It’s time for new hardware at the center of Apple’s home strategy

Tech companies are still investing huge amounts of time and energy in smart-home products, as the recent Consumer Electronics Show displayed. A year ago, Apple hired a new head of home products—but it hasn’t yet resulted in a lot of visible changes to Apple’s strategy.

The biggest move so far is Apple’s joining forces with its competitors to form an alliance to encourage smart-home interoperability. That’s a good start, and I’m hopeful that Apple can begin to push HomeKit forward in 2020.

Last year, I suggested that Apple make a new version of the Apple TV and HomePod that works as a TV soundbar. I’d still like to see that product. But now, for 2020, here’s another hardware suggestion: Apple can contribute to the smart-home industry and its own bottom line by doing what it does best, namely creating a new product that’s a fusion of hardware, software, and cloud services. It’s time for Apple to build a product that makes your home smarter and more secure. It’s time for Apple Home.

The needs of the home

Apple got out of the home router game a while ago, with the discontinuation of the AirPort line. I’m recommending that Apple bring it back, because today’s smart homes require rock-solid wireless connectivity, and while Apple’s two biggest competitors have home-network offerings, Apple’s got nothing. An Apple-built mesh networking system a la Amazon’s Eero seems like a natural.

airport extreme Apple

Apple AirPort Extreme

Apple also needs to consider the security and privacy of its customers. It has spent time updating its software, most notably Safari, to discourage the profiling and tracking of its users, but some of the most valuable personal information leaks out in every Internet connection through the IP address, which can act as a unique identifier and provide geolocation. Internet service providers can also snoop on the traffic being sent over their networks, and even collect and sell that data. But this can all be thwarted with the judicious application of a VPN, or Virtual Private Network.

Now consider the security of some smart-home devices like home security cameras. Apple began to address this with the introduction of HomeKit Secure Video, a feature of iCloud that stores audio and video from home video cameras encrypted in iCloud, rather than being stored on some random camera vendor’s website. It’s a good start, but it does require streaming video across your home internet connection. What if that video could be saved locally on an encrypted device?

Finally, consider how much more intelligent a “smart home” could become if there’s a device at the center of it, orchestrating different devices through automation rules both simple and complex? Currently Apple has implemented an initial version of this concept that runs on the Apple TV or an iPad (so long as it stays in the house). Imagine a more powerful device that was always attached to your devices and could make them work in concert.

Are you getting it yet? These aren’t different products. It’s a single hardware product, the Apple Home.