Apple Doesn't Need to Be First to Home Automation; It Needs to Be Best

Last week at WWDC Apple quickly announced HomeKit, the company's home automation framework for developers. Many folks have been asking if Apple is too late with this; if the market is already saturated such that there's no room for Apple (or any other new "platform").

It's possible that Apple is late to the party, but I will offer this: Apple is rarely first at anything, but Apple is often the best.

Apple was not first with a smartphone, but it was the best. It was not even first with a personal computer, but it was the best. Apple was not first with a laptop, not with a tablet, not with a portable music player. But in every one of those categories Apple released a product that solved the pain points that everyone had simply accepted from other vendors and products.

Apple has a habit of redefining categories when it comes out with new product lines. It's hard to imagine that we call a Treo and an iPhone both "smartphones." But we do, and we did. Prior to the iPhone, the Treo was considered best-in-class. Apple then redefined the category and now every smartphone follows Apple's paradigm. Microsoft is struggling with the Surface to offer a tablet that refutes Apple's paradigm change for tablets.

The same happened with the personal computer. Prior to Apple's creation, a personal computer was something you had to build yourself and operate with switches. Apple changed the category with the Apple Computer (what we now call the "Apple I"). Then Apple changed it again with the Macintosh years later.

Home automation is a decades-old business with some long-in-the-tooth players. But technology has caught up, and more importantly society has caught up. People understand why they want this now. We're used to having all this control that ten years ago was only in the interest realm of geeks and mansion-owners.

Apple's now getting its feet wet here. The company is opening up an API and seeing how adoption works. Does it have more products in development to back it up? I'm nearly certain it does. Will Apple ever release that hardware and/or expand upon the API and infrastructure? Only if and when it has enough of the answers to solve the pain points and properly redefine the category.

That's the interesting thing about Apple. Never discount its offerings just because it's not first. Apple has proven it doesn't need to be. Apple has proven that it's very often best when it's not.