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Marvell to benefit from Apple's smart home strategy

Posted: 05 Jun 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple  Marvell  smart home  iOS 8 SDK  API 

Apple has recently unveiled its iOS 8 SDK, which opens up more than 4,000 APIs for third-party developers. In addition, the company has rolled out its HealthKit and HomeKit frameworks. The HealthKit APIs, according to Apple, offer the ability for health and fitness apps to communicate with each other. The HomeKit "delivers a common protocol, secure pairing and the ability to easily control individual or groups of devices throughout the house including integration with Siri," added the company.

The common thread here is Apple's aggressive software strategy, designed to court a million more developers, while signing up system and IC vendors to design solutions "made for iOS devices."

Richard Doherty, research director at the Envisioneering Group, called Apple's action of opening up so many new APIs at once "unprecedented," noting that no OS companies, including Google and Microsoft, have ever done it.

As Apple guns for a big stake in technology for monitoring health and home, chip companies including Marvell, Broadcom and Texas Instruments are looking to piggyback on the Apple campaign. The three IC vendors were listed on a slide shown on the stage at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, as the companies supporting Apple's HomeKit.

Firms that support Apple's HomeKit protocols

Apple lists firms that support HomeKit protocols. (Source: Apple)

Of the three, Marvell became the first to launch a number of IoT SoCs made for iOS devices.

Marvell is rolling out three separate versions of its IoT SoCs, for WiFi, Bluetooth and ZigBee, by tightly coupling an MCU with each wireless chip, together with power management and memory on a single die. Marvell's solutions come with what the company calls "EZ-connect" software enabling end systems to implement various HomeKit-specific protocols.

The clincher: Marvell's IoT SoCs are already "MFi [Made For iPhone/iPad] certified," according to Philip Poulidis, VP and GM of the Internet of Things business unit at Marvell.

Of course, suppliers of IoT devices such as light bulbs, thermostats, door locks, sprinklers, home appliances and healthcare devices will still need to go through Apple's MFi certification process on a system level. But with Marvell having done its MFi homework, system vendors are expected to find it a snap to get the MFi seal of approval from Apple and connect their finished products with iOS devices.

Envisioneering Group's Doherty stated that back in the era of CEbus (a set of electrical standards and communication protocols for electronic devices to transmit commands and data), "home networking was seen through hardware eyes." But today, "it is trusted authorisation software protocols." In the IoT era, you need to "deputise" devices, letting the home network know that "it's OK, he is with me."

Armed with hundreds of millions of iTune accounts held by consumers who trust Apple with their account payment information, Apple hopes to milk that bond. Doherty predicts that those consumers "will trust Apple [to accurately identify] that the thermostat and doorbell are indeed theirs and theirs alone."

While declining to explain details, Marvell's Poulidis agreed: "Security is paramount in the way Apple is deploying the HomeKit."

Since some IoT devices are too small to incorporate an LED or a display, Apple's iPhone comes in handy as the indispensable screen to set up IoT devices and automatically connect them to the home network.

But the rationale of Apple's HomeKit isn't just about turning an iPhone or iPad into the smart home's all-purpose remote control.

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