Five smart Apple iPhone solutions for the connected home

As Apple's [AAPL] iOS evolution shows, consumer electronics is evolving, the devices we use everyday are becoming more portable and more advanced, and the distinctions between different gadgets are disappearing: Here's five solutions which suggest the future of the iOS-powered smart home.

Apple digital home

Apple's in your den

Apple has spent a lot of time exploring how it can extend its devices into more areas of a consumer's digital life -- indeed; iMovie (introduced as  "digital shoebox for photos") exemplifies the company's interest in taking its solutions and extending their utility.

Solutions including the Apple TV, Nike+ and even the company's own Remote app hint that bringing its experience to different elements of our lives is part of the company's vision. And developers help extend that vision to an even broader church.

What follows are five different products, developer tweaks and additions that kind of hint where the smart home puck might be going.

Take a look at Nest, the intelligent learning thermostat developed by a firm including iPod inventor, Tony Fadell. This product will replace the thermostat you already have in your home and can learn what kind of environment you want it to create, can manage use, offers energy consumption readings and can even be controlled remotely via your iPhone.

Inclusion of support for iPhone isn't so surprising when you consider Fadell led the team that designed the first three generations of iPhone.

Seeing the light

Fadell also once worked for Philips. That company recently introduced the Hue IP-controllable LED light bulbs. The beauty of these bulbs (other than that in a dose of synchronicity you can pick them up at Apple retail stores) is that you can raise or lower their brightness, and change their colors, all at the flick of a switch. And, because they are controlled via WiFi, you can achieve this using a connected device, such as your iPad or iPhone. If that's not good enough, developer Brandon Evans (no relation) has figured out how to use Siri on your iPad to control the lighting in your home. That's got to be an inevitable future for Siri in your home.

Home security seems another inevitable market for smart home products. At it's simplest such solutions might involve IP-controlled systems that let you keep an eye on your home when you are out and about, alerting you if there's a problem. That solution already exists in myriad forms, but one of my favorites (partly because the solution has been in consistent independent development for the best part of a decade) has to be Security Spy, by developer, Ben Bird.

This multi-camera security system has lots of nice features, not least that you can build up your home security system using off-the-shelf parts from different manufacturers. There are also iPhone and iPad apps for remote monitoring of your system.


Security solutions

Used in conjunction with the IP-controllable bulbs described above, this suggests that in future you'll be able to sit on a beach somewhere far away while keeping an eye on things at home and ensuring the lights go on and off as if you were still indoors.

It doesn't need to stop there. It might be nice if you had a fresh cup of coffee when you got back home in the evening, perhaps a lovely cup from your De'Longhi machine. This product isn't IP-controlled, however -- but it could be, thanks to the WeMo system from Belkin, which lets you switch your electrical devices on or off using your iPhone.

This system consists of a Wi-Fi-equipped power switch, a Wi-Fi-equipped motion sensor and an iOS app. Plug it in, set it up, connect it to your home network and any device that's plugged into the WeMo device can be switched on or off using the iOS app. You can buy other switches to control more devices.

So what do we have in our iPhone home at this point? We have 24/7 video security which we can access worldwide; we have a thermostat that knows what temperature we like and when and can be controlled remotely; we have light bulbs which do what they're told, and a selection of dumb electronics devices which we can switch on or off whenever we like.

Developers are the lifeblood for OS evolution. The beauty of the heavily diversified smartphone app sector means there should be something for everyone. The pervasiveness of mobile devices makes for an opportunity in which to develop unique solutions that appeal to niche markets, which is driving developers to hack all manner of systems so you can truly say, "There's an app for that".

Take a wander through the various dev-focused websites, such as Hack n Mod and you'll find all manner of solutions that suggest the many different ways in which you can apply iOS to the home.

Though fairly old, this video shows a little project in which one developer tweaked his (noisy) TV lift in order to make it controllable via his iPhone.

In truth the notion of using technology to use technology to build a more advanced home's not at all new -- it goes way back to Popular Mechanics, the HomeBrew Computer Club and way before that. You can even find intimations of the hobby projects of old within the archive of fresh content made available on HowDo. What is interesting is that as the connected computer in your pocket (smartphone, iPhone) becomes ever more pervasive, the potential for low cost smart phone devices in the home is also growing.

There's a few challenges: Can existing Internet infrastructure handle the idle chatter of millions, perhaps billions, of IP-controlled gadgets? Also, as we await serious deployment of IPv6 are there sufficient IP addresses to go round? Can these solutions be produced inexpensively enough for these systems to become truly mass-market? Are components available in sufficient quantity to support this emerging sector?

Hopefully this short tour gives a sense of some of the potential implementations of switched on smartphones in home automation. I'm certain there's othe great examples out there, so please share these in comments below.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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