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Apple to make home appliances talk to iPhone

Posted: 03 Jun 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple  IoT  MFi  smart home  iOS 

Apple is likely to pre-empt Google with its Internet of Things (IoT) strategy—to control a host of IoT devices including light bulbs, door locks, refrigerators, thermostats, and washing machines with the iPhone. The tech giant is expected to lay out its plan on its home front at the Worldwide Developer Conference next week.

Apple's iPhone will serve as a screen to set up each of these IoT devices (since some of them are physically too small to have a screen of their own) and automatically connect them to the home network, after which the iPhone becomes the smart home's all-purpose remote control.

EE Times has learned that the key to its execution is a wireless chip—WiFi, Bluetooth, or Zigbee—and an MCU, combined with a piece of software that allows each IoT device to be certified as an MFi (Made For iPhone/iPad/iPod) device.

Made for iPhone

The MFi label.

The beauty of the scheme is twofold.

First, it's simple. Consumers no longer need to worry about setting up from scratch a home network of their own. They don't have to think about a hub or which devices may or may not work on their network. They can simply hunt for the MFi label on home appliances and IoT gadgets in the home or at the store. This will assure that they can set up their own smart home and control it from an iOS device.

Second, it's inclusive. There's no need for Apple to build its own refrigerator or thermostat to realise Apple's smart home dream. Nor does Apple need to talk every home appliance or IoT device vendor into using a special software-based automation layer controlled by Apple. All Apple asks is to have each device MFi certified.

The simple connectivity function and MFi certification embedded in each IoT device will do the job of setting up the smart home to be controlled by an iOS device.

In contrast, sure, Google already owns Nest thermostats, but Google's Android OS isn't anywhere close to pulling off a similar smart home network scheme by using an Android phone. Android has no equivalent to MFi. Without it, the Android ecosystem, for now, is running the risk of building a fragmented smart home. Samsung does one thing, while LG does another—that sort of thing.

The MFi scheme would place no limits to what sort of wireless connectivity needs to be used for each IoT device. If it is a door lock, it probably makes sense to use Bluetooth Smart. For a washing machine—or any other appliance plugged into a wall—adding WiFi enables each one to communicate with cloud services through the home network, sending an alert if it breaks down. If light bulbs are set up as part of the network, ZigBee would be the choice of wireless technology.

Earlier this week, the Financial Times broke a story headlined "Apple sees the light in push for Jetsons-style home automation." EE Times has independently verified what are likely to become the building blocks for Apple's smart home plan by speaking to industry sources, although they declined to give their names.

- Junko Yoshida
  EE Times





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