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Apple’s rumored TV box confirms convergence is the key to the smart home

A smart home is not smart until every device serves more than one purpose and can be easily controlled without jumping through hoops. That’s an undeniable fact — and one that many companies are beginning to understand. Apple is reportedly working on a TV box that combines a smart speaker and camera, essentially creating a HomePod, Apple TV, and iPad in one.

It’s the right move, especially when you consider Apple’s current position in the smart home market. While the company lags behind Google and Amazon for a variety of reasons, this isn’t the right move because it has the potential to propel Apple forward — it’s the right move because it moves smart home technology as a whole toward where it needs to be.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep saying it: Convergence is key to smart home tech. It’s not feasible or sustainable to have single-use devices within the home. It’s an inefficient use of space, and every connected device in the home is another potential security vulnerability for hackers. For some reason, companies overlook the need for multiuse products, but we have said this countless times before: Less is more — fewer devices, more functionality.

Single-use is not the way

One area where Apple seems to flounder is in the relationship between smartphones and smart home technology. While smart home tech is often set up and configured via a smartphone, these devices do not have as much direct interaction with the end user. When you set up a device in your home, you want it to run almost autonomously.

A smart security camera that disarms itself automatically when you come home is a better option than one that requires you to pull out your phone, open the app, and manually shut it off. Although we often label devices like this as convenient, it boils down to usability. A device that functions on its own is more likely to be used than one that requires a large amount of direct interaction.

Nest Hub Max
John Velasco/Digital Trends

There are plenty of examples of devices that have already achieved this convergence. Take the Google Nest Hub Max, for example. It works as a large smart display, allowing you to control your smart home, read the news, and even watch YouTube. On top of those features, it has a built-in security camera that can arm and disarm itself based on your physical location.

The Nest Hub Max also functions as a smart speaker, and recent updates allow you to use it as a videoconferencing tool. With so many features, it earns a spot in almost any room of the home.

The Amazon Echo Show 10 is another prime example of convegence that serves almost the same use as the Nest Hub Max. These smart displays combine a host of different features into a single device. Amazon and Google are both working toward improving the multifunctionality of their devices, too — for example, Nest smart speakers (not just displays) can actually listen for the sound of breaking glass.

Another example of convergence is the Roborock S6 MaxV. While this device is a powerful robot vacuum and mop, it also serves another purpose: It has a security camera packed into it.

Roborock S6 MaxV closeup on cameras
John Velasco / Digital Trends

Image a hypothetical situation for a moment. Even though it is highly unlikely that any thief is going to “case” your house like in the movies, imagine someone did. They know where the security cameras are, and the thief makes a plan to avoid them, but it’s safe to say that no one is going to expect your robot vacuum or your smart display to have a security camera built into it.

The convergence of devices into a single tool not only offers more bang for your back, but it actually makes the Nest Hub Max and the Roborock S6 MaxV better at what they do.

Moving the smart home forward

The devices we listed are just a few examples of areas where the smart home industry is moving forward in the right way, but the need for convergence isn’t limited solely to device functionality. Devices need to communicate with one another without restrictions.

In the early days of the modern smart home, there was a lot of talk about whether a device operated on the Zigbee or Z-Wave protocol. That is less of a concern now — instead, consumers want to know if it will work with Amazon or Google.

While the chances of companies dropping proprietary technology is low — after all, that ownership fuels their profits — the ideal smart home is one in which all devices can work together. Right now, shopping for a smart home device can be a headache. You have to make sure it works with the devices you already have.

Apple HomePod mini smart speaker size comparison
John Velasco / Digital Trends

Purchasing multiple camera brands often means opening multiple apps to view them, rather than checking all of the feeds from a single hub. Few customers actually purchase all of their devices from one place; instead, they shop sales and take advantage of low-priced offerings.

Google and Alexa might never play well together, but at least third-party devices could. Should the day come when smart home devices work with Amazon, Google, and Apple together, customers will benefit most — and it will also promote more widespread adoption of smart home technology.

Ultimately, that is the ideal end goal: A world where devices serve more than one function, and where multiple devices work together. The walled gardens of the current smart home industry need to fall away for the entire concept of the smart home to move forward.

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Patrick Hearn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Patrick Hearn writes about smart home technology like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, smart light bulbs, and more. If it's a…
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