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Apple Patent Hints at Easier Smart Home Setups

Neil Strother
Mar 12, 2020

Smart Home

Apple appears to be taking steps toward solving a niggling issue surrounding smart home technology: setting up and configuring devices. Anyone who has tried adding a smart light switch, smart thermostat, or security camera knows the process can be frustrating.

Patent Points to Cooperation

A recent Apple patent filing points to a much better setup process. The patent application describes how a more intelligent home system could configure itself. The filing is rather broad and far-reaching, as 9TO5Mac writer Ben Lovejoy notes, and requires cooperation from a number of parties to become reality. The concept, however, is one consumers would likely embrace and is within Apple’s historical capabilities.

Smart Home Market Needs Interoperability

Related to cooperation with other parties, Apple has joined the Connected Home Over IP (CHIP) project, spearheaded by the Zigbee Alliance. The goal of CHIP is to create a royalty-free connectivity standard for smart home products, as noted in a previous blog. If all goes according to plan, CHIP-capable devices that interoperate securely could be on the market spring 2021. Apple joining the CHIP project is recognition by the company that, for the smart home market to flourish more broadly, Apple needs to cooperate with competitors (a departure from its proprietary ways).

Apple’s Smart Device Reach Includes Wellness in the Home

A third step Apple is taking relates to home healthcare. This move might seem a stretch from configuring smart home devices, but there is overlap from a broader perspective. Apple sees a large market opportunity in healthcare and wellness, and it is willing to be disruptive. For instance, through software development kits such as CareKit and HealthKit, Apple encourages developers to build apps for iOS devices with the aim of helping consumers better manage their health through products such as the iPhone, Apple Watch, and enabled home medical devices. Apple wants to be a key touch point for the smart home and to play a key role in enabling wellness in the home through devices.

Smooth Smart Home Setup Closer to Reality

Apple is not alone among smart home vendors attempting to relieve the pain of setting up and configuring smart devices. Amazon Smart Home Services enable a customer who buys a smart device to schedule an in-home appointment with an expert who can set up and configure it based on the customer’s needs and interests. Google offers free product advice from a connected home specialist at any time for customers of its smart home products.

There is no certainty that Apple will crack the code on making a smart home easily configurable, but betting against the company is unwise. In the past, Apple engineers solved the media player riddle by creating the iPod and related iTunes ecosystem; before the iPod, most digital MP3 players didn’t live up to customer expectations. And if not for Apple removing smart home hurdles, existing competitors or an unknown startup might set a new standard. For consumers, the upshot is a reduction in setup friction that appears to be just over the horizon, along with a reduction in profanity.

For more insights about the smart home market, see the The Smart Home Overview report from Guidehouse Insights.