How Steve Jobs Rattled the Home Automation Industry

CE Pro Person of the Year Steve Jobs accomplished what others could not in the 20-year history of home automation.

Julie Jacobson · December 8, 2011

I can hear it now: Why on earth would the leading magazine for the custom electronics industry select Steve Jobs as Person of the Year, a guy who seemingly slaughtered margins for CE pros? Who made it nearly impossible to sell $10,000 touchscreens for the home? Who compromised the high standards of customization set by our fair industry?

Let me reiterate first that we never promised to anoint the person who had the most positive impact on our industry in 2011 - only the most disruptive. Having said that, I believe that many or most in the CE pro community would suggest that Steve Jobs has been a hugely beneficial force in the custom industry.

He did what utilities, security companies, cable companies, the Internet, ubiquitous mobile phones and other presumed “Trojan horses” could not do in the 20-year history of home automation: bring it to the masses.

He did this by putting an engaging, low-cost controller in millions of hands, and providing a platform that developers want to build on.

Over the years, many in our industry have blamed the relative disinterest in home automation on a lack of standards. I have largely dismissed such notions in the past, suggesting that protocol bridges are so ubiquitous and so inexpensive that they mitigate the need for home control standards.

It seems the late Steve Jobs proved me wrong. Oddly, though, the standards he developed and popularized had nothing to do with wireless networking or some other communications protocol usually associated with home control.

What he standardized was the interface: It’s not perfect, but it’s simple enough and cheap enough; it lacks native or rich support for flash and multitasking, but it works with plenty of compelling apps and services; you can’t customize it all that much, but then, it doesn’t crash all that much either.

Most importantly, though, because it’s so ubiquitous - for whatever reason - people know how to use it, they’re comfortable with it, and they want to do more with it.

So that really does disrupt the custom electronics business. More people are now aware of home control because scores of interesting apps have been developed around iOS devices - many of which have been popularized through mass-marketing campaigns by ADT, Comcast, Schlage, Verizon and others, including Apple itself.

So where do integrators make money now? Not so much on touchscreens anymore. And not so much on programming a customized user interface.

At the same time, though, a greater access to connecting and controlling causes more confusion among consumers … and therefore more opportunities for CE pros. Is that disruptive or what?!

Person of the Year Nominees
We invited the CE Pro community to suggest candidates for our first annual CE Pro Person of the Year. While your picks are some of our favorite folks in the industry, they didn’t quite have the impact as Steve Jobs. Thanks for submitting these write-in candidates, in order of popularity:

Johnny Mota (@JMOTA3), integrator, #avtweeps extraordinaire
Aaron Gutin, Access Networks
#avtweeps, Twitter community
Julie Jacobson (gosh, thanks)
Daniel Tonks,
Gary Miller,

  About the Author

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. Email Julie at [email protected]

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  Article Topics

Blogs · Apple · Steve Jobs · All Topics
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