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Apple said to be prepping smart home software platform for WWDC (techcrunch.com)
72 points by JumpCrisscross 1299 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments

It will be interesting to see how much of this relies on the presence of existing hard wired systems, many of which are controllable over the network (e.g. Lutron, many security systems, etc). Writing to other peoples' APIs has not typically been Apple's strong suit. At the same time, wired-in infrastructure in a home is nothing like as disposable as the consumer technology Apple focuses on. There is no way I would want a closed system baked into my house. Hard-wired infrastructure is something you're stuck with for decades.

Relevant to me as I'm in the rough-in phase of a whole-home remodel project. I struggled a lot with what level of control to use, before settling on a minimal Lutron system for some areas of the house, comfortable in the knowledge that if I get tired of the Lutron interface, I can create my own & poke it over the network. I understand most people aren't interested in this level of control, but they might be concerned when their interface becomes dated in 5 years and can't be replaced due to an incompatibility with the hard-wired infrastructure. I see this as a downside of closed systems like Control4.

Apple makes interfaces others will write to, though. Consider AirPlay now that Apple's not in the speaker business, or CarPlay as they don't make cars. Or even PassBook, which while not open enough to allow payment methods, is still very open in that anyone can make passes and send them by email.

I have Control4 in my house. I don't think it's really accurate to say it's hard-wired. There are some devices that take an ethernet connection (some of the touchscreens, for example). But most of it (and everything I have) communicates over Zigbee. The light switches and dimmers connect in to exactly the same way a regular light switch or dimmer does, which I think is the same as Lutron. And then it talks wirelessly to a little black box that sits in the closet. There's no extra wiring or anything required.

I don't disagree that it would be a hassle to replace all of my switches and stuff if I wanted to go to a different system. And I'd prefer there be a standard around this stuff. But using the term "hard-wired" think gives the impression that it's much more involved than it really is.

You're right that traditionally Control4 has not been hardwired - but note they're moving into panelized lighting control now, and my assumption was that system would only be controllable from their frontends unless you reverse engineered the protocol.

We changed the url from http://on.ft.com/1w8mTkI, which is the original source but behind a paywall.

I hate to do this, because HN strongly prefers original sources. Of course, people sometimes post a Google search url that one can click through to read the OP. But we can't make that the official URL for the post.

If anyone has a suggestion to solve this problem, please let us know.

Sites like HN apparently follow an unwritten rule that says there can only be one official URL associated with a post.

Maybe that rule doesn't need to be followed. Maybe it's just a common pattern sites follow, and it can be tweaked.

There could be official metadata URLs such as cache links or non-paywall links, that appear alongside the main links.

Certainly you've thought of this and some of the possible dangers of doing it: For instance, there could be blowback from sites if they think you are systematically circumventing their attempts to charge for content.

But perhaps some mild flavor of it could be done, to address a subset of the use cases. For instance, content could be cached privately by HN, with the cache link hidden at first. Then if the content became unavailable, depending on the reason for that unavailability, HN could reveal the cache link or not, based on HN policy about which reasons for content unavailability are cases where it is desirable to provide a cache link.

There's already a precedent for this on HN with scribd for pdf links.

If you get to the article from Google you can read it after answering a survey question (or presumably with JS turned off). To find the article, Google for: Apple readying new software platform for the ‘Smart Home’ By Tim Bradshaw in San Francisco

When I tried to copy and paste part of the article, it worked, but I then saw the following (sigh):

> High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1bef71b8-e433-11e3-a73a-00144feabd...

I think it's a good idea to change these types of links (it prevents the 'it's behind a paywall' comments overwhelming the thread.

I actually submitted that TC link a few minutes after the FT one was submitted. Now that the link on this has been changed to match the one I submitted what happens to my submission? (I don't have a problem with this just curious as to how the system works as identical links can't be submitted usually).

We took the URL and killed your post as a dupe. I realize that this has capricious effects on karma, but we're thinking only about what's best for the front page (e.g., where the ongoing discussion is), so I hope that people can take this in a community spirit, and that nobody cares too too much about silly internet points.

Cool, I was just curious how it would work - not too worried about losing some karma. Thanks.

It would be interested to see how the market would change if Apple got involved in this. As cool as home automation tech is it's never taken off. Apple could potentially jump start the market - or it could be a total flop.

Another interesting side effect of this will be how it effects Apple's 'coolness'. The only people willing to spend the money on home automation tech are those who own homes or who don't plan on moving any time soon - i.e. not young people.

