The challenge of iOS in the home

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?

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

The challenge of iOS in the home

11 Comments

RasPlex used to do AirPlay video til ios 7 broke it. I think it's supposed to be working again in experimental builds...

Sent from the iMore App

AirPlay works in RasPlex and RaspBMC if you turn off bluetooth...

Why? I'm not sure. Something to do with the order it tries to connect.

This is what I was just writing about this on the other post about WWDC hardware. I really don't see apple pulling this together. They don't even have HDMI-CEC in AppleTV.

I've been using iPhone apps to control lighting, Apple TV, amplifiers etc. I'd really like to see these integrated into one place as pages of a single app, the way airline boarding cards have been.

It would be tricky to pull off, though.

What I'm hoping comes of this is better home automation products. For instance I'm in the market for home surveillance cameras, as well as app controlled door locks, but anyone who values security knows that there aren't any out there that are truly secure.

This is because all of these products force you to use the cloud, and each product has it's own cloud. These various clouds, from various product manufacturers *might* be secure, they might not be. You don't know, you *can't* really know, and you don't have any choice but to sign up for the unknown cloud service when you buy the product.

What I'm hoping is that if Apple is promoting an "internet of things" that I can use the Apple iCloud (which is a known entity and safe/secure) to support the products instead of relying on some third party unknown cloud in some country I've never even been to, to secure data like the lock on my front door, and video of my living room.

IMO anyone who uses these kinds of home security products at the moment is just being foolish. They are "insecure by design" right now, no matter what the sales people tell you.

Apple is a great integrator, pulling together various pieces to make them work together, like they did with mp3 players creating the iPod touch. Could be great if more appliances provide proximity control like the Robosmart LED Bulbs I use. They switch on automatically when I arrive home and turn off when I leave using built-in iBeacons. Dimming and programmable timers are nice features too.

Eh... I'll wait until they actually announce such a thing, but I'd welcome it.

Every year I look into home automation and I'm disappointed. Give me a system that is completely wireless and responds to simple ASCII strings in Ethernet packets so I can use any programming platform I want (well, anything that has sockets). The moment you have me opening up walls, or crawling under the house/in the attic, or forcing me to a specific language, or your API is anything more complicated than a list of plain English commands and parameters, you've failed.

Well, I'm talking from the POV of a potential home automation app developer. I thought that was obvious. Guess not.

I also doubt 99.9999% of the customer base wants walls opened up so they can have a lamp turn on when they walk in a room. Hey, look, I can make up numbers, too.

The upcoming Hue light switch from Philips is a nice solution. You can stick the thing anywhere. It needs no power. The kinetic energy from pressing the switch generates enough electricity to squeak out the command packet. Brilliant.