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Apple Eying Home Automation, Its Patents Reveal

Last week, a number of new patent applications from Apple (AAPL) came to light. Taken together, they only further the notion that Apple wants to automate homes and even small businesses, making iOS devices central to consumer lives in virtually everything they do.

I first mentioned Apple's interest in home automation back in June. There's a reason Steve Jobs has kept the Apple TV product going for so long, even though it has a small number of users, particularly if you compare it to an iPad or iPhone. But now it looks as though the new version will also run iOS.

Then there was a patent titled Wireless home and office appliance management and integration. The patent, which Apple first filed as a provisional patent in 2004, discusses an essential problem in home electronics: a cacophony of manufacturers, functions, and user interfaces. Think of how many different remotes many people have. Except, the patent extends far beyond entertainment electronics. It mentions music and television, yes, but also lighting, dishwashers, and even hot tubs. A "PDA" becomes the remote.

Out of 11 patent applications last week, some described how third-party devices could receive data wirelessly from iOS systems:

The applications include references to multiple potential external accessories that could communicate with a device like an iPhone. Many of them have already been established with the forthcoming AirPlay standard, including external speaker systems, video players and other multimedia devices.Some, however, suggest Apple's short-range wireless capabilities could expand to new areas, including home appliances (like a refrigerator or dishwasher), exercise equipment, security systems, home or office automation, cameras, user input devices (a mouse or game controller are mentioned), measurement device, medical devices, or automobiles and automobile accessories (like a car stereo system).
The third-party aspect, which would allow iOS gear to connect to devices that Apple didn't make, is key. There is simply no way that Apple could begin to make cars, refrigerators, home security systems, or exercise equipment. But it doesn't need to if it can connect to and control all of it.


Image: Flickr user Ian Muttoo, CC 2.0.
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