Apple Makes A Play For 'Smart Homes' By Connecting Appliances

Jun 2, 2014
Originally published on June 3, 2014 8:57 am

Into the quickly crowding field of automated home gadgets and appliances comes Apple, which announced HomeKit at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference keynote on Monday. HomeKit is its entrance into a nascent, fragmented market for home automation, aka the Internet of Things.

HomeKit will be a single, centralized way to control various automated appliances — everything from your smart thermostat to lights or locks or garage doors. The platform would allow your iPhone to act as a "remote control" for your smart home devices, and Apple to be the connective thread between various third-party home automation accessories.

"There are great apps and devices on the market, but we thought we could bring some rationality to this," Apple software chief Craig Federighi said.

Voice control could be integrated so that, for example, when you say, "Get ready for bed" to Siri, your thermostat would lower, front doors would lock and lights would dim automatically.

How this Apply entry will affect the competitive landscape will be interesting to watch. Google made its play for home automation with its $3 billion purchase of smart thermostat maker Nest. The company SmartThings, which originally launched on Kickstarter, has been working on a central hub for smart devices since its inception.

"It will be useful to see consolidation amongst those different standards, but generally a lot of the technical problems are largely solved now. This is possible to make very low cost to the general person," SmartThings founder and CEO Alex Hawkinson told All Things Considered.

Cisco, another player in the Internet of Things field, is also upping its software game to get at the fragmentation problem.

In Other WWDC News ...

The WWDC event, in which Apple's muckety-mucks unveil its latest line of products and features, also included talk of a central hub for fitness tracking and health apps and upgrades to the operating system software. A quick rundown:

Apple officially introduced HealthKit, a centralized place to see the data from your various health tracking devices, whether it's the Nike FuelBand or a sleep tracking app. So what Apple is doing for automated home systems it's applying to fitness and health tracking.

Apple also announced several software upgrades and new products, including a Dropbox competitor, iCloud Drive. The Verge details it here. Apple also released its latest desktop operating system — OS X 10.10 Yosemite, and iOS 8 for iPhones and iPads.

The design of the latest OS, Yosemite, is cleaner and flatter — a lot more like the iOS 7 change from last summer. A new feature that's part of it and iOS 8 is something called Continuity, a way to go between Apple smartphones and computers. For example, you could start a message on your iPhone and finish it on your Mac. Or receive iPhone calls on your computer.

Developers are going to get access to Yosemite today; the rest of Apple users will have access to Yosemite and iOS 8 this fall.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. In All Tech Considered today, the arrival of the Jestson's lifestyle.


CORNISH: We're taking an introductory look at smart homes, and the Internet of things. That means ordinary appliances, lights and locks, heating and cooling systems that learn your behavior and can be controlled by your phone. Apple is now getting into this marketplace, the announcement came at it's worldwide developers conference. NPR's Elise Hu joins us now with more on the conference. Hey there Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey, there Audie.

CORNISH: Now, before we get into the automated homes, what did Apple unveiled today?

HU: Well, mainly software improvements. It unveiled the latest Mac operating system, named OS X Yosemite, and its latest iPhone operating system, iOS. It also officially announced it's moving into health tracking. As you know, there are plenty of health and fitness trackers out there already that monitor your weight or your sleep. Apple says a lot of that data currently is siloed and lives in different places, so it's new app called Health is a centralized hub for all your health data.

CORNISH: All right. Now, it also announced something called HomeKit for smart homes. And we know Apple is already a big name when it comes to like smartphones and tablets - are they trying to make ovens and washer and driers now?

HU: Good question, but the company isn't actually going to manufacture appliances. HomeKit is aiming to be the thread, if you will, that connects smart appliances and devices. There are different companies, offering different devices and different appliances and they are on their own security protocols and their own networks. Now what Apple is trying to do with HomeKit is create a single place where you can control everything. So this turns your iPhone into a remote control, if you will, so that you could open your garage door or unlock your front door with your phone. And if you integrate it with Siri, you could tell Siri something like, get ready for bed and HomeKit would automatically lower your thermostat and dim your lights and lock your front door.

CORNISH: What about the companies already in this business? Are they worried about Apple, do they see them as a competitive threat?

HU: Well, it's not clear, Cisco and a company called SmartThings and others are already upping their software game to create central control hubs. So some of the appliance makers may not want to displace their own work with Apple's centralized system, since Apple has historically wanted a lot of restrictions and rules around it's partners. But this is a nascent of market. It's extremely fragmented right now, so it'll be interesting to watch how Apple's involvement is going to change the field.

CORNISH: That NPR's Elise Hu. Elise, thank you.

HU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.