Apple could be the hub seller of the connected home, starting today by stocking Dropcam in stores
First, the news of the day: Apple is now selling Dropcam -- the smart, connected surveillance camera -- in stores. It didn't acquire Dropcam, it's just a sales partnership.
I've been excitedly sitting on this news ever since Dropcam announced the launch of its Pro Camera. Founder Greg Duffy knew at that point that Dropcam would be coming to all Apple stores in the US and Canada, but couldn't announce it till the product shipped out.
I just called the Apple Store in Union Square to confirm it's there. After much confusion from the customer service person who answered the phone (I had to spell Dropcam three times), she confirmed that yes, it's in stock.
Yippee! Why, you ask, would I give a shit whether Dropcam is being sold in Apple stores?
To me, the move signals one big, important step. I think Apple could become the hub seller of the connected home. The Sears or Best Buy of the future, if you will. Not necessarily the producer of said products, but the platform through which customers buy them.
As a brief recap for those who have never heard the term connected home: hardware devices like security cameras, locks, and thermostats get connected to the Internet. Then, they can turn our houses into Smart Houses, sort of like the Disney movie from 1999.
We can monitor security video feeds, lock or unlock our home doors, turn lights on and off, all from our phones when we're far away. Once said devices talk more to each other, they'll also be able to self regulate. Perhaps the lights will get dimmer if we're playing romantic music on our stereo. That sorta thing.
The connected home has been slowly creeping into view with the runaway success of products like smart lock Lockitron. But it's by no means a term all Americans are familiar with. In order to spread the connected home across national public consciousness, Lindsay Lohan-style, there needs to be a brand ambassador. A company that can educate the populace on what it is, and evangelize why it's awesome.
Perhaps that company could be Apple.
People have been asking for months what Apple will become without Steve Jobs. Its already honed the iPhone to a science and can't blow people away with new releases anymore -- futuristic fingerprinting technology aside. It defined the tablet market with the iPad, and it's making waves with its recent iterations like the sleek and sexy iPad Air. But it hasn't fully disrupted an industry since then.
As my colleague Nathaniel Mott, Pando's resident hardware expert, pointed out to me though -- who has? He says,
There’s been a lot of talk about Apple failing to innovate, but little about what other companies have done about that. The Galaxy Gear is a failure. Google Glass has yet to hit the market. In order for Apple to be desperate, large companies need to be doing something it isn’t.That may be true but Google, arguably the other big multibranch tech behemoth, is certainly trying. Google Glass and self-driving cars may not yet have hit the market, but the public -- and Apple -- know they're coming. Developers are building for Glass, and it's a matter of time before it's officially released.
Meanwhile, I don't think Apple should wait for another tech company to bypass it before it gets its ass in gear. I doubt that's Tim Cook's plan either.
The world has been holding its breath for something truly revolutionary from Apple. Will it be able to shatter our expectations and create a product that completely changes the way we live again? Or will it slowly but surely fade into corporate obscurity vis a vis Microsoft?
I believe the best possible next step for Apple is to be the hub for the connected home industry. The company moves slowly and precisely.
The people who choose what goes into Apple stores are like the mysterious elves with pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. I've never been able to find them for an interview, so this is just one big conjecture about their future plans.
Think about it. It has the populist favor and brand strength to lure less-techie consumers into the connected home fold. It has physical retail stores that allow people who might not be comfortable buying online to hold, look at, and ask questions about connected home devices. It has a remarkable reputation in customer service that will make people feel more comfortable buying new fangled smart products.
And it's looking for its post-Steve Jobs mojo. Some might argue with its latest product releases it's not (*cough* Nathaniel Mott *cough*), but I see these as iterations on pre-existing awesome products, not a fresh new vision and direction.
