Yesterday, Apple was awarded a patent for a location-based home automation system that could revolutionize the way we interact with appliances. The patent (No. 8,577,392) details a system that would use a combination of GPS information, cell tower triangulation, and computer access to track a user's location and control devices based on that data. While home automation is nothing new, Apple’s system differs from the norm in that it will not require any input from the user. Instead, it would make use of your habits and locations.
We should point out that this is not an indication that Apple is set to enter into the appliance manufacturing business. So don't expect an iOven to match your iPad any time soon. Instead, this is a patent for software designed to interface with existing and future smart appliances.
Apple envisions a system that would turn on your heating system when you leave work, turn on your exterior lights and open your garage door as you approach your house, and turn on your stereo as you sit down on your couch. All these functions—and more—will be based on location data received from your (presumably iOS-based) smartphone.
Recently, there’s been a huge push by appliance manufacturers and electronics companies to create a unified smart home, and Apple’s market dominance and consumer proliferation could be the magic bullet that finally makes it a reality. Of course, this is just a patent, so don’t expect this technology to show up any time soon. In fact, as with any patent, there's no guarantee that this tech will ever see the light of day at all.
Currently, fully decking out a home with the latest automation technology—including the latest WiFi-enabled appliances—could cost well into the tens of thousands of dollars. But as connected appliances become the standard, those prices are likely to drop. And given the rapid proliferation of smart devices in the marketplace, any home purchased in the next decade is likely to include some form of connected appliance.
There are other reasons to be concerned, beyond the up-front cost. Most notably, Apple’s track record with location-based services doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Hopefully, Apple will figure out how to make location reminders work correctly first, before we trust them with our dishwashers.
Hero image: Luc Legay, Flickr [CC BY 2.0]