Solving the problem of presence detection in home control.

Apple typically don’t invent a category. They innovate then they dominate.

They didn’t craft the first smart watch, nor the first smart phone. The first laptop wasn’t theirs, we all know that the iPod was one of a slew of MP3 players already available, and their rumoured smart car won’t be the first in any parking lot.

They find a category, its problems, and they work towards its solutions.

IoT has a massive problem: its interface. Right now that interface typically rests upon a smart phone. But taking your iPhone from your pocket to control your lights is not easier for must of us than using our original light switch. It’s little more than a gimmick.

Amazon Echo and Google Home go some way to solve this usability problem. Simply speak. That’s more convenient but it still doesn’t come close to the smart home’s killer app: intelligence and true automation.

Both of those, however, lack one key ingredient: who is actually in the home? To work, a system must ask “who am I actually making decisions for?”

HomePod, Apple’s rumoured solution, might be the first step to solving this.

Apple’s rival to the Echo could know who you are just by looking at you.

The consumer electronics giant has explored putting a camera in its device, which could come in the form of a smart speaker like Amazon’s Echo, according to people familiar with Apple’s plans. The device would be “self aware” and detect who is in the room using facial recognition technology. That would let the device automatically pull up a person’s preferences, such as the music and lighting they like, the sources said.

To date, presence detection in home automation has largely depended on bluetooth. A system detects where your phone, smart watch, or tracking tag is. This allows a system to who is home by assuming that when the bluetooth connection is active, the person must be present. That leaves plenty of room for error: go out without your phone and your home automation system assumes you are still present. I’ve seen some companies try to solve such problems through the use of Kinect and gait analysis. CNET’s report indicates that Apple could solve through facial detection computed privately in the home. That is a killer app for the connected home and users of Apple’s HomeKit platform would be incentivised to install one HomePod in each of the key rooms of their premises to ensure adequate detection and identification.