While watching the virtual Apple WorldWide Developer Conference on Monday, I imagined that if people were actually at the event, they’d be oohing and aahing over new software for iOS and Mac devices. I wasn’t. Well not quite.
Instead, I was impressed by how much IoT technology Apple is integrating into its product line. No, the company isn’t the first to do this, but with Apple being Apple, they typically implement new functionality in a way that’s easy for anyone to use. In fact, that’s standard operating procedure with Apple: Let others enter a new market or innovate with new features and then come along later to make them more intuitive and usable. And that’s what they’ve done by using IoT throughout their product line.
Take the new CarKey function coming to both the current iOS 13 and the new iOS 14, for example. With it, you’ll be able to tap your iPhone to the door handle of your car and unlock it. Granted, it will take time for CarKey to be supported on a broad range of vehicles, but next month the first ones appear: You can use CarKey with the 2021 BMW 5 Series vehicles.
The feature works with the NFC chip inside the iPhone but it doesn’t stop there.
You can also place your iPhone on the wireless charging pad inside a supported car and press the vehicle’s start button to fire up the engine. Apple says it’s working with the auto industry on a standard for next year’s cars that will use the UWB, or ultra wideband, chip in iPhones so that you won’t have to tap the door handle with your phone; the car will just unlock when you get close enough. Eventually, with the UWB chip you can keep the phone in your pocket or in a bag to unlock and start the car.
As if that wasn’t enough, you can even share your digital CarKey with another iPhone user, similar to creating a virtual front-door key for the smart lock on your front door. And you can set limits on that key through a driver profile. Apple didn’t get into the profile details but I’d expect limiting the driving area or speeds to your car.
Apple AirPods Pro are getting a little IoT love as well. The company is adding what it calls “spatial audio” for a surround-sound like experience, similar to a theater. That alone didn’t impress me but how Apple keeps the sound field fixed to your screen did. By using both the accelerometer and gyroscope in both the AirPods, as well as the iOS device you’re watching content on, the surround sound field is kept stable.
Being a daily wearer of the Apple Watch, I was curious to see if Apple would deliver anything new by using the existing sensors inside the wearable. And it did.
First is native sleep tracking which combines sensor data and machine learning models to capture sleep data. Apple says the new feature senses micromotion and the rise & fall of your breathing to calculate sleep data and trends.
The watch also gains some new fitness tracking activities such as Dance, Core Training and Strength Training. These take advantage of new algorithms and heart rate data to determine movement and calories burned.
Oh and there’s also a handwashing app for Apple Watch: Thank you COVID-19! When the watch sensors detect movement similar to handwashing, a 20-second timer counts down. This activity is supplemented by the watch listening for sounds of running water or a soap dispenser.
The HomeKit part of Apple’s event was a little short on new sensor technology but there are some notable improvements coming. Apple mentioned its involvement in the Connected Home over IP group, which is nice to see as this will hopefully bring true smart home device standards in the future.
For starters, HomeKit lights will gain a truly smart feature with Adaptive Lighting later this year. This will automatically adjust the color temperature of HomeKit lights for you: Warmer colors in the morning and evening to keep the blue light from interfering with your sleep schedule and cooler colors during the day. That beats manually programming routines or automations to tune lights, which is something I have to do today outside of the HomeKit world.
Apple promises an easier device installation process with HomeKit but more importantly, new devices will get automation recommendations once you add them to your smart home. This is a small but positive step towards more “smarts” in the smart home and usability.
In a bit of a “catch up” to the rest of the industry, Apple HomeKit cameras will be gaining face recognition and customizable activity zones to keep cameras from false alert notifications. The HomePod will announce who is at your front door if the camera recognizes a familiar face. And AppleTV is becoming more of a smart display too: Camera notifications can automatically appear on your television via Apple’s set-top box or you can ask Siri to see a live view of any HomeKit camera on the big screen.
After watching Apple invest in its own sensors and chips for several years, today was the day that it’s finally realizing much of the benefit from them. Sure, people will probably overlook the chips, machine learning and sensor data when buying that next Apple device, but these hidden IoT components were the real stars of the show.