Apple’s next big thing: Your iPhone controls your home


WeMo light switch by Belkin is displayed at the opening press event of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 2013. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

What if you could turn on your lights, disable your alarm and start your coffee maker with your iPhone? Actually, you already can — but only by buying separate devices controlled by separate apps. It’s kind of a production.

Now, Apple reportedly plans to unveil its own technology to integrate this so-called “Internet of things” at its Worldwide Developer Conference, which begins on June 2 in San Francisco.

Apple’s new software platform would turn the iPhone into a remote control for lights, security systems and other household appliances, the Financial Times reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. An Apple spokesman declined comment.

Apple currently relies on Bluetooth technology to wirelessly connect devices. The new platform may rely on a different technology called “near-field communication” that uses radio frequencies.

Apple Insider pointed out that Apple isn’t the first to try and unify smart devices with a single standard, citing Belkin’s WeMo as well as SmartThings and ZigBee. But Apple could be a game-changer in the market.

“There has yet to be a widely accepted standard that brings all these devices under one umbrella,” Apple Insider noted. “What Apple brings to the table is a massive installed user base in iOS device owners. … Apple would then be in control of product certification, ensuring users a consistent and cohesive experience that heretofore has not existed in the smart home segment.”

Apple’s move reinforces the notion that the “Internet of things” – a world where everything is connected to the Internet seamlessly  – is the next big thing.

Consumers are already getting on board with wearable tech such as fitness-tracking devices and, slowly, Google Glass.

In a patent filed last November, Apple outlined a new system for connecting and controlling various “smart home” devices. Some may not even be manufactured by Apple. The company is hashing out a deal with other device makers whose products will be certified to work with Apple’s system and sold in its retail stores, the Financial Times said.

Google also recently hinted that it has plans for a “multi-device future” in a regulatory filing disclosed last week, which involves advertising embedded in “refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities.”

An unnamed source familiar with the matter told the Financial Times that Apple considers privacy a key advantage over Google, which bought Nest Labs, makers of Internet-connected thermostats and smoke alarms, for $3.2 billion in January. Targeted advertising informed by data culled from customers’ online habits is one of Google’s main income sources.

Major Internet security breaches such as Heartbleed and Blackshades and ongoing fallout from the National Security Agency’s online surveillance program give the impression that the entire Internet is compromised, no matter who makes the device you use to access it. Consumers may have reservations about new technologies that promise to bring even more aspects of our lives online, potentially bringing them under the government’s microscope and making us more vulnerable to hackers. And even the innovators responsible for pushing us towards a more Internet-connected existence acknowledge that privacy is an issue with the Internet of things.

“The benefit is that these appliances will be coordinated to improve our daily lives,” Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, has said. “The risk is that inimical forces may gain control and create serious problems. Wearables will monitor health and also draw computers into the context of our daily lives, conversations, and activities. A big opportunity for [artificial intelligence] awaits. Privacy will be hard to come by.”

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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