    > The only people willing to spend the money on home automation
    > tech are those who own homes or who don't plan on moving any
    > time soon - i.e. not young people.
Doesn't that depend a lot on the specifics of the home automation system?

Sure anything that requires a permanent installation is less likely to be installed by anyone but the home owner, but can't you automate a lot of things in your home without permanently installing anything?

True. One thing that comes to mind is lighting. However how many people will spend £50 for a single bulb? [1] Maybe Apple has found a way to make it work. Then again maybe this is just a simple app with an API for developers to hook their stuff into and isn't going to be a 'flagship' feature of iOS 8 (kind of in a similar vein to iOS in the car - cool and useful but irrelevant to most people).

[1] http://store.apple.com/uk/product/HA780ZM/A/philips-hue-conn...

Exactly, light bulbs could easily be moved with the renter. Apple could even include a connected light bulb with every Apple TV/iPhone/iPad purchased to get the consumer interested.

I bet they bake it into the next Apple TV. I mean, if the point of TV is to own the living room, why stop at the living room?

I'm not sure my ~600 sq ft apartment really needs automation. It's pretty simple and manageable. Maybe Apple has dreamed up a delightful solution for a problem I don't realize I have.

My garden however is a complex mess that could benefit from automation.

I'm with you on that. I have three $70ish irrigation timers that are battery powered, not always predictable and an absolute pain to schedule.

Wish I had the skillset or contacts to create a wirelessly controlled irrigation timer. Track watering history, pause schedules if rain is forecast, etc.

I even wondered if you could recharge a system like this by a little low-friction turbine after the valve? And solar as a back-up?

Look into arduino + gardening.

Home Automation needs to be one of those things that is open - end points controlled and monitored from an independent system. I'd be upset if I went to buy a home and it wasn't compatible with my phone!

I don't think it's a 'home automation system' (like many in this thread assume), but just a standard way for any device to be smarter and connected. There are already smart devices such as ovens, microwaves and washing machines which are connected and controllable with an app. What I think Apple is trying to do is just to push a standard way to do this, so it's easier for everyone involved. Makes sense.

For example, your oven publishes a simple API via BLE which the iControl software understands and translates into a nice remote control UI. From there, you can get/set the oven temperature, set timers etc. There's also a possibility that anyone could write an 'oven' app, which can then control any oven. That way, it's up to third-party software how smart or automated your home becomes.

What I think Apple is trying to do is just to push a standard way to do this, so it's easier for everyone involved. Makes sense.

There's also a possibility that anyone could write an 'oven' app, which can then control any oven. That way, it's up to third-party software how smart or automated your home becomes.

I dunno, that doesn't really sound like Apple to me.

I don't trust Apple to do this well.

Firstly, they cannot (or will not) make their devices multi-user, which is a problem in the home environment (eg an Apple TV that's tied to only my account - and already exposes more info than I'd like).

Secondly, Apple has a habit of abandoning things and shutting them down when it doesn't suit them. This is mostly ok for some services but would be disastrous for me as a user if I've put bought into the system.

Finally, Apple doesn't play nice with others. Perhaps they've learned to be better since they've had to interface more due to the App Store but for the most part I don't see them caring about an ecosystem other than their own.

The FT reports that Apple is likely "to emphasise the privacy protections built into its smart home system... Apple considers privacy a key advantage over Google...since Google relies on targeted advertising as its main source of income" [1].

That is a valid and interesting contrast. Google, for openness and transparency; Apple, for control and privacy.

[1] http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/1bef71b8-e433-11e3-a73a-00144...

With Google, the product is you.

"Secondly, Apple has a habit of abandoning things and shutting them down when it doesn't suit them."

That is not the strongest of arguments; every company does that (google reader, HP and PCs (for a while), IBM and x86 servers, etc). I think your worry is more that they won't provide an open specification and won't ever sell their business so that, if they leave the market, you can't shop elsewhere.

That's part of it but I feel it's a stronger argument when you consider the lifetime of devices we put in the home (how often do you upgrade your TV vs your phone vs your fridge). I expect everything in my house to keep working regardless of whatever happens with the manufacturer/provider but in the new world order, some aspect of my home life might be drastically altered because Apple decides that feature/service isn't important enough. Apple could mitigate this by being open but I'm not convinced they care enough about that either.

