The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

Oct 22

Written by: John Sciacca
10/22/2012 5:07 PM  RssIcon

Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” – Steve Jobs

I finally cracked it.” – Steve Jobs

Apple has made some pretty big moves lately.

First, the iPhone5 launched a few weeks ago, shattering iPhone4S sales numbers by selling a million more units (5 MM 5’s compared to 4 MM 4S’s) over the launch weekend. All eyes are now turning to the anticipated imminent announcement of the latest member of the iOS family, an “iPad Mini.” (A product I previously felt was useless, but now – after living with an iPhone5 for two weeks and an iPad2 for 18+ months – feel there is room for in the line-up. The iPhone5’s screen is not quite big enough and the iPad not quite portable enough. An iPad Mini could fit that Goldilocks’ “just right” wheelhouse right in the middle.)

And many people are still been hyping and claiming that Apple’s “next big thing” will be an Apple TV. (I don't believe this. In fact, I've already written 10 reasons why I'm not betting on an Apple TV, so I won't rehash them here.)

In fact, I don’t feel that a phone or another incarnation of the iPad or any other current “iDevice” will be truly be Apple’s next BIG thing.

No. Instead I’d like to offer an alternative postulation for the next BIG product from the largest company in the world. One that I think they could reinvent, own the market for and use to expose an entirely new demographic to the Apple “it just works” culture.

First, Apple does nothing small. They do things on the million or – in the case of iTunes – BILLION units scale. They are never going to be able to sell that many TVs. The market is too established, and even the coolest TV in the history of TVs – with a corresponding Apple price point – is only going to be able to sell *so* many sets. And people don’t view televisions with the annual ditch-and-upgrade mentality of phone, tablets and computers meaning the vast majority of TV owners won’t abandon a relatively new HD set just to purchase an Apple branded one.

No, the place where Apple can dominate the market will be an entirely new product category for them. (Yes, I realize that TV also fits this bill.) Just as they reimagined music players, music delivery, phones, and tablets, Apple could branch out and take over energy management. Specifically, lighting controls – dimmers and switches – and HVAC (thermostat) control.

Imagined Apple Dimmer courtesy Matt D Scott, Omega Audio/Video.
Now, you might not think that a dimmer is sexy enough for Apple to be interested. But you know what else didn’t use to be sexy? Computers. Or music players. Or phones. But Apple has made a pretty fair penny focusing on those products.

Further proof that there is room in this market and that these products can be sexy is the Nest. An ex-Apple employee creates a slickly redesigned thermostat – Nest – last year and the industry went gaga. All of the trade and tech pubs gushed over how amazing this was and how it reinvented an entire category, actually getting people excited about a device they only previously considered when it was too hot or cold. Now imagine if Nest had *actually* been an Apple thermostat. With all the power, branding, support, design and integration behind it?

But ultimately, you know what IS sexy to Apple? Profits and market leading.

Look at the potential market; hundreds of millions of existing homes, each with dozens of light switches and one or more thermostats. The vast majority of which are outfitted with technology that hasn’t changed much since the ‘50s. All of which are ripe to be retrofitted and upgraded with cool new tech. That is a *massive* potential for explosive growth. (Ex-CEDIA chairman, Utz Baldwin, thinks so too, as his new company, Ube, is looking to play in this same arena.)

And lest you think Apple wouldn’t want to get bogged down making something as pedestrian as a light switch, the thing is, Apple wouldn’t even have to MAKE the physical products; they could just license and supply the tech, much like with AirPlay. Let companies like Leviton, Lutron, Pass and Seymour, Honeywell, Carrier, Trane, etc. build the hardwire – just as audio receiver manufacturers do – and Apple can sit back and do what Apple does best; collect giant royalties and work on designing and perfecting an app that would be sexy as hell.

The dimmers and thermostats are only a very small part of the story, as I think the key component will be something along the lines of AirPlay. Now, I freely admit that I don't know exactly how Apple’s AirPlay – the crazy-cool technology that allows you to wireless transmit audio and (with certain devices) video from an iPhone/Touch/Pad or Mac to enabled components – works, but it requires some kind of chip that “lives” in the receiving object. And, if we know nothing else about chips, it's that they rapidly get smaller, more powerful, AND cheaper with time and adoption rates. And now that Apple is the largest company in the world, they can probably negotiate some pretty sick rates at the Foxconn negotiating table. Especially when you are talking about orders potentially in the hundreds of millions of units.

