Apple’s Next Step: Home Automation

The new iPads are probably arriving October 15th, and it’s hard to get excited, except about how hideous the Mini is going to be. And even Apple isn’t feeling it. But there is going to be something we’ll start to see seeds for that will likely pay off next year: Apple getting into automating your home.

Why? It’s something they’ve been working on for quite a while, although you may not have noticed. And it’s in line with how Apple does business.

Technologically Speaking

The key to “ubiquitous computing” in the home is actually not visual cues. Think about how you go around the house on your day off. You grab something from the kitchen, watch something on TV, go to the bathroom, maybe grab a nap. Either you carry the screen with you, or you put screens in every part of the house; neither are entirely appealing prospects.

Ah, but audio and voice? That’s a different matter. That’s much cheaper. And it’s something Apple has a long history of working on; Siri itself has roots that lie with military efforts to create a computer that can understand spoken language. In fact, developing and recognizing speech has been one of the holy grails for private industry and military contracts for decades; there were a lot of aging nerds who picked up Siri and saw something they’d been working on since high school.

More to the point, Apple is constantly at work improving Siri. So much so that they try pretty hard to keep their work under wraps. But there’s no denying that Siri is definitely one of Apple’s core products, and it’s not going to stay on mobile devices forever.

Business Wise

The second reason has to do with how Apple works and its general strategy. Apple has learned, the hard way, that it can’t rest on its laurels as a company. You can’t keep companies from imitating you, and eventually, those imitations will surpass you; remember that Apple used to be a major player in personal computing.

As a result, Apple is constantly looking for new places to push into. And the time is right for home automation; while many hardware makers will jabber about “The Internet of Things”, nobody’s been able to make it work. Just like nobody was able to make MP3 players really popular, or able to get anybody to use a phone with a touchscreen, or nobody was able to get tablet computers to take off.

Apple’s good, as a company, at taking a moribund or tiny market and exploding it, taking control in the process. Home automation is a natural extension of that, and it also ties into Apple’s other businesses. For example, it’s unlikely you won’t be able to ask whatever version of Siri arrives in the home to buy and play you that song you just heard via iTunes Radio.

Apple isn’t ready to roll something like this out just yet. But expect it soon; Apple’s not happy when it’s not innovating.