Why An Apple Smoke Detector Makes So Much Sense

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 16.16.35

Hello, and welcome to Apple Must, where I’m short on hyperbole but try to sketch out a few ideas from time-to-time. Today I just wanted to make a few notes about the “Apple may make a smoke detector” meme.

Synopsis: An Apple patent describes a way to use electronic devices already on your network to sense smoke from fires. As reported this is being put about as “your iPhone will spot when the fire is raging”, which is frankly of no use at all if you are out of your house and have your iPhone with you.

So how can it make sense?

Easy. HomeKit. Apple has already evolved HomeKit as a secure and relatively private way to bring smart homes online. As part of this it has figured out how to use Apple TV as a kind of relay station between your out-of-the-home iOS devices and your at-home smart “things”. Much more on this here.

Now think about it like this – all those iOS devices around your home may be able to sense smoke. But, so will an iOS-based or HomeKit-compatible smoke detector. What usually happens when smoke detectors go off is you do one of three things:

  1. Run round your home apologizing to neighbours for burning something in the kitchen, while swearing at the smoke alarm(s) system(s) you are desperately trying to switch off. (User interface, what user interface?)
  2. Run screaming into the street because your house is on fire.
  3. Rely on your neighbors to hear the alarm and call the fire brigade.

I think there are several inefficiencies here.

Now think about it this way: When the smoke alarm (or motion sensor) is triggered in your home, Apple’s patent suggests it is working on a way to let your external and internal iOS devices know about the event. Apple goes one better in this system: Not only will it be able to dial emergency services and figure out where in the building everyone is, but I think the capacity to monitor and control the safety and security of your home from anywhere using your Apple TV will be the game changer.

You’ll be able to silence the alarm from your device, if you’re not at home you’ll be able to figure out what’s happening – and in all of this you’ll be secure No personal data shared and hackers are unlikely to be able to break into your devices that steal your data, figure out your movements or plan a break in. Sort of like Nest, but better, and also upgradeable…

This also fits quite nicely into claims Apple may finally have got HomeKit ready for prime time, following a couple of years of false starts while the company encountered unexpected interoperability, security and reliability hurdles.

WWDC should be interesting, people.

Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

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