Now let's think bigger than AirPlay’s audio and video and graduate to something bigger I’ll call AirLife. This new AirLife management app would automatically discover, name and configure multiple lighting and HVAC and other energy management products around the home and then control multiples of them by easily creating scenes within the app.

So, imagine that Apple does get into the automation and control market, and then throwd the whole weight of its design, marketing and integration resources behind it. You think consumers would purchase Apple tech enabled lighting dimmers or HVAC controllers with a small price premium? Think that Apple would maybe sell a few million (or more) nation/worldwide with the promise of simplified Apple, automated, integrated energy management from customer’s already existing iPads, iPhones, iTouch and Macs? With the ability to easily log in and view/monitor/manage these devices from anywhere in the world?

I’ve gone to this well before, but there is a quote I heard from Russound’s CEO, Charlie Porritt, at dinner last year. Porritt said that while Russound was meeting with Apple to implement AirPlay into a new media streamer, an Apple exec held up a key component and said, “This part costs $15 (at manufacture) right now. What would you do if it was $1? How would that change what you made? How would that change what you do?” This Apple mind-think is what leads them to constantly dominate new categories they choose to enter. Why couldn’t lighting and automation be the next?

Then think a little bigger as AirLife becomes fully integrated into the iOS ecosystem. With embedded control and scheduling via Siri – “OK, John. I’ll remember to turn the lights off when you go to bed” – synched with your Calendar and tied into your “location,” you would have a system that is truly smart and knows *exactly* when you’re home and that could reliably and accurately adjust settings. Or know what the weather is and what it will be to proactively make changes. Or even automatically turn devices off when you leave or before you enter a room.

With the iPhone, iTouch and iPad, Apple put the control system in place. With AirPlay, Apple demonstrated how easy it is to control your music library from the palm of your hands. By thinking outside their normal box, the next small step for Apple might just be a giant step for Apple-kind. And if Jobs taught us anything about Apple, it’s that they have no box.

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.

8 comment(s) so far...


Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

Well. If they get into light switches, dimmers and climete control then heres what I think....

They may as well get into a complete automation system. Since there are plenty of 3rd part companies making IOS IP control systems and someof them cant even do what they say until a firmware upgrade comes out then I think since these 3rd parties can kinda get IP systems based on IOS to work then I think Apple them self should come out with a complete system that actually does indeed work and completely take the world of automation by storm. Since the rest of us CI's are all gaga for Ipad controlers and some of us CI's like me that have just got their hands on an IPad for the 1st time have come to relise we better get familure with IOS devices since the industry is REALLY dictating that the next level in system control is going to be IP and its going to be on an apple device one way or another. If Apple was to make a full product line that complete integrates as easy as the rest of theier products they could be the only control system any one has ever wanted. Just like saying the word Crestron everyone knows what your talking about soon you could just say "Apl-Control" :) , or whatever name they would call their system and you would know you were talking about an Apple Automation control system.
Other companies have made light switches and dimmers that only work with their own remotes and some that can be integrated into 3rd party control systems but hell, if your talking about apple doing it they may as well then make a complete system as it would be completly stupid for a Custom Integrator to sell Apple Switches, dimmers and thermostas and then have to control them with a Savant, Control4, or URC system. It would only then make perfect sence to control with with some kind of autiomation system fully designed by the same maker.
So if they start with switches and dimmers and thermostats then how long do you think it would take them to relise they should make a control system? It took me 3 seconds to figure that out it will problably take them .5 millisecond.
So as I just got my hands on an I pad and am comtemplating on eventually integrating an IP system into my theater and whole home audio system, not that I need it as my current RF autiomation system works flawless and still has tons of room for expanding. Id like to learn more about IP control and get profecient about one system I have become certified on and beleive will do the things they say it does and is designed to do RIGHT NOW and not 5 firmware updates planned fo the future, mabe I need to wait and see what the next big apple product will be because if its light switchs and dimmers and thermostates Im sure it wont be long before its automation.

By Victor ciccarone on   10/23/2012 12:48 PM

Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

First, apple will never sell anything to consumers that requires a third party to install. Not talking about commercial market here.
Second, the retrofit lighting market would never exist in numbers large enough to satisfy a company like Apple. There's a reason the tech has remained the same since the 50's.

What you need to ask yourself is, how many steps are there to manage my music with iTunes? How many steps are there to playing a movie on AppleTV. How many steps are there to open an app on my iPhone/iPad or Mac Book Pro?
Now, how many steps are there in dissecting what my home automation needs are?

No matter how amazing of a wizard Apple could come up with, there would never be enough consumers who would sit through setting up home automation to justify Apple manufacturing such products.

