Apple plots home break-in, home automation break-through

WWDC may serve as stage for new platform to put Apple into the 'Internet of Things' mix

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Apple's approach would be quite different from Google's, which entered the home automation market in January when it spent $3.2 billion to acquire Nest, which makes smartphone-controlled thermostats and smoke detectors.

Moorhead, who has dubbed the multiple apps necessary to control different manufacturers' devices "app fatigue," was adamant that a single app is necessary if home automation is to expand beyond its current early-adopters and do-it-yourselfers market.

Revolv, a Boulder, Colo. firm that boasts a central hub and one-app integration with several device makers, has been in Moorhead's sights; he's added their wares to his own home.

Apple's size would give it a tremendous advantage over a small startup like Revolv, said Moorhead, and push the concept of one-app control -- naturally, one that ran on multiple iOS devices, the better to sell more smartphones, tablets and Apple TVs -- to a breakthrough point.

"I see Apple wanting to build one app to rule them all," said Moorhead. "With Apple taking the side of the 'human Internet of Things,' it could validate the mass market nature of home automation."

Revolv had similar thoughts today.

While the company declined to comment on specific questions about Apple's intentions -- it cited the lack of an official announcement -- Revolv welcomed Apple's entry, if that is what happens.

"From an industry perspective, this is great news," said Mike Soucie, co-founder of Revolv, in an emailed statement. "Google's entry into the smart home, via Nest, indicated that it is now time to move beyond the technical 'maker type' for the DIY smart home. Apple creates even more momentum for the 'smart home for the rest of us' and elevates awareness with consumers, which is good for startups like Revolv that have limited resources to educate the mainstream market."

And the market is big enough for Apple to play in, Moorhead said. "This is a very long term play. The installer market is billions. And the DIY market is looking at a ten-times increase over the next five years."

According to ABI Research, home automation spending worldwide will reach $14 billion by 2018, with half of that money spent in the U.S., a traditional stronghold for Apple.

"It's very different than in the past," argued Moorhead, referring to decades-long promises of an eventual "smart home," promises that were never really kept, even though giants like Microsoft put their shoulders to the wheel. "Today you have a variety of wireless, all with much higher quality, many with better distances than in the past. And costs are much lower."

Gottheil agreed. "IoT is happening. And Apple pioneered the idea of a home hub, dating back to not long after [Steve] Jobs returned to Apple," said Gottheil, who was referring to a 2001 keynote at the Macworld conference, where the then-CEO trumpeted the idea of "Digital Hub," a vision where the Mac served as the household's central controller of entertainment and productivity.

"We think this is going to be huge," said Jobs then, predicting a future that never quite came to pass.

"Apple has always wanted to manage the interrelationships between itself and other ecosystems," said Gottheil. "They can make all the pieces click."

Steve Jobs unveils Apple's 'digital hub' strategy at Macworld 2001.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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