The connected home is Apple’s for the taking

There’s a huge battle taking place between tech companies, one that doesn’t getting nearly the attention it deserves. It’s not the fight between Google and Apple in mobile, or Facebook versus Twitter in social… It’s the fight for our living rooms.

It’s about who will be the preferred tech provider in our home and hearth, and who will empower our lifestyles in the 21st Century

Look at tech today. Everything is “connected”, and yet… It’s not. Does your XBox 360 “talk” to your Windows laptop? Does your iPhone connect to our TV? In some ways, yes, through proxy apps that service very specialized functions… But in general, it doesn’t. We have specialized devices with specialized apps and we have to jump through numerous different hoops to get things done. It works, but it’s not optimal.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s obvious why it IS that way. We have gadgets from dozens of different companies in our homes. Just looking at my family room, I have the following: a TV from LG, a DirecTV receiver that runs Linux, a Sony Blu-Ray player, a Vizio sound bar, a Microsoft game console… And nearby an iPad and an iMac. Only two of those devices are from the same company, and the notion that they can all “talk” to each other… Ludicrous.

One of the things that is great about the Internet is that it has standards, protocols that everyone HAS to play along with to make everything work. For the most part, consumer electronics doesn’t have that, and many companies look at compatibility as a dirty word (I’m looking at you, Sony).

I’m an open source guy, and so I love the idea that open standards can be set (even more than they are today) to connect computing devices, to make things easier and empower users… But someone has to LEAD, someone has to have a vision to make this happen.

When I wonder who could be that leader, I can only think of one company, one that already has the hearts and minds of the majority of consumers, a company that can align consumer electronics with user needs better than anyone… that company is Apple.

I think that Apple has both the vision and the ability to execute that Microsoft and Sony lacks. Microsoft has worked for more than a decade to capture the living room, to “own” that space, and they have done great work with the Xbox gaming system… But I think that, as good as they have been, it’s not enough. They haven’t thought big enough, looked at all the ways that integrated devices could empower our lives. It’s a lack of vision. Sony has that vision, but they can’t pull all the pieces together and they have lost market share and consumer confidence.

Imagine a true connected home… Where computers are smart servers for “not-so-smart” clients, like alarm clocks, ovens, or security systems… Apple can make that happen. Imagine asking a Siri-powered alarm clock what your schedule was tomorrow, and seeing it display in front of you to review and change. Think of sending a recipe to our oven from your computer and seeing it per-heat while you prep the ingredients. Think about home automation writ large, with temperature, lighting and devices powering on when you enter a room. Think about how many ways a truly connected home could make our lives simpler and better.

There are hints that Apple is already looking at this space. They have started selling the Nest internet-enabled thermostat in their stores, made by a company run by a former Apple executive. They have been working with automakers to add Siri connectivity to their cars. Apple can buy, build or partner with companies to make this happen, if they have the vision and the will.

The benefits of such an offering is obvious: the more integrated Apple can make their devices in people’s lives, the more dependent consumers become on Apple products. Integration ensures upgrades, and profits, for years to come.

Steve Jobs famously said that he had “cracked” the TV experience. I hope he had some great ideas he can pass on to his team before his death, but even more than that, I hope he had a broader vision than just television. I hope he saw a future where everything worked together, where data followed the user and wasn’t locked to our devices… A future that empowered people could use technology to lead better lives.

We’ll see, but I know this: The future is going to be a lot more interesting than we imagine. And that excites me.

A lot.