The challenge of iOS in the home
iOS everywhere, including in the home, has been a logical area of future product speculation ever since Apple announced iOS in the Car in 2013 and launched it as CarPlay in 2014. A bi-directional version of Apple's TV-centric AirPlay, if Apple could project iOS onto a car display, why not a camera display? Why not every display? Conversely, if apps were using the iPhone and iPad as controls, why not make that experience even better? That's what the latest Apple home automation rumors focus on. But would it work?
AirPlay is a fantastic service that has one ongoing area of limitation. While AirPlay audio is supported by a wide range of speaker systems, AirPlay video is currently only supported by the Apple TV. While the $99 box is easy to add to any TV setup, no TV sets or other set top boxes come with AirPlay video support built in.
CarPlay took years for Apple to bring to market. The automotive industry isn't exactly quick off the line. As of now, however, various non-touch, resistive touch, and capacitive touch implementations are rolling out for Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, and Volvo, and more are on the way from BMW, Chevy, Ford, Citroen, Jag, Kia, Nissan, Toyota, Land Rover, Mistubishi, Opel, Peugot, Subaru, and Suzuki.
"HomePlay" could one day do the same for every screen in the house, especially smart appliances, fitness equipment, and more. Based on the current rumor, however, it looks like the home automation service wouldn't be "HomePlay" — at least not yet — but rather an extension of the Made for iPhone/iPad program (MFi).
MFi is what traditionally let accessory makers connect to the Dock connector on iPods and later the Lightning connector on iPhones and iPads. It's what let Apple products expand beyond themselves to power all sorts of home and automotive audio systems and peripherals.
Last year Apple announced MFi game controller support. It resulted in a few different vendors offering a few different models, none of them inexpensive. Apple hasn't made their own MFi controller, and overall the potential remains unfulfilled. Can MFi adoption be higher for home automation than it is for gaming?
That's the challenge Apple will face. By in from both sides. But if they can get it, they'll once again increase the value of iPhones and iPads, which is core to their business. Luckily, in this area, Apple has a head start.
There's already a range of App Store apps for connected or "smart" gear. There's already SONOS app to control speakers and home theater, a Philips Hue app to control your lights, a Nexia app to control your door locks and security, and the list goes on.
When Google bought Nest there was some consternation that Apple hadn't bought it first. But thermostats never seemed like an accessory within Apple's current scope of focus. Instead, making sure all the Nests of the world provide a superior experience with iOS both keeps Apple from dilution and grows the value of their ecosystem.
Companies everywhere are already looking to Apple, the iPhone, and iPad as the ideal platform and controller for their home automation products. If and when Apple does make an announcement of an MFi home automation system, it can focus on making that platform and those controllers the best they can be. And certify them so.
How valuable that'll be for vendors and consumers remains to be seen, but if Apple can galvanize the best of the existing products and apps, they'll be off to a great start. They'll also be taking one more step towards iOS everywhere, and the future of person-centric computing.
WWDC 2014 is just a week away, what would you like to see Apple announce?