Although Apple was among the first of the big tech giants to deploy a comprehensive smart home solution in the form of HomeKit, the company’s efforts have been slowly losing traction to Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home platforms as the latter companies continue to improve their voice assistants and woo more and more products into the fold.
Now, however it looks like Apple may be trying to reinvigorate its smart home business with its latest hire. A report by CNBC reveals that Sam Jadallah, former CEO of smart lock startup Otto, has joined Apple to lead the company’s smart home initiatives, according to sources familiar with the matter.
If you’ve never heard of Jadallah or his smart lock before now, that may not be surprising — it was a $700 device that was backed by the VC firm Greylock that was targeted at the luxury market. With even popular higher-end smart locks selling for under $400, it made for a difficult sell. It was highly praised by those who did review it as “the Apple of smart locks,” which was perhaps not surprising as about 70 percent of the team behind Otto originally came from Apple. Despite this, however, Otto failed to gain any real traction, suspending its operations in December 2017, only four months after launching its smart lock.
Jadallah, on the other hand, originally hails from Microsoft, where he spent more than a decade as a Corporate Vice President before leaving to lead a number of venture capital firms. He has also served as an “angel investor” and on the Board of Directors for a variety of technology companies since 1996 and on the board of trustees for Case Western Reserve University since 2003.
It’s unclear whether the team that Jadallah built at Otto will be joining him in his new role at Apple, although the company lists about a half-dozen job openings in its home division. While sources have told CNBC that Jadallah will be leading the company’s home initiatives, his LinkedIn profile doesn’t list a specific job title, simply stating that he is “Working on Home.”
Further, it remains unclear exactly what Apple plans to do in this area. While the company’s HomeKit platform provides one of the best unifying frameworks for home automation, it’s something that underlies Apple’s iOS, tvOS, and Mac ecosystem; thus far, Apple’s HomePod is the only physical product Apple has to offer in this space, having left development of home accessories to a range of third-party partners.
However, HomePod is also arguably the weakest link in Apple’s home automation strategy. Although HomeKit is among the most sophisticated, reliable, and secure of the home automation platforms, the capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant have been eclipsing Siri. Further, Apple’s insistence on marketing HomePod as a speaker first and a voice assistant second has potentially priced it out of a market where competitors’ entry-level voice assistants can be had for well under $100.
Apple does appear to be getting more serious about Siri, however, with news last week that the company is buying voice-powered app developer PullString, which could help it bolster its efforts in improving the interaction of Siri and the HomePod with other third-party apps and “skills” that would go beyond what iOS offers as part of SiriKit, expanding the reach of home automation platform in the process.