This is a good point. The light switches in my grandmother's house (two-button affairs from the 1920s) still work in 2014. My 1950s gas oven still works. Simplicity and longevity are valuable attributes in a piece of hardware (a house) with a 50-year design life. (I replaced most of my X-10 switches with photocells and manual dimmers after seeing the light on this one.)

Interesting. I thought Apple really supports their ecosystem (hw + sw) for a long time. For example, they support old ipods even now. May be you are talking about it from an SDK perspective. Can you be a little specific about which functionality was dropped/abandoned?

I am not sure making it multiuser is really needed in the home automation case. If it all links back to the touchID on the phone it will meet all requirements of user separation.

The version of iPod car integration that predated CarPlay was pretty comprehensively dropped after a few years, with no support from new iPods. It took several years for them to even announce a replacement that offered the same capabilities and it's not backwards compatible with older cars.

> Apple supports their ecosystem for a long time

Do you think they'll support a thermostat for 30 years?

Those kind of thermostats are not for 30 years. To make it a viable market for large companies (as opposed to niche providers) you'd have to change it every 3-5 years. Heck, Nest shut its business in less than 5 years.

So, it'd be you know, like a DSLR is not for life, whereas a film camera was.

In exchange, you'd get innovation faster, and they'd have to keep you occupied with cool new stuff. Don't know how much you can add to a thermostat, but this kind of "market share" could lead to "the house of tomorrow" kind of future in 10-20 years (like mobile phones have completely changed personal communications in the past 20 years).

I'd also like some examples of point 2. Apple's cloud services have been a game of musical chairs (iCloud nee MobileMe nee .Mac nee iTools) but overall I think Google has a much worse track record for neglecting and eventually shutting down products.

Does it matter whether or not the device is not multiuser, as long as apps are multiuser. We have one Apple TV, but my wife and I can log into different netflix accounts pretty easily from Apple TV. That's enough for most people.

Apple has a pretty good history of working with a hardware ecosystem--think of the iPod.

Perhaps ironically, Google is the one doing automation with a first party (Nest), and Apple seems to be working with others.

One issue I see with this is that most home automation solutions (not all) run with a central hub, a server that talks to the other devices, and relays messages to/from them. This hub has an IP address that is reachable from home or away, so you can control it via your smartphone. The devices do not have individual IP addresses that are reachable. This would mean that to get a home automation system working, Apple would have to sell another device into the home. That's sometimes a hurdle for them. (Home automation server = new Apple TV??)

Yes, I know some home automation devices have the server built into every device (every plug, every camera, every light is a standalone "thing" in the Internet of Things), but this adds significantly to the cost. On the other hand, with some good software, it makes controlling everything without a central hub possible.

Back to my Mac already does a great job of building a private IPV6 VLAN for each Apple ID tht connects all the logged in devices.

In terms of dedicated hardware, what you are describing sounds a lot like an airport express/extreme wifi base station.

Yeah, they can easily leverage any other device already in the house: I would think the Airport or Apple TV would be the logical choice though. People get more creeped out thinking that their laptop might be exposed.

I've read many of the posts here saying how they don't see how home automation could be of interest to more than a handful of super geeky type people.

However, there is another side to this, and that is monitoring.

Home monitoring technology opens up a much larger group of interested consumers for this.

My point is we shouldn't just be talking about automation here. Automation is only part of the story. Monitoring may be a much bigger part.

Monitoring in what way? There are already plenty of home security systems which can handle video and audio monitoring.

I don't mean this to be glib, but there were already plenty of phones that could serve the internet, and various mobile tools. (in much the same way there were already plenty of computers.)

Apple doesn't innovate by being first, they innovate by being best.

I never said there weren't plenty. In fact you are making my point for me. The discussion here should reflect what those systems really have, not just part of what they have.

And so begins the War of the Thermostats

And so begun the Thermostat War has.

let's see if Apple could help with home automation popularity, a couple of months ago there were a couple of kickstart projects which gained quite a bit popularity, it's a good time for an industry giant to join...

Oh man I really hope there's a reasonably open plugin architecture for this.

Deep down inside, you want to use iTunes. Search your feelings.

Between new MacBooks and iMacs, a refreshed AppleTV, watches, personal fitness equipment and now home automation, the WWDC Keynote will be one of the longest in a while.

Oooh? Am I gonna finally get my 4k Retina iMac? Please?

Get in line behind me, buddy.

