Our residences are long overdue for a technological makeover. More and more electronics have, over the years, found their way into houses and apartments: Everything from thermostats to ovens and washing machines are, for all intents and purposes, run by small computers. To boot, many dwellings are now completely covered by wireless networks that can carry very significant amounts of data, without requiring expensive wiring.
It stands to reason, then, that all the pieces are finally in place for home automation to go from an ill-fitting luxury that only few can afford to a commonplace aspect of every home. What's missing is a "unifying technology" that can bring every appliance under a common umbrella where they can communicate with each other.
While Apple hasn't announced any specific plans in this space, it has been quietly busy putting into place technologies that could well turn iOS into the hub around which our homes will revolve in the not-so-distant future.
I know where you are
Home automation is not, of course, a new concept. Systems that allow you to remotely manage your lighting and heating have been around for years, and simpler technologies — such as light switches that activate when you walk into a room — have been commonplace for many decades now.
Many of these systems, however, rely on too much active participation on the user's behalf. A motion sensor will only be able to "see" you if you move, which means that you can't rely on it to, say, illuminate the living room while you try to quietly read a book in your armchair. Even the smartest of smart thermostats currently on the market is still only as effective as where you put it, and many families keep theirs in locations — such as by a dwelling's main door — far away from where people spend most of their time.
Apple's technologies have been slowly building up to a point where they can intelligently determine where people are in the house. In my family, for example, it's rare that someone will be in a room without being accompanied by an iOS device that they are actively using. Add a temperature sensor to an iPhone or an iPad, and you end up with a thermostat that follows you around the house and can provide your central heating system with precious information on exactly which rooms need to be climate-controlled.
This "presence awareness" can be complemented by the kind of hyper-locality that Apple has been engineering into its Bluetooth initiatives. The company's iBeacon technology allows tiny, inexpensive devices to pinpoint your precise location with a high degree of accuracy inside any building. As long as you are in possession of (or maybe even wearing) a compatible device, iBeacons will work whether you are moving or standing still, in blazing sunlight or in the dark, and whether the device itself is in plain sight or buried under a pile of books.
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