Today at Apple’s WWDC, the company gave proof to last week’s speculation that it was entering the home automation or smart home category. Last week details were thin, leading to a lot of speculation about what home automation system or products Apple would announce. Today Apple didn’t do a whole lot to clear up that speculation, except now the system has a name, HomeKit.
Apple HomeKit isn’t a new home automation hub, a smart home device or even a kit. It’s a protocol built into the new iOS 8 that allows iPhones and iPads to communicate wirelessly with smart home devices like Hue wireless light bulbs, Honeywell smart thermostats, Kwikset smart locks and more.
Hold on a moment. That’s already possible, right? Well, yes, which is what makes Apple’s move into home automation a little underwhelming. Apple’s HomeKit (which may or may not be a separate app) is more like a seal of approval that the device you’re connecting with will work with your iOS mobile device. It apparently does add some extra functionality. For instance you can group devices to create scenes and use Siri to control your connected smart devices via voice control. I assume that HomeKit also adds some interoperability, allowing you to create activities involving multiple devices similar to what the app IFTTT (If This Then That) or a smart home hub (such as SmartThings or Revolv) does now.
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What makes this a little disappointing is that there doesn’t seem to be much of anything new here, other than a new protocol (which we assume uses Wi-Fi), which the industry really didn’t need anyway. On the other hand, when a company as big as Apple tells the world that home automation is cool, the world listens.
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Among the brands Apple said it was working with on HomeKit are Philips Hue, iHome, Sylvania, August, Honeywell, Haier, Schlage, Kwikset and more.
Will smart home products start touting their “Made for HomeKit” logos soon the way audio products boast AirPlay compatibility? Maybe. Apple often makes small-seeming announcements that later get developed into bigger things. HomeKit may be one of those.
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To summarize: Apple is bringing out a new protocol to make selecting and pairing your smart home products easier. Apple’s not really bringing much new to the home automation market. All the functionality (aside from a little Siri magic) relies in the connected devices themselves. I hope that in its attempt to make the market simpler it hasn’t actually made things more complicated. Will all the Zigbee and Z-Wave devices already on the market be left out (probably not because a network hub still keeps those device connect to the smart phone). Will customers walk into their Control4 or Crestron dealer’s shop and ask if their system could be made HomeKit compatible? Will Google’s Nest ever be part of the family? These are all things we look forward to telling you about later.
In the meantime, here are some more great articles about home automation system you can own now:
Inside an AT&T Digital Life Home
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10 Amazing Home Automation Tricks
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.