Among the multiple developer enhancements that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) unveiled at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference was HomeKit, a suite of tools that allows developers to easily create iOS apps for home automation products such as light dimmers, thermostats, and door locks. While the release of HomeKit was an important step for bringing Apple further into the connected home market, the software was introduced as a platform for bringing third-party products into the iOS fold, rather than as a platform for Apple’s own brand of smart home products. However, it appears that approach may soon change.
According to unnamed insider sources cited by well-connected 9to5Mac contributor Mark Gurman, Apple has pulled together a team to develop its own “Smart Home” hardware products. While the sources did not know what categories of home appliances Apple was interested in entering, the development of the smart home products was said to be “beyond the exploratory phase.” The sources also noted that Apple does not appear to be interested in competing with Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Nest in the connected thermostat and smoke detector markets. Nest, which was acquired by Google earlier this year, was co-founded by former Apple executive Tony Fadell. Not surprisingly, Nest’s devices have been praised for its sleek design and intuitive user interfaces.
According to mobile industry group GSM Association, the connected home market is expected to reach $10 billion this year and may grow as large as $44 billion by 2017. Further, 9to5Mac’s sources noted that Apple is deeply interested in this lucrative market and that the smart home products it is developing will be intended for “mainstream” usage.
Per 9to5Mac’s sources, some of the mainstream smart home products in development may include a connected speaker system or a smart home control panel. A smart speaker system might make use of resources that Apple gained from its recent acquisition of Beats Electronics, while a control panel might be something as simple as a wall-mounted iPad.
Although HomeKit allows users to operate their connected home products through their iPhones, an in-home control panel would provide users with a readily accessible hub for all of their smart products without having to worry about constantly having an iPhone close at hand. It may also provide users with some assurance if they know that they can always operate their connected home products even if their iPhone or other mobile device is misplaced or stolen.
While it is unknown what form this in-home control panel would take, some industry commentators have previously suggested that the Apple TV product could easily be converted into a hub for managing connected home devices. Whatever smart home products Apple has up its sleeves, it appears that the Cupertino-based company is getting ready to delve deeper into the connected home market.
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