I'm still upset that Apple bought PrimeSense and shut down OpenNI. Might this be the reason?

Do you think that they will open the home up to a app store like they did with phones?

can't even open the article, asked for registration straightaway

My bet is on smart tags, NFC and iBeacon.

Bring it on.

Currently most home automation products are geared towards family fathers who want to control every aspect of their families lives - control freaks. This is a market that does not scale. Apple therefore has to present an entirely new perspective. I have led several projects in this space and the one service that has been the most promising and was accepted by several family members was the anthropomorphization of the technology by presenting an addressable assistant that takes care of your home while you're away.

This seems to be a bit of a deep assumption, no? There are lots of advantages to home automation besides "fathers wanting to control every aspect of their families lives."

The Nest Thermostat, for instance is about energy savings and not having to think too much about the thermostat. Lockitron about the convenience about never having to worry about keys again...

My comment may have sounded cynical, but I have been responsible for this space at Vodafone R&D and we had led several focus groups with entire families and psychologists, where most products that one side wanted to control light switches and heat met big opposition from the rest of the family, since they felt it took control away from them. Nest is a different proposition and is doing well for good reasons. But for home automation the right prop has yet to be found.

I just want lights to turn on when I enter the room, and turn off if I'm the last to leave. If Apple can turn the argument from 'control' to presence, then it would be interesting.

I have two wireless light globes that are infinitely more painful than just using a light switch.

Ya, I've been pretty skeptical of most products in this space to date. Sure, it's neat that you can control every light in your home from a tablet but who really cares? Is that really any better than regular old light switches?

Saying this makes me feel old or something, but I just don't get it?

I think you need to look beyond the idea that home automation = only turning on/off light bulbs.

I had a friend with a cottage and they had a system hooked up to their AC. When they were leaving home to drive to the cottage, they would call the cottage phone number, the AC system would intercept the call and after a few buttons later (ex #485*) the AC would be up and running. By they time they arrived, the cottage was a cool 19C.

OK, ya, I get it for heating and cooling. But is there anything else beyond that that isn't automation for automation's sake?

What's the point of any luxury? Isn't a nice sofa just furniture for furniture's sake? And a home theater is just entertainment for entertainment's sake. If your opposition to automation is rooted in asceticism, that's perfectly fine, but then why are you on HN?

Home automation provides convenience (not having to drive all the way home to close the garage you accidentally left open), integration (being able to control and monitor your lighting, HVAC, sound, video, pool/spa, landscaping fountains/lights, etc. from a single remote with a single UI), and customization (pre-programmed actions, timed sequences, and unique designs that make a house uniquely suited to its occupants) that are not otherwise available.

Edit to add: there are also accessibility benefits to automation.

I guess I'm just saying that I think that most people won't find this sort of automation actually useful. Nerds will love it for the sheer nerdey pleasure of controlling every aspect of their world from a touchscreen, but I'm skeptical that it will go beyond that.

Most people won't want to monitor their lighting, HVAC, sound, video, pool/spa, landscaping fountains/lights, etc.

I'm not going to deny that there's a ton of geekery involved. But there are several things my non-geek wife loves about our home automation system, including:

* Never coming home to a dark house (minimal lights automatically come on at sunset, and tapping one button immediately inside the entry door turns on several lights in the area you're walking in to). * Watching a movie in complete darkness, but hitting 'pause' and having the necessary lights to get to the bathroom or kitchen come on (at a dim level so you're not suddenly blinded). * Having "believable" automated operation of lights and other things when we're on vacation, giving a better appearance of someone being home. * Being able to adjust the temperature when we're not home (helpful when we've been gone a while and want the house pre-warmed/cooled).


This certainly ALL falls into the luxury category, but it's quite nice. I don't think the issue in this market is that people who aren't geeks wouldn't enjoy the benefits. It's a combination of a lack of proper marketing, high cost, and the interfaces for these things not being where they need to be for average users. Maybe Apple can address at least some of those factors.

I would be keen to see all door locks controllable by remote device. Then it could alert me to doors left unlocked late in the evening or if we were out of the house.

Garden automation (lighting, irrigation and monitoring).

Better window treatments like controlled awnings and blinds or window opacity in the future.

Most people opposed the very idea of a TV remote control when wireless remotes were first introduced (Tog on Software Design by Tognazzini). Given the right system, features, and sales pitch, consumer attitudes can change.

