or included only in rudimentary ways. But home automation? That demands a degree of openness that Apple's never seemed willing to explore.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/28/2014 | 7:52:49 PM
Re: Building on a Rep
If anyone here has found real benefits from home automation, I'd like to hear about them.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
6/1/2014 | 7:07:17 AM
Re: Building on a Rep
Alison, 

"I still believe privacy is a huge hurdle for the home automation market but, as we've seen with apps, not everyone's concerned with that."

As automation evolves and the IoT becomes more common security is also going to improve.

Another thing that could happen is that everybody gets use the new way of living with less privacy if the collection of data results in benefits for the consumers.

And, at some point, all this is going to be simply normal, just as it happened with everything else that people were worried about before. 

-Susan

 
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
6/2/2014 | 2:41:06 AM
Re: Building on a Rep
same here... please do share... in my case I got nest... but still have to send my wife to change temperature manualy on the nest... as it keep getting lost connection with my home router...
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 9:41:10 AM
Re: Building on a Rep
People keep saying consumers will get used to less privacy. I sincerely hope that's not the case. Just because something becomes standard doesn't mean it's right and it's one reason I back the efforts of non-profits that fight for individual privacy. Does it really matter whether Apple, Google, or some other company knows how often we open the fridge? Perhaps not. But it could if you use the fact that you're at home as an alibi to a crime -- and the police subpoena (or hack) into your IoT records to demonstrate that none of your appliances were active at the time of the crime. Far-fetched? I don't think so. If we don't have more than a reasonable expectation of privacy in our own homes, then where?
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