Apple has just been granted a new patent (via AppleInsider) which describes a very comprehensive system for controlling connected home devices. The elaborate setup would make it possible for Apple to use location data fed from things like your iPhone and iPad, as well as use of credit cards or RFID badges to inform automated systems of a user’s whereabouts, and do things like turn on or off power, climate control, lights and more.
The system described works very much like geo-fencing does currently with Apple’s own native Reminders app on iOS: Once a user exits or enters a pre-determined location, other actions are triggered. Instead of simply alerting someone of something they wanted to remember, however, the system described can essentially turn an entire household or office off and on, and prepare it for comfortable human occupancy.
It’s a little more complex than simple geo-fencing, however. The patent describes an information-gathering system that would be able to incorporate not only where a user is and where they’re going, but also what activities they’re engaging in along the way. This would make their location predictions more accurate, since they could include estimates about when exactly someone will arrive. The location data is either polled at regular intervals from devices like iPhones, gathered from fixed remote devices like keycard receivers, or when trigger events communicate with software on iOS or Mac devices, such as when they connect to a specific cell tower.
A smart connected home is one thing, but the really desirable goal of all home automation is a system that anticipates your needs and responds without any user input, operating at maximum efficiency. That’s exactly what Apple describes in this system, and it’s done using devices that Apple is already actively selling to users, with the very same capabilities already built-in.
The question here is exactly how much it would take on the user’s side, in terms of time, effort and resources to implement such a system, should Apple decide to make it a feature of its products. Apple certainly has the ecosystem on its side in terms of device-making partners, but it may be another few years before users are at the point where they’re willing or ready to accept the cost of setting up the infrastructure for something like this. Still, it’s a very intriguing route for Apple to explore, and could offer some glimpse at where iOS is headed down the road.