The Intelligent iHome Cometh, If Apple's Patent Ideas Come True

Home automation has never been easy or cheap, but new patents from Apple hint at a promising future for the tech.

Apple has filed a new patent in the U.S. patent office with the nearly incomprehensible name, "System and method of determining location of wireless communication devices/persons for controlling/adjusting operation of devices based on the location." But its overly technical title conceals one fabulously interesting fact: The patent is all about different ways that networked technology could automate systems in the home. Apple's idea is not just a super-smart remote control switch for your lighting either—it would be able to track a user's location in and near the home and then intelligently react.

Apple's patent imagines everything from your TV to your tablet to your car would communicate, through a hub device, to your home's thermostat, lighting system, telephone, dishwasher, stove and so on. By using "trigger" devices and events, such as detecting your car pulling into the parking space or your cellphone crossing the threshold at the front door, the house would be able to preemptively respond, perhaps by unlocking the front door as your car arrives or turning the coffee machine on as you walk in the door. The idea is a step beyond internet-connected electrical outlets or lighting solutions like Philips' Hue—Apple imagines the house would be intelligent and would look at the house occupant's movements within the home to try to predict what their next actions would be. The key to all of this is location and movement data.

If you think this patent is a glimpse of a far-off future, then you should remember the Nest "smart" thermostat, which learns your heating desires. And then you should remember that Apple's just designed its M7 motion chip to permanently monitor movement of devices like the iPhone 5S with just a tiny drip of power. Why would Apple be interested in doing this? It's about the app ecosystem of course—think of the lucrative "home apps" category in iTunes, and the ways it could monetize an iHome system and its data.

[Image: Flickr user Gareth Saunders]

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