The Financial Times has got a scoop on what Apple is planning at its Worldwide Developer Conference next week – namely placing itself at the heart of the connected home.
This could mean that iOS devices will be able to control all aspects of the home; not just entertainment (like music and TV, where Apple has long been a key player) but also things like lighting and home security. The iPhone, iPad and Apple TV will, if the FT is right, be the remotes for all of this.
Apple, of course, is not marching into virgin territory here as Google (with its $3.2bn purchase of Nest – interestingly the same price tag Apple is rumoured to have offered to buy Beats), Samsung and others have already muscled into this space. Apple’s scheme will be open to third-party manufacturers but they will have to be approved – much like companies developing peripheries for the iPhone and iPad have to be in order to be stocked in Apple stores.
The next step for Apple would be the leap into wearables (rumours of the iWatch come back every few months), but the tech hysteria around “the internet of things” makes the home a key battleground for the biggest technology companies.
Does this suggest that Apple is moving away from entertainment content and into broader hardware? The dip in music downloads in the US last year suggests a company that is having a gun put to its head to evolve. Streaming (and the possible acquisition of Beats) could help here, but this is a tough market where the margins are slim and none of the incumbents are turning a profit yet.
The upgrade cycle for home hardware is a lot slower than for phones, tablets and computers (fridges, TVs, even light bulbs are expected to run for years, or even decades), but this is clearly a play for ubiquity, where Apple becomes the omni-platform in everyone’s lives and then knits different parts of its business together. Maybe there is a place here for music, where Apple serves up tunes based on what you are doing at home. Romantic music that plays automatically if you dim the lights, summer jams if you put on the air conditioning and thematic playlists when you open the fridge (Ice Cube, Orange Juice, Meat Loaf). Or maybe not.