An App For That? Follow-Up

Yellow and white iconic symbol for electronic home automation

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about disability-related apps in the Apple App Store. I noted then, as I have a few other times on this blog, that Apple keeps teasing the idea that there are ways you can control all sorts of household devices with an iPhone app, but that it's strangely hard for consumers to figure out exactly how.

Yesterday, I found an additional resource right there on the Apple website. It's a whole subsection of the iPhone Accessories area, just for Home Automation. A few more puzzle pieces fall into place. There are appliances you can buy that connect with some sort of router-like device, which in turn can be controlled through an iPhone app. It’s easy to imagine how this might be really useful to people with significant physical disabilities.

The problem is that there still aren’t many appliances to choose from, and some of them seem more like novelty items than useful utilities. They’ve got lights, door locks, smoke alarms, and thermostats. That’s pretty good, but what window and door openers? What about setting and adjusting clocks, stoves, and ovens from the iPhone? What about emergency response systems?

And I’m still quite puzzled why Apple and other allied appliance companies don’t mention how their products can enhance disabled peoples’ independence. Are they afraid that will stigmatize the whole line … that people would conclude these are all products just for disabled people? Plus, the whole business still seems way too fragmented and cryptic.

What they should do, (Apple, or any other company in the field), is assemble three or four complete packages of products at different price levels. Offer one low-cost package for small apartments, one medium-priced package for an average family house, and an expensive set for bigger houses and more bells & whistles. Pay one price, and get everything you need to set up a living space controlled from an iPhone app … no guesswork, no hidden purchases, total compatibility.

If buying these devices were that simple, I could easily imagine health insurances, including Medicaid and Medicare, paying for them, especially if doing so would reduce the hours of home care a disabled person needs. $1,000 or so for a package of off-the-shelf environmental controls is cheap compared to an hour or two a day of additional home care, in perpetuity.

So, we seem to be getting somewhere with smartphones and environmental controls, but the whole thing still lacks focus. If you’re reading this and you have experience with environmental controls as adaptive tools for disabled people, tell your story in the comments!