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Apple’s ‘Centralized Home Controller’ Patent Suggests Apple TV as Automation Hub

Speculation mounts on Apple’s smart home announcement at WWDC; patent for home automation hub shows audio, video, voice and data in a single box, suggesting hub as next-gen Apple TV.


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Detail from Apples home controller patent. For all of the illustrations from the patent, check out the slide show below.

No sooner did I post some predictions on Apple’s smart home announcement at next week’s WWDC than a patent was revealed by Patently Apple describing a “centralized home controller.”

Thankfully, such a home automation hub was included in my predictions but I seemed to have been off on that one (see below).

Titled “Integrated home service network,” the patent (#8,593,995) includes this abstract:

The present invention provides a centralized home controller that is used to coordinate a plurality of associated packet communication clients. The home controller provides a centralized and unified control and messaging system for the various packet communication clients. The home controller also allows the packet communication clients to establish and control packet sessions among the associated packet communication clients, as well as between any one of the packet communication clients and remote clients. The packet communication clients are provided in consumer electronics devices, and the associated packet sessions support data, voice, audio, or video content. In one embodiment, the home controller acts as a proxy for the various communications between the packet communication clients.

Because this hub would support voice, audio and video (and not just small home automation packets), we wonder if the next generation of Apple TV could be that hub, which has been speculated.

The new box is rumored to be able to control “other devices” in the home.

If that is the case, there goes my prediction that Apple would acquire other up-and-coming automation-centric hubs such as Revolv or SmartThings. As those devices are more software than hardware, Apple really doesn’t need them anyway. Big prediction fail on my part.

RELATED: Apple Smart Home Predictions: Smart Watches & Home Automation Store

I had predicted that Apple will have its own if/then engine and device integration platform, and with help from Jim Hunter that a new smart watch would be a big part of Apple’s smart home initiative.

More from the patent:

Traditionally, consumer electronics devices have used proprietary control and communication interfaces, which significantly impair the ability of these devices to interact with one another. With such proprietary interfaces, the devices that may interact with one another must be from a common manufacturer or provide a highly related function. For example, certain stereo or home theater electronics components may be connected to facilitate common control and operation. However, such control rarely extends to cable boxes, televisions, computers, or telephony devices.

Given the rapid acceptance of the Internet and packet-based communications and the corresponding convergence of various types of media, including audio, video, voice, and data, there is an ever-increasing desire to provide multimedia capabilities through various devices in an integrated fashion. Unfortunately, the lack of effective integration techniques and the use of proprietary control and communication interfaces continue to provide a barrier to fully exploiting multimedia capabilities.

SEE PATENT IMAGES IN THE SLIDESHOW

To further complicate matters, many consumer electronics devices employ wireless interfaces that use a frequency spectrum used by other devices. For example, many cordless telephones operate in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum. Other wireless devices, such as wireless networking devices using wireless local area network protocols set forth in the IEEE’s 802.11 standards, also operate in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. As such, these devices often compete for the allocated spectrum and interfere with one another. Further, the use of different protocols prohibits these devices from being able to interact with one another.

Although networking and telephony applications are the predominant wireless technologies in the home, there is a movement to deliver audio and video to various speakers, controllers, receivers, and monitors or televisions. In addition to wirelessly delivering the media, the need to provide various types of media for multimedia sessions from the various devices in a coordinated fashion will require concerted control over the respective devices. As such, there is a need for a way to provide an efficient and effective integration and control of the various consumer electronics devices in an efficient and effective manner. …

The present invention provides a centralized home controller that is used to coordinate a plurality of associated packet communication clients. The home controller provides a centralized and unified control and messaging system for the various packet communication clients. The home controller also allows the packet communication clients to establish and control packet sessions among the associated packet communication clients, as well as between any one of the packet communication clients and remote clients. The packet communication clients are provided in consumer electronics devices, and the associated packet sessions support data, voice, audio, or video content. In one embodiment, the home controller acts as a proxy for the various communications between the packet communication clients.

The home controller may include various types of packet interfaces, including a local wireless interface for facilitating wireless communications with one or more of the packet communication clients, a wired interface for establishing ethernet or like connections with one or more of the packet communication devices, as well as an optional broadband interface for accessing a broadband network. The home controller may be integrated into one device or distributed over multiple devices. Further, a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) interface may be provided, wherein the interface provides a gateway that will facilitate the necessary interworking between a traditional telephony line or other circuit-switched connection and the packet-based interworkings of the home controller. In one embodiment, one of the packet communication clients forms a handset for a cordless telephone, wherein the home controller acts like a base of a cordless telephone. As such, telephony calls over the PSTN and coming in through the PSTN interface are relayed to the packet communication client acting as a handset to facilitate telephony operation. In addition to establishing and controlling sessions between and with the various packet communication clients, basic control instructions may be provided to or from the packet communication clients to effectively control the operation of other packet communication clients.

For the nerds in the audience, check out the slideshow for images from the Apple patent.



View the 5 photos attached to this entry
Apple’s ‘Centralized Home Controller’ Patent Suggests Apple TV as Automation Hub


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Article Topics

News · Product News · Home Automation and Control · Control Systems · Apple · Apple Tv · · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

17 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by JBrown  on  05/29  at  01:06 PM

How messed up would it be if the one device no home automation system can competently control became a home automation controller?

Jason Brown
http://www.asktheadvisors.com

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  05/29  at  01:10 PM

Oh, that’s rich, Jason. I’m going to facebook that.

