Could Apple bring the internet of things to the mainstream?

The latest rumour to emerge about next week's Apple keynote raises the possibility of one of our favourite things - the internet of things - going mainstream.

As NEXT14 disappears in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to start looking at what’s next… And next week brings us an Apple keynote, which is always a rich time for speculation, rumours and click-bait.

But in the last 48 hours, something really interesting has emerged from the Financial Times:

Apple is readying a new software platform that would turn the iPhone into a remote control for lights, security systems and other household appliances, as part of a move into the “internet of things”.

I’m almost reluctant to write about Apple rumours on here. Oh, we covered the AppleTV rumours years ago, and there’s still been nothing from Cupertino to make that anything but speculation. Since then, we’ve happily ignored unconfirmed muttering like the potential acquisition of Beats, because, really, what is there to say until (a) it happens and (b) we gets some idea of how it fits into Apple?

This time, though, we’re not going to ignore it.

First of all, the internet of things has been an area of intense interest to us at NEXT for years now. Its problem, still, is that the mainstream case for it has not yet been made. As Dan Hon puts it in his newsletter yesterday:

In other words, it feels like we’re in the Palm Pilot era of smart things. Generally a good idea that a bunch of early adopters can see the value of, but for the vast majority, the use-case and benefit isn’t tangible enough yet. Sure, it’s not as bad as having to learn how to handwrite in a completely different manner just so a slow microprocessor has a chance of understanding our scrawl, but it’s clear that we’re not in the “just stick it in front of someone and play a video” and everyone wants one era that something like the iPhone ushered in.

And that, of course, is what Apple is really good at. There were smartphones and tablets and MP3 players before Apple’s entry to those markets, but Apple was the one that redefined them in a mainstream way.

The logic of the Apple smart home

And this makes this an interesting rumour for a number of reasons:

  • Tim Hartford is a serious journalist working for a publication that’s business model isn’t page-view related. He has less motivation to pump out poorly-sourced stories for the clicks.
  • It makes a world of sense – the iPhone is the biggest part of Apple’s business right now, and anything that supports that business, by embedding iOS further in our lives, seems like a typically Apple move.
  • John Gruber didn’t exactly dismiss the rumour
  • Apple has been busy integrating lots of interesting tech into its phones for the last few years that would make this work: iBeacons (which we featured at NEXT14), low-energy Bluetooth, biometric security…

This seems like the next logical step from Apple following on from AirPlay and CarPlay. It’s a logical thing for them to announce at a developer’s conference, and its likely to be a platform hardware developers can work to. And it’s more likely to be a big business than a (whisper it) iWatch.

And anything that brings the internet of things into more homes in a useful way is exciting.

Next Monday’s keynote could be an interesting one. I’ll be watching, and we’ll add out thoughts later that evening.

Full disclosure: The author has provided training to Financial Times journalists.

Photo by Davis Staedtler and used under a Creative Commons licence