By Mr. P on   10/23/2012 1:10 PM

Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

Have to agree with Mr.P on the fact that Apple has never and (presumably) would never release a product that can't be un-boxed and immediately used strictly by the 3rd parties involved. Thinking of all my fanatic Apple friends, very few of them have the ability or desire to change out a light switch themselves.

That said, I can definitely appreciate your 30,000ft view on what it would be like to use Siri to control your house. Looking at Apple's track record for creating services and platform for others to develop or market on top of (iTunes as a platform for artists, AirPlay as a platform for audio manufactures, iOS as a platform for developers) I can see Apple dipping it's toe into some type of platform for the home energy and management industry to build on.

By opening up the Siri app as a platform to which others can use for their own services, Apple would have what it typically gets out of the deal...they become the hub for which all the developers and manufacturers go through. Don't you think that if Apple suddenly opened up Siri for 3rd parties to develop on for voice control that every manufacturer in our industry wouldn't suddenly double down on the number of Apple developers they have on their team and the number of Siri-enabled devices they'd release? You know they would. It's happened with AirPlay. I also think the corresponding result of that would be a new breed of manufacturers more interested in design.

On another note...when I saw the iMac yesterday and how unbelievable thin it is, the first thing I thought was, "man, what would that look like hanging on a wall".

By Ryan Arp on   10/24/2012 10:54 AM

Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

Thanks for reading and taking the time to share your comments.

I think the "genius" of a potential Apple system is that there wouldn't need to be a dedicated "automation controller" as we current know it. The logic would reside in the dimmer/switch/HVAC device itself, and then be controlled by the iOS -- Pad/Touch/Phone -- device of choice. This would take a massive amount of the complexity out of the equation, and initial could be handled much the way a new iPhone/Pad is configured with that first time walk-thru. Add a new device, and a notification would pop up to have you add it to the system. I think that could be incredibly consumer friendly.

Mr. P, how could you say, "the retrofit lighting market would never exist in numbers large enough to satisfy a company like Apple"? There are likely close to a *billion* potential devices out there in the retrofit market. That seems like a pretty large market...


By John Sciacca on   10/24/2012 11:11 AM

Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

Just to be fair to Mr. P, don't you agree that lighting control is still a tough sell for even CI professionals who are used to hand-holding a client through the sales process? I just don't think most people put much thought into dimming their lights or creating lighting scenes (until it's been properly demo'd for them or they've seen it in a friend's house). I personally think it's the most important technology in my house and love Lutron's unofficial motto, "Saving Consumers from Bad Lighting, One Dimmer at a Time," but I've been in plenty of houses at night where you could literally perform surgery under the lights they've got turned on. It drives me crazy, but most people are much more passionate about music and Angry Birds, than lighting control.

By Jeremy Glowacki on   10/24/2012 11:18 AM

Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

No, question, Jeremy. And I'm not just agreeing with you because you are my "boss." :-) Lighting control is a tough sell because traditionally it is *quite* expensive, around $130 per dimmer/switch with even more for a keypad and requiring a central processor and programming/integration of some point. I think Apple has a few things in their favor. 1) They're Apple. They have an incredibly name recognition and brand reputation for stuff that works. 2) They have a channel of stores that could very well demonstrate this product to millions of people per day. 3) The price could be hugely less; how much more would lighting control "catch on" if it was $30-40 per dimmer instead of $130?

I think if Apple launched it, people would "put much thought into dimming their lights" because Apple would show them that they need/want to put thought into it...

By John Sciacca on   10/25/2012 11:30 AM

Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

Haha. Apple does have a way to convincing people to do a lot of cool stuff that they'd never thought of before just because their advertising message is so brilliant and they have a huge budget for promoting their products.

By Jeremy Glowacki on   10/25/2012 11:49 AM

Re: The Next Way Apple Can Rule the World

{~Mr. P, how could you say, "the retrofit lighting market would never exist in numbers large enough to satisfy a company like Apple"? There are likely close to a *billion* potential devices out there in the retrofit market. That seems like a pretty large market...~}

It's not the billions of existing devices that makes a's the will to change them out. This market is and will be too small for Apple to go after. On the other hand, I don't know where Apple can go without Steve Jobs. Jobs was a visionary who's goal was to facilitate the shifting of human perception and light switches don't really have a place in that goal. Unless he setup a legacy to continue that vision, Apple will go the way of Microsoft and become increasingly irrelevant so maybe a decision to make light switches isn't that far fetched.

By Mr. P on   10/28/2012 2:42 PM

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