As iPhone sales growth slows, Apple is teaming up with a handful of builders and using these kinds of test beds to inch its way into the market for Internet-connected home furnishings, a nascent field that has attracted rivals like Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Amazon.com.
The gamble is that pricey wireless home devices will be an easier sell when bundled into the home itself. Builders market granite countertops and brushed-nickel fixtures at thousands of models homes across the U.S. Why not video doorbells?
Unlike Google and Amazon, however, Apple isn't hawking hardware meant to connect the home. Instead, the HomeKit app could increase the value of its iOS ecosystem -- and make it tougher for users to switch to Android phones and tablets.
"We want to bring home automation to the mainstream," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of product marketing. "The best place to start is at the beginning, when a house is just being created."
The convenience on display in the Alameda stucco doesn't come cheap. A single motorized, battery-operated Lutron shade starts at $349. Or consider the Schlage "touchscreen deadbolt," which can be controlled remotely, so you can text an unexpected visitor a code. It can retail for $200. A regular deadbolt fetches $32 at Home Depot -- and there's always hiding a key under the flower pot.
In Fremont, California, about 15 minutes from Facebook's headquarters, Los Angeles-based KB Home is also getting its own Apple house ready. Along with the automated thermostat, lights, security system, locks, fans and shades, it lets you, on voice command, change the color of the light underneath a vanity.
With the words "good night," the light turns purple. With a "good morning," it switches to white.
KB offers wireless devices as upgrades. A basic package runs about $2,000, "which once rolled into a mortgage is pennies a month," according to spokesman Craig LeMessurier. Lennar builds the cost into the price of homes. The Alameda house sells for $1.2 million, though it was a beta model and an actual dwelling wouldn't include $30,000 worth of gadgets.
Apple is also working with Brookfield Residential Properties. and other builders. The companies declined to say when the homes would go on sale.
Consumers will buy about $24 billion worth of connected home devices in 2016, according to Strategy Analytics Inc. Though that's a drop in the bucket compared with smartphones, the research and consulting firm expects those sales to nearly double by 2020.