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WWDC 2014: Apple turns a key to the IoT and your Smart Home


COMPUTEX 2014 is in full swing in Taipei, Taiwan, on the other side of the Pacific, in San Francisco, California, Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2014 also opened and unveiled a wealth of news and exciting developments related to IoT and the key moment of software-hardware interaction, applications and platforms.

Apple's IoT strategic vision

While there weren't any hardware unveilings during Monday's opening day, what we did learn about was the deepening ubiquity of computing that Apple is pursuing by streamlining operating systems (OS). The goal is for the user experience to remain constant across devices. This is a seemingly insignificant point, but actually, this is the type of "elegance" that is Apple and that breads success: familiar, intuitive, consistent experiences which become welcoming and which then anchor users to the OS and hence to the device ecosystem.

IoT is now and it is the future, and Apple knows this intimately well. Apple's message from WWDC is not about the latest gadget but rather that Apple is strategically placed to compete in the new IoT market place. IoT and the Smart Life is a new, incredibly broad sector. A sector that spans markets such as consumer, enterprise, municipal, and on to industrial which then brings together white box devices, equipment and tools, and a slew of personal consumer and enterprise devices that really have been stand-alone so far. These devices then connect to smartphones, tablets or PCs, that are then seen as nodes in an interconnected web of devices that will increasingly be connected to each other across an ever-widening network.

The challenge regarding IoT is not just in the design of these devices, rather it is in the integration across platforms, designs, devices, and use cases to allow users to define their IoT ecosystem. The user must then be able to connect, piece-by-piece, the devices they choose while defining levels of autonomy in their IoT network and while assigning notification levels to be sent to them, their authorized network participants (e.g., healthcare providers), and others they include in their connected web.

This IoT challenge is really a software challenge, hence Apple's focus on laying the OS groundwork which follows their 30-year history of elegant solutions. These elegant solutions are, as Steve Wozniak shared with Smith in mid-May, the good solutions that need to be intuitive to users and that need to support the ease that computing gives us. However, rooted in the software challenge is the fact that these solutions rely on specific component architectures and designs to support the individual users' IoT ecosystems.

From body to home – the first challenges

Apple's WWDC news in terms of deliverables (outside of the next OS updates) focused on two of the leading growth sectors, health and home. With health and fitness monitoring well underway, the move by Apple to extend and integrate the data being collected from CE devices through the iPhone is moving the Smart Life and fitness towards more usable data for medical versus fitness events. The Apple announcement regarding the new Health app is presented as "an entirely new way to use your health and fitness information." For developers, there is a Health Kit that will provide a single point of entry for users but allow apps to connect through this one integrated app and provide more customized and more medically relevant data. As engadget explains, "Apple's iPhone is going from part-time health stat monitor to full-time mobile monitoring unit. […] It looks a lot like Passbook, using cards to identify various stats. Thusly, it enables customization of the stats you want tracked and how you want it presented."

The path to the Smart Home is in a similarly integrated, unified app from Apple, Home Kit, which will allow users to go to one location to access their connected home devices such as garage door opener, home alarm, lighting, thermostat, smart white boxes, etc., rather than having to go to each manufacturer's app. As Apple explains:

Home Kit provides seamless integration between accessories that support Apple's Home Automation Protocol and iOS devices, allowing for new advances in home automation. By promoting a common protocol for home automation devices and making a public API available for configuring and communicating with those devices, Home Kit makes possible a marketplace where the app a user controls their home with doesn’t have to be created by the vendor who made their home automation accessories, and where home automation accessories from multiple vendors can all be integrated into a single coherent whole without those vendors having to coordinate directly with each other.

Again, Apples two app announcements present themselves as rather simple and seemingly mundane on the face of it, but behind the simplicity is the elegance that, if executed well, opens the door to truly ubiquitous computing. The challenge for Apple is getting all of these individual manufacturers and devices to cohere through a unified interface for user ease. Given Apple's weight in the supply chain and the consumer evaluation of quality OEM, there is a good chance that Apple will succeed in pulling together a new supply chain network which will be needed to pull IoT into the next growth phase.

Importantly, IoT strategic growth will not rest solely on software. It will require improved component designs that directly integrate with and support the software solution, just as with Apple's Health app that relies on the Apple M7 chip. As IoT expands and user uptake builds, the increased requirements will bring along an increase in demand for a slew of components both in smartphones and in the wearable devices that will support the collection of data and the ability to multitask, monitoring conditions on the body, in the home, and throughout our increasingly Smart Life.

Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.
Written on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 19:53 by Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.

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