Apple TV 2.0? — If I were Tim Cook

Apple TV

Will there be an Apple TV 2.0?

Apple, if you’re listening, here’s some free advice from my decades of Digital Home experience that I don’t mind sharing, since you’re not likely to hire me at my age, and I really do want an enhanced Apple TV. Yesterday, Business Insider wrote that you have an ambitious plan to take over the home, but I’m not sure you know how.

You may have already read The Elusive Smart Home, where I present a video of the RCA-Whirlpool Miracle Kitchen from 1957 and argue that still no one, including Apple, seems to know what it will take to make that Smart Home vision a mainstream reality. Apple, with its Apple HomeKit, however, has real potential when combined with Apple HealthKit and ResearchKit, especially if the company follows my advice and executes right.

Smart Phones as Health Gateways but not Home Gateway

Apple and most other companies these days seem to bet on the smartphone as the centerpiece of the smart home, with the Apple watch as a user interface extension of the “smarts” residing in the phone or tablet. Certainly, the phone has enough computing capacity to be a home gateway and smart home controller, but there are several problems with that thinking:Click on image for larger version

  • Limited Networking — Most smartphones only support 3 network protocols: cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Most current home automation devices, however, rely on ZigBee, Z-Wave, Insteon, X-10, or other protocols. I don’t really see those radio chipsets being added to the phone.

 

  • Limited Proximity — Okay, the smartphone can be a good gateway device when it’s at home, but what happens when you’re away and have the phone with you? You can still use it to control things, but without access to home sensors, it can’t do much automatically on your behalf.

For these two primary reasons, the phone is NOT a good home gateway device, even if it offers a great user interface. One alternative is the home security system, but that’s not controlled by Apple. Another option is to use the broadband modem as a Smart Home gateway with additional radios for home automation devices, since it already supports Wi-Fi, but that’s controlled by the broadband provider and not Apple. So what should apple do?

Apple TV as the Home Gateway

Unlike the phone, the Apple TV is stationary and plugged into 110-v AC power, so battery life would not be an issue, and the TV provides a large display to improve the user interface. Here are some features I’d be sure to add to the next generation Apple TV:

  • Wi-Fi networking as a wireless access point since it already uses Wi-Fi for streaming video and AirPlay.
  • Bluetooth networking, to replace infrared, extends range with more reliable signal sensing and allows the electronics to reside in a cabinet with the door closed.
  • ZigBee, Z-Wave & Insteon at a minimum (Insteon natively supports X-10).
  • Camera so the TV can be used for FaceTime video conferencing. The camera can also be used for gesture recognition and games, like X-Box.
  • Sensors for light (adjust TV brightness and possibly room lights), sound (microphone array for better FaceTime voice quality and SIRI speech recognition), motion (proximity sensing & home security), and possibly temperature & humidity (HVAC control, but nearby electronics produce heat).
  • USB port for optional hard drive(s), BlueRay player/recorder, printer, etc.
  • HDMI input to connect to a digital HD antenna for terrestrial broadcasts and/or a subscription TV service.

The price of the current Apple TV was initially $99 but recently reduced to $69. Since Apple TV 2.0 as I see it has much more power and features, it would be hard to introduce it at $99 but possible at $199. Even as a loss leader, if there’s no profit at that price, Apple could rather quickly gain a dominant foothold on the emerging smart home market. But this still doesn’t address the need, identified in my Elusive Smart Home article, to actually “learn” and then to show the value proposition of a truly smart home.

Where does learned behavior reside?

In the case of the NEST thermostat or a home security panel, it may be in that specific device; and learned behavior can also reside in the Apple TV. But it can also be in the phone or in the Internet cloud. Think of Apple’s music ecosystem with iTunes and the iTunes Music Store. In that model, purchased music may be on your phone, on your PC and in iCloud so it can be shared with family members anywhere. The same model is ideal for storing smart home functions.

Requirements for Mass Market Adoption

If Apple is serious about becoming the dominant force in the emerging Smart Home market and driving it toward mass-market adoption, it needs to focus on these attributes:

  • Value — That’s a combination of Cost and Performance (what it does and what value consumers assign to that).
  • Ease — That’s ease of use, ease of learning, ease of access (available in retail & online), ease of installation (self-configuring & self-repairing), and ease of support.
  • Heterogeneous — It must work with things consumers want to connect: phones, computers, lights, security systems, door locks, HVAC, window shades, pet feeders, and more.
  • Marketing — While retailers like BestBuy and HomeDepot will likely not be able to show the value of so many heterogeneous products working together in a smart home that has learned behavior over weeks, months or years; Apple may be able to do this online. In support of that would be plans to deliver marketing as a trickle through devices the consumer already own: the phone, computer and TV. Make it easy for someone with Apple TV to use their TV to learn what “else” they can do with it.

The Apple TV is long overdue for an update and is essentially the same model that was released in March 2012. So come on Apple, we’re waiting.