Apple, at its Worldwide Developer Conference June 2, is expected to introduce a software platform that will turn its iPhone into a remote control for the home.
The Financial Times reported the news May 26, adding that sources call the planned software a “big play” in the world of smart home technology and in Apple’s plans to beat out Google and Samsung.
Google moved into living rooms last July with the introduction of Chromecast, a dongle-based streaming-television solution, and then deeper into homes with its $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs, maker of the Nest smart thermostat, in January. It’s now rumored to be considering buying Dropcam, a company that makes a WiFi-connected camera that records and streams to the cloud.
Samsung, which for years has offered Smart TVs and a TV-specific app store, in January introduced Smart Home, a service that enables users to control their appliances (washing machines, refrigerators, etc.), smart TVs, smartphones and wearable devices through a single, integrated platform. A Device Control feature within Smart Home also allows consumers to use their smart TV or smartphone to control their lighting or air conditioning while they’re in their homes or traveling.
Apple hasn’t introduced a new product category since the iPad in 2010. For years now, there have been rumors of a coming Apple “iTV”—which reportedly would be accompanied by a planned “iRing,” which would act as a controller, and an iWatch that could be used as a home controller, eliminating the need to carry a smartphone around the house, analyst Brian White, then with investment firm Topeka Capital, said in a April 2013 report.
As hope, or patience, around these expected devices wanes, rumors—with a basis in recent Apple hires—have shifted to the health care vertical and talk of a smartwatch or fitness band and even an entire health and fitness-related platform with its own app store and potentially FDA approval.
All of it—or however much of it proves true—will put Apple more deeply into the realm of the Internet of things (IoT), the fast-growing web of connected and communicating devices and machines. Beyond its devices, Apple has also moved into this space with its CarPlay offering for connected vehicles.
Still, being enmeshed with others isn’t the way Apple likes to operate. Far from a character flaw, it’s Apple’s modus operandi and what has made the iPhone and iPad great, said Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies.
“Apple doesn’t have first-mover advantage,” Kay told eWEEK. “In the case of IoT, there’s already an IoT—Nest, health bands, health care devices. The automobile companies are not giving away the car console to Apple. They’ll let them play, but they’re not giving it away.”
Plus, in the IoT space, it’s not just a matter of Apple’s doing something more compellingly than Samsung or Google and winning over consumers, said Kay.
“By definition,” he explained, “the Internet of things is a lot of public infrastructure—taxi stands, train schedules. These things all have to agree to play together by some set of the same standards.”
Apple Reportedly to Intro Remote Control Services for Homes
AT&T is another company that has made a major play for the home. Under the umbrella of Digital Life, it enables everything from programming the coffee maker to turn on at 6 a.m., to enabling the driveway lights to turn on when they sense the homeowner’s car coming down the street, to unlocking the front door from the other side of the country, to letting in the house sitter.
There’s a possibility for AT&T, which cares most about the connectivity, to team with Apple, and for Apple to introduce a hub that maybe plugs into an AC outlet and offers consumers remote control over a bunch of things from appliances to lighting, said Kay.
“There are opportunities for everything,” Kay continued. “But again, it’s a matter of does Apple want to play—and not in the way where they keep all of the marbles, except for one crummy, little one that they agree to give to a partner.”
Analyst Jack Narcotta, with Technology Business Research, shrugs off the issue of Apple’s being so proprietary and closed, saying that there are arguments to be made that Google is pretty closed, too. What’s more noteworthy, he said, is their varied approaches.
“Apple can say, ‘Look at all the new things you can do with the iPhone that you already know and love. Look at how powerful this is as a home-computing device,'” said Narcotta. “Whereas, Google comes at it from the other way. Google says, ‘Look at all of these services and features that are already a part of your digital life.’ The device is the facilitator. While they are starting to care more about the device, it really is to showcase the services and platform.”
Although there’s no telling what Apple could have planned for next week, we could have a good time guessing, said Narcotta. To a list of guesses he added maybe a “whole home audio system,” or something that would enable people to access their iTunes libraries from different rooms. Or maybe movies in any room?
“There’s a lot of things Apple could do that lean on the things it already does very well,” said Narcotta. “The hardware business is still performing well, given its scale, but the sneak attack is that iTunes is now almost a $5 billion business.”
He added, “What it comes down to is Apple looking for another way to get and keep users in its ecosystem.”