“In a few decades’ time,” the computer scientist Karl Steinbuch wrote, “computers will be interwoven into almost every industrial product.”
That was in 1966. Since then, futurists and realists alike have talked about a potential world whose physical objects, from cars to toasters, are digitally interconnected. It’s a phenomenon we’ve come to shorthand, for better or for worse, as the “Internet of Things.”
This afternoon, at its World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple announced its foray into the phenomenon via HomeKit, an integrated system of smart objects. HomeKit is, for now, focused on the home. It promises: locks that unbolt with an app, lights you turn on with your phone, washing machines that talk to you, toasters that text you… that kind of thing.
None of this is new (or, to use Apple's preferred adjective, revolutionary); HomeKit, instead, is Apple in its most traditionally—and comfortably—Jobsian mode. It is Apple taking something that other companies have already done, iterating on it, and betting that it can turn out a better product: something more elegant, more user-friendly, more Bauhausian and pure. HomeKit is Apple’s gamble that it can succeed in connecting the home where other companies—among them Whirlpool, Samsung, Cisco, and Google—have stalled. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, summed it up with a delightfully revealing mix of hostility and hubris: “We thought we could bring some rationality to this space.”