Locks, security systems, garage doors, PV inverters? Plus I think it would be useful for major appliances like refrigerators and electric ranges and water heaters to output their power usage since you can't just plug those into a Kill-A-Watt.

Security is a big one. Setting all your zones and being able to set alarms and see cameras. Additionally the ability to give out lock codes that only work at specific times of the day and are revokable.

Most of it does seem pretty unnecessary. Things like shades that adjust automatically throughout the day definitely seem more like luxuries than even conveniences or necessities.

I've gotten much use out of a simple remote control dimmer [1] in the living room, but that's not automation, and most people would probably consider even something that simple as an unnecessary luxury, much less want whole-home automation.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Lutron-MRF2-600MTHW-WH-Multi-Location-...

The problem is it's a thousand little things not just one big thing.

The real power is that every item can be improved a little with automation. Your dryer starts an hour before you wake up so that your clothes are dry, your underwear is warm and toasty to face that cold winter's day. You can check from the supermarket if there was anything you don't have at home for the cake you're baking. The lights slowly dim to get your brain thinking it's ready for bed. Your lights change colour to make the room feel warmer or colder. The blinds slowly open just before you're supposed to wake up so that you can be woken by light rather than an alarm clock. Your oven begins cooking the roast to work around your schedule. Stopping the microwave from continuing to nuke the popcorn from the other room so you can wait for it to cool without getting up.

None of these are particularly brilliant and maybe you would look at it and ask why spend an extra thousand on a fridge for this? An extra 50 a light-bulb... A few thousand for installation of a base system just to have the privilege. Another 500 for motors for blinds. And each of those is just for one nice hardly noticeable difference in your day.

Maybe the cost for the value doesn't make sense. It won't for a lot of people. Having said that it seems to me that what we're talking about here is automating some of the duties of a butler/body servant type job, at a lower cost than employing one for something that will be in place longer.

I'll also add some good old anecdotal stuff at the end about some of the silly little contraptions I've found in my apartment in Japan and the difference they make. I've got an automatic bath tub push a button and it fills to an appropriate level at a temperature you set. It seems so silly to spend the money to save yourself two minutes of faffing about with taps for something you might do every other week or once a month. But without that two minutes and without the pressure to not let it overflow I have nice relaxing baths much more often because all I need to do is push a button and finish whatever I'm doing before grabbing a book. There are also remotes for the lights. It's great to walk in the door grab the one remote and walk through the place turning on and off the lights on my way to the lounge to settle down all without having to go slightly off towards one wall or another, this seems small (or ridiculously lazy) but I honestly think I'll spend the money when I move to keep this tiny freedom. Being able to turn the lights on and off from bed and freely rearrange rooms without worrying about light-switches is an added bonus as well as dimming by remote are all great and have made ever day slightly more pleasant. There are a few other contrived convenience around (there are others that I was used to that are missing here though) and I can honestly say that quite a few of them are something that have made necessities slightly easier or enjoyable things more accessible. I'll definitely be hunting out these little conveniences when I've left. So there's my two cents.

I'd definitely like to be able to to tell if I have all the ingredients I need for that cake I'm baking while I'm at the supermarket. I own, literally, four bottles of paprika right now because several times I just couldn't remember so I said "better safe than sorry."

Can we do that yet though? Some sort of smart inventory taking cabinet?

Sure that wasn't a metaphor? With all the "little things" that we can get individually, we have a bunch of ingredients that aren't really satisfying on their own. But if they could be combined in many ways, they can be useful enough to stock up on. But...

> The problem is it's a thousand little things not just one big thing.

Absolutely right. But we start with things that justify a purchase because they complete a worthwhile task on their own. That reduces the barrier to entry.

Yes and no, you can buy some solutions but the daily extra effort associated with using them doesn't outweigh the occasional effort/annoyance of the mistake at this point.

It's one of those things that would take a large amount of work for a company to get it to the point where the ease of use is the same as the current system, I'm sure we'll eventually see a usable system (as it seems that computer vision and object classification techniques being developed in other areas will be applicable here).


Simplicity of setup/operation is probably all it will take to make home automation products popular. Most of the existing products seem to be geared towards those control freak types who demand lots of options/customization but the real mass market is lazy people who need a one-size-fits-all solution.

Why the down votes? Parent is not saying the only reason to like home automation is if you're a control freak, he/she is saying that that's how these things have been marketed to date. I think it's a great point.

I'm still scarred from those super-creepy X10 ads that blanketed the web about a decade ago.

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