It was back in 2014 when Apple announced their plans for the Smart Home – called HomeKit. The idea behind HomeKit was to integrate a middleware into all mobile apple devices so that they can talk directly to HomeKit-devices using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and offering a unified API to third party applications. There was and is no need for a central gateway that is typical for other Smart Home architectures. So far so good. After the announcement there was not much to hear about the HomeKit project except some companies using the apple reference for their marketing purposes by announcing product plans.
For the rest there was much silence and Apple did not even mention their HomeKit project for almost two consecutive years. The silence ended on this year's World-Wide Developers Conference WWDC, held in June 2016. Here HomeKit was not only – briefly – mentioned in the key note but a whole workshop sessions was dedicated to the project too.
So, what's new? The first and most important news seems that the project is still alive and Apple shows some sort of commitment to HomeKit and the smart home market. The middleware has received some facelift adding new device profiles and some other features that are already state of the art on incumbent's solutions for years.
The next interesting move is that Apple offers their own mobile app for HomeKit. Initially the company focused on the API