Posted by Michael Kassal  on  05/29  at  01:20 PM

I am amazed that tech writers, column writers, “apple evangilists” and editors alike talk about this as some revolution…..all these diagrams and connections and even a small AppleTV like controller is exactly what Savant Systems released eariler this year and is selling today….being a Savant installer…..my clients are enjoying all these features for the last several years….on their iPhone!  Its hard to not feel like this Apple announcement is very similar to how Microsoft announced their home control initiative 10 years ago.  To me the only thing that would make sense is for Apple to gobble up Savant and improve native iPhone integration with NFC…..Why would apple try to re-invent the wheel?  They need to gobble up a company that has perfected the iPhone total home control niche, and improve it….not start from scratch.

Posted by Soundsophist  on  05/29  at  01:20 PM

Communication over IP across multiple different devices has been done for years.  I can’t see Apple being awarded a patent for something that is being utilized by many other companies right now.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  05/29  at  01:26 PM

Our industry has been doing this for 2 decades. The news has nothing to do with any great new technology (I can’t interpret patents; I don’t know if there’s anything particularly interesting).

What’s news is the mere fact that Apple may well be getting into our business after all these years.

And when they do, it will be disruptive.  Whether it’s better or first has no bearing.

Of course, a patent attorney could better understand if the patent should be valid.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  05/29  at  01:27 PM

Was Nest first or better with a smoke detector? No, but they managed to sell almost a half million in a few months (recalled, granted, but still…).

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  05/29  at  01:27 PM

Sorry, one more thing. Yes indeed, it gets awfully annoying when reporters and analysts outside of this industry think these things are some novel new technology. Makes me nuts.

Posted by Eric Davidson  on  05/29  at  02:42 PM

It is novel to them because our industry has not done a good job promoting what we do.

Posted by Jez Hildred  on  05/29  at  03:42 PM

Eric nails it. Apple has rarely been a technology innovator, but is definitely among the greatest marketing and customer education engines we’ve seen.

Apple excels in taking existing technologies (e.g. GUI interface/mouse, peer to peer PC networking, MP3 portable player, media streaming adapter, tablet computer) and packaging and explaining them to the larger population.

One of their key weapons has been true standardization of everything from human interface guidelines, to hardware interfaces, to 3rd party software/hardware compatibility. Their limited hardware portfolio and training the customer to buy solely through their controlled app store, places them in a unique position to deliver where others have failed.

IF it all comes to pass it will be interesting to see which CI brands can adapt and leverage their brands in such a ‘brave new world’.

Posted by Ed Haase  on  05/29  at  03:52 PM

Sevant, Crestron, Elan, Control 4, and everyone else involved in wholehouse automation and control should get together and do a claims analysis on this patent.  I would be very surprised if there is anything new here that should have been allowed to patent; it would be wise to show the prior art (something that would have been more helpful at the filing of the patent than at the issuing) to the patent office and ask for a review before products are allowed to go to market.  It is also likely that the patent is so narrow as to not really prevent anyone from doing anything important.  Maybe one of the guys from these companies can tell me what’s new about this technology because I just don’t see it, but I don’t know your technology as well as you guys do.  I would be happy to help in the analysis of the claims (which is far more important than the stuff copied from the patent dialogue quoted here), that is something I’m pretty good at.

Posted by Alan Dodds  on  05/29  at  05:59 PM

The important point here is going to be how easy it is to integrate all the devices controlled in a easy, plug and play, relatively affordable way and how the Apple ecosystem will extend into this automation system. If they get it right, it is absolutely going to be disruptive. Blackberry, Microsoft , Nokia and so may other companies can attest to how their business has been disrupted. Personally I feel that al the current automation systems are overly complex and un-intuitive. Apple’s strength is elegant, intuitive interfaces and reliable products that just work - among other things. If Apple is serious about getting into home automation, be prepared to have our business seriously disrupted. Embrace and adapt.

Posted by Justin Turnage  on  05/29  at  08:31 PM

I could be wrong but if you read the flow charts to me the only thing they are trying todo is posably implement appletv with FaceTime and CEC control to turn TV on and select input with maybe ibeacon to pop up the option to select the closest Apple TV to transfer a FaceTime call from your phone, Mac computer, or ipad to an Apple TV. I don’t see anything to lead me to believe they are tring to implement a full blown control system like savant at this time.

Posted by Jay Martin  on  05/30  at  09:42 AM

That looks a lot more like an Airport base station with FaceTime integration (more complex software) than an Apple TV…

Posted by Is that you Bob?  on  05/30  at  12:50 PM

Glad to see the Bob Madonna is posting under the pseudonym Michael Kassal.

Apple isn’t buying Savant. Never will.

If Savant has “perfected the iPhone total home control niche” How can Apple improve it. You can’t improve on perfect.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  05/30  at  01:01 PM

These 2 pieces are all speculative and if Apple IS going to create a home automation hub (patent doesn’t mention automation per se, just that there’s been speculation about it), then it won’t be anytime soon.

More likely for now, as mentioned above, just an integrated facetime, audio, video hub that controls connected A/V gear a la CEC.

If all of these predictions come to pass (they won’t) then it most certainly will be disruptive. It will surely hit some of the DIY HAaaS (home automation as a service) engines hard.

As for the custom market, it will be disruptive kind of like the iPod Touch and iPad were: adjustments will have to be made.

On the business side, again if the predictions come to pass, it simply is another very visible and cheap service that will leave customers wondering: How come YOUR stuff is so expensive when I can get this for practically free?!

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