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Wall to wall Apple: How iOS could make its way into your home

Marco Tabini | March 28, 2014
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.

With these technologies in place, it's not hard to imagine a compatible heating system that can determine which rooms in the house are occupied and focus its climate controlling abilities on them, or lights that can automatically turn themselves on and off as you walk from room to room.

Conquering the living room

Apple's efforts in the home media automation space have, so far, met with results that can, at best, be described as "mixed." At $100, the Apple TV is less expensive than competition like Microsoft's and Sony's consoles, but it doesn't offer any interactive features like games or apps. And, compared to the Chromecast, the Apple TV comes at a steeper price point and takes up more space, although Google's product cannot function as a standalone device.

But given how uncharacteristically chatty company executives have been on its status as a "hobby," it's likely that the set-top box is due for a major overhaul, through which it will probably gain some significant new features.

One area where Apple could really set its media center apart from the competition is the user interface. Remotes are about as futuristic as typewriters, and replacing them with a smartphone — something you can already do today — only marginally reduces the complexity of interacting with your television.

There are several signs that the company may have an ace up its corporate sleeve here. For one thing, it acquired 3D vidion pioneer PrimeSense at the end of last year; this could mean that the next Apple TV might be able to see you walk into your living room and allow you to control your viewing experience through a series of simple gestures. (If that sounds familiar, it's because PrimeSense technology was also behind the original version of Microsoft's Kinect.)

In addition, recent versions of the Apple TV support Bluetooth LE, which is exactly the kind of technology you are likely to find in wearable devices — itself a market that Apple seems to be eyeing with increasing interest. Who knows: In the near future we may finally be able to stop looking for our remotes under the sofa's cushions and instead control our TV sets directly from our wrists.

Siri, Siri everywhere

Since its introduction in 2010, Siri has been a bit of a hit-and-miss affair; even after shedding its "beta" moniker, Apple's virtual assistant often fails to complete fairly basic tasks, and I, for one, still can't get over the strangeness of speaking to a phone instead of on one.

Still, Siri's goofy voice and sassy demeanour are, in a sense, a bit of a red herring; voice is just an interface that we use to interact with what is likely a massive web of artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms — think of it as a means for Siri to receive commands and send back responses. As iOS's ability to interact with the real world increases, data collected from the environment around us can be automatically fed into Apple's digital brain to supplement the information that we provide it by speaking into a microphone, and its output, rather than come out of a speaker, can be directed to connected appliances throughout your house.

 

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