This is going to be a big year for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) -- or at least an incredibly important one. Beyond its alleged plan to launch iPhones with larger displays, the company is also eyeing entirely new categories. Until last week, the primary focus has been Apple's plans to get into wearables with the rumored iWatch. But now two reports are asserting that Apple is also readying new hardware to work with its recently announced HomeKit.

Image source: Apple.

What is HomeKit?
As an Apple wireless software engineer explained in the HomeKit workshop during the 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month, it is a new feature for iOS that is "bringing some rationality to home automation."

Image source: Apple.

How is this accomplished? HomeKit serves has a hub of collecting and sharing information between the apps that connect you to your smart home devices. This provides a far more consistent and seamless experience across home automation devices that are connected to the iPhone, Apple says. For example, after a user sets up one smart home device that connects to iOS, other smart home apps will recognize the device as well. Another example of HomeKits application: Users can group actions for different devices together and trigger them simultaneously with Siri.

Go big or go home
But with Apple typically only bringing to market products with high-volume potential, it poses a question: How could Apple stand out in a smart home market littered with many different unique applications from swarms of accessory makers?

Accessory makers are already providing a wide range of ways to make our homes smarter. Image retrieved from WWDC presentation for the HomeKit workshop.

Apparently, however, Apple sees opportunity for "mainstream" usage for hardware in the crowded category, according to 9to5Mac. The report follows an article from The Information earlier this week, which also said Apple is prepping hardware for the smart home.

9to5Mac says Apple is eyeing the smart home hardware for "continued growth."

The sources say that Apple is unlikely to move forward with devices to compete directly with Google's Nest as the Cupertino company feels it can build products that can gain usage wider than that of thermostats and smoke detectors. It is likely that Apple is building advanced speaker systems or control panels for homes, the sources say. It is possible that Apple's recent acquisition of Beats Electronics and the audio company's existing speaker systems play into this vision.

But can Apple-branded smart home hardware really move the needle for Apple? The tech giant's nearly $38 billion in earnings in the past 12 months is a monstrous number. Even Apple's iPod business accounts for just 1% of Apple's revenue and is now mostly ignored by analysts.

Considering 9to5Mac's examples of what Apple could be working on in the category, some sort of control panel sounds like the hardware with the most potential for mainstream adoption.

Whatever the hardware is, 9to5Mac says Apple is "beyond the exploratory phase of development."