Adding Dropcam -- the world's original smart surveillance camera -- to its stock is a logical first step. Dropcam is small, sleek, and easy to set up. It almost looks like it was built for Apple's shelves, particularly with its new black Dropcam Pro aesthetic. It's already gotten popular with the masses through online sales, and plenty of people who have never heard the term "connected home" have bought it so they can keep an eye on their cats or kids when they're not there. Dropcam has two way sound, so parents and pet-lovers use it to "check in" when they're missing their loved ones.
And as of yesterday, Dropcam will be in Apple stores everywhere. But I don't think this is the first connected home product we'll see Apple stock.
Nathaniel Mott disagrees with my prediction (do you sense a theme here? We Pandoites like a good debate). He thinks Apple should be trying to own the wearables market while it's still the Wild Wild West and ripe for disruption. Perhaps that's true, but Google, Samsung, and others are swarming all over that. Wearables are hot hot hot. Unless Apple has something particularly spectacular up its sleeve, it will be devoting time and resources trying to stand out in a crowded market.
Whereas none of the companies competing in wearables are situated quite as well as Apple to be the go-to seller of the connected home. Its pristine white stores across the country are hand-crafted -- with smiling, perky salespeople and the well-trained Genius Bar assistants -- to sell smart devices that might otherwise intimidate the average buyer. After all, Apple singlehandedly on-boarded America to carrying mini computers in its pocket.
And what connects all the devices in the connected home? The Internet and by extension with most products, a user's mobile phone. As Nathaniel Mott says, "Apple sells other products in its stores to showcase what its products can do, not to make a quick buck."
Stocking connected devices, controllable through an iPhone, is an alluring way to entice Android users to come back to the dark side. Even if those same devices are also Android compatible.
Imagine it: salespeople on the glistening Apple store floor, iPhone in hand, turning Lockitron locks on and off through the iOS app.
Then, not only does Apple get a cut of the connected home sales, but it gets more chance to demo the iPhone to potential customers. Added bonus: it gets the brand recognition of being the cool connected home hub.
As my editor Adam Penenberg pointed out -- clearly this was a Pando team effort if you can't tell -- companies have been trying and failing to be the go-to connected home sellers for years.
Best Buy has its own connected home installation business. But Best Buy does not have that Apple brand sizzle, and it's certainly not the first place I think of for cutting edge technology.
The timing is ripe for a brand to take the lead as the key connected home device seller now. Technology has developed, phones are futuristic, Blue Tooth Low Energy has arrived. The world is ready for the connected home and Apple is in the best position to capitalize on that.
If Apple becomes the go-to place to sell connected home devices, then it doesn't necessarily have to invent anything revolutionary to remain a relevant, powerful company that's beloved by the public. It can simple add the innovative products built by others to its shelves, and get some of the glory and revenue.
In its past the company has been incredibly hesitant to strike up partnerships, of course, so it's unlikely it will move quickly into said market. If that's its plan at all. But since it just started stocking Dropcam, I can't help but wonder, "What's next?"
Connected home product companies would of course love to be selected for the prestigious Apple stocking opportunity. It essentially legitimizes them in the public eye and it's a way to reach a much larger swath of the the consumer population.
When Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy was telling me Apple would stock the product, I misheard him the first time. In a weird Freudian slip, I said, "Sears is stocking Dropcam?" He looked horrified for a split second and quickly rebutted me: "NO! Apple."
But I think the reason my brain converted Apple into Sears was that Sears used to be the go-to place for home appliances. It still is in some regard. You need a washer -- you go to Sears. You need a fridge -- you go to Sears. And the fact that Apple would be stocking Dropcam reminded me of Sears.
I'm not saying the Apple store is going to start selling washers and dryers. I just think that sometime in the near future it may be the go-to place of the smart home future. When consumers want to buy their hip new connected home products, they'll head to Apple. There, perhaps they'll find locks, surveillance cameras, thermostats, lights, TVs, smoke detectors, or whatever else you crazy Silicon Valley dreamers come up with.
[Image courtesy Hallie Bateman]