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Marvell hops aboard Apple's smart home train

Posted: 04 Jun 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smart home? API? Apple? Marvell?

Apple's iOS 8 SDK, launched Monday, has set the semiconductor world abuzz with more than 4,000 APIs that opened up for third-party developers.

In parallel, Apple rolled out new frameworks called HealthKit and HomeKit. The HealthKit APIs, according to Apple, provide 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," said 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.


Figure 1: Apple lists firms that support HomeKit protocols. Source: Apple

Of the three, Marvell on Tuesday, June 3, became the first to launch a host of new IoT SoCs made for iOS devices.

Marvell is rolling out three separate versions of its IoT SoCsfor WiFi, Bluetooth, and ZigBeeby 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, vice president and general manager of the Internet of Things business unit at Marvell.

Of course, suppliers of IoT deviceslightbulbs, thermostats, door locks, sprinklers, home appliances, and healthcare deviceswill 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.

Authorisation software protocols

Envisioneering Group's Doherty explained to EE Times 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 "deputize" devices, letting the home network know that "it's OK, he is with me."

Armed with hundreds of millions of iTune accounts already 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."

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