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How Apple could innovate the smart home space

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Air Remote lets you control your smart home accessories with your iPhone

The future of smart home

If you’re like me, you were pretty excited when smart home accessories were starting to appear. Internet of things were something everyone talked about! And we’ve come far with these smart devices.

But, after discussing smart home devices with other curious tech people, I recognize that it’s actually not so convenient or necessarily smart to interact and control these smart home accessories.

For instance, to regulate my bathroom lighting, I had to do 11 combined steps on my iPhone. This includes unlocking myphone, finding the Home app, finding correct accessory, etc. But honestly, I felt like I might as well just use my wall switch. 🤷‍♂️

But, why is it that Apple or any other tech giants have created a more seamless way of controlling these smart home accessories?

Dumbledore from the Harry Potter universe using his Deluminator to put out street light.

Well, as an interactive designer, I decided to work on such feature and obviouslly I had to call it… Air Remote.

Note, Magic Remote was already taken by Phillips! 🧙

Air Remote — Control by pointing with your phone

Use air remote to control your Apple TV, HomePod mini, and your lights

Air Remote basically allows you to control your Home accessories by simply pointing your iPhone at them. When your iPhone successfully detects the accessory, unique controls for that accessory will appear on the screen. Super seamless; not setup required.

Just point at your light for air remote to appear on your iPhone
Spatial awareness is used to detect Home accessories.

Let’s try and go more in depth with Air Remote’s features.

It only detects accessories when it is intentional

Through smart motion detection (gyroscope and accelerometer) and U1 chip (will explain further in bottom), all you need to do is to point at the accessory you want to control, and your iPhone will recognize when you intentionally want to control it. In other words, simply being under a pendant lamp will not trigger this interaction; it has to be intentional.

Smart accessory detecter recognize when you point at a smart home accessory
iPhone knows difference between accidental and intentional accessory detection.

Get unique controls for your devices

Depending on the accessory you detect, unique controls for that specific device will appear. So, for your Apple TV, the remote will appear, and vice versa for your HomePod speaker, the music player controls will appear.

Air Remote can work on HomePod mini, Apple TV, light sources, and more

You don’t even have to look on the screen to use

Once an accessory detection happens, you’ll feel a subtle vibration recognizing the connection. This will make it very neat for you to know when you’ve successfully connected to a device. And, because of this, you don’t even need to look on the screen to control your accessory. Just use the volume buttons which now act as controls, e.g., increase/lower light intensity.

Toggle between one accessory or a group of accessories

When I was working on the concept, I realized that it might potentially be annoying to have to point at every single light to lower the intensity. So, I added a toggle that allows you to control any similar accessories (e.g. all lights or speakers) in that same room or home, and then the controls will affect them all collectively.

Toggle allows you to switch between home, room, and one accessory
Relevant accessories will support toggling between an accessory or all in a room that’s correlated.

Imagine the possibilities…

Since the smart home industry is enriched with all sorts of accessories (not only Apple-specific devices), it would only make sense to extend this technology to all of these accessories. One might even argue that for this feature to be a positive experience for users, most devices probably should support Air Remote. Otherwise, the inconsistency around device support could lead to frustration and potentially a “hate” towards Apple for limiting innovation to their products.

Imagine other smart home accessories like air conditioners, air purifiers, bridges, cameras, doorbells, fans, faucets, garage door and more

Is this technologically feasible?

We might not be that far from realizing quick accessory detection like presented in my concept above. Meet Apple’s U1 Chip!

U1 Chip — The discreet powerhouse

Released in 2018 for iPhone 11, the U1 chip is a ultra-wideband, low-energy, short-range radio technology primarily used for wireless data transmission. This chip enables U1-equipped devices to precisely communicate to one another.

Apple’s U1 Chp

Interestingly enough however, there’s still questions as to why Apple released this technology since none of their devices properly utilizes the technology.

Today, the chip is used to add directional AirDropping, allowing devices to share files by pointing at one another. Last year, with the release of HomePod mini, Apple showed another possibility of the U1 chip allowing the speaker to recognize when an iPhone is near. Speculations also exist online that the chip will be used for the rumored upcoming AirTags, AR features, and more.

This probably also answers why we’re yet to see something similar to Air Remote get released; more devices need to support the technology before it makes sense to release a feature like this. Also for this to be a success, Apple would need to offer the chip to 3rd party smart home accessory makers.

Are we yet to see innovations in the smart home industry?

I hope that by sharing this concept work that I inspire others to realize the potentials the tech industry yet has to offer us.

I hope you enjoyed my work and reflections. Keep creating and demanding the tech industry to create great products!


How Apple could innovate the smart home space was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.