Apple wants to make more smart home devices — which may not be dumb

Well, home robots, maybe. But those aren’t coming out anytime soon. In the meantime we may see something decidedly less ambitious out of Apple: New iPads.

But not just any new iPads, reports Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. These iPads would be cheaper than a regular iPad, and instead of doing lots of stuff, these would do… not that much. Gurman writes:

One piece of the strategy is a lightweight smart display — something akin to a low-end iPad. Such a device could be shuttled from room to room as needed and hooked into charging hubs stationed around the house. Apple has started small-scale test production of the screens for this product, but hasn’t made a decision on whether to move forward.

Gurman, who’s very deeply sourced at Apple, says the new, cheapish iPads could be part of a renewed “smart home” push, along with a new Apple TV box that would have a built-in camera for FaceTime chats.

But I was a little confused about Gurman’s report. Cheap iPads already exist, right? You can get one from Apple for $349. What would be new here? And what would you do with one that you wouldn’t do with the iPhone and/or iPad you already own?

So I asked him, via email.

He was kind enough to respond:

“[It] would be similar to the Google Pixel tablet with the dock. The idea would be that it’s a home iPad dedicated for things you do at home, like controlling your smart home controls, FaceTime, video watching etc. I think you’re right it wouldn’t do much different than [a] phone or existing iPad. But it would probably be cheaper than a normal iPad. It would be like a more portable Facebook portal. I’m not certain they’ll end up launching it. No final decision yet.”

Thank you, Mark!

And as far as Apple’s potential new line of iPads… I dunno. On the one hand: I own a bunch of devices that can do all of these things. So do my parents, who I imagine might be the target audience for these. And while I’ve never heard of the Google Pixel, I had heard of the Facebook Portal, and… Facebook doesn’t sell those anymore.

On the other hand: My colleague Katie Notopoulos loved the Facebook Portal. And I think more people might have been into a cheap, mostly dedicated video-chatting device if it 1) didn’t require them to use Facebook Messenger, and 2) didn’t have anything to do with Facebook. I can easily imagine one sitting in my parent’s kitchen, honestly. Maybe they’d watch videos with it, too.

The smart home stuff? Not so much. The only time I ever think about smart homes is when I visit someone who has a smart home and 1) they are always a guy and 2) I think the only time they actually use their smart home features is when someone comes over to visit and they want to show it off.

(Also I assume people who are buying $200 Nanoleaf Shapes Hexagons don’t need a dedicated device to control them because they’re already hardcore Apple people who are constantly whipping out their phone to change their Nanoleaf Shapes Hexagons colors or whatever.)

But you never know: I spent decades not wearing a watch, and now if I forget to put on my Apple Watch before I leave the house I get anxious about losing my steps for the day. So let’s wait and see if Apple actually brings these things to market.

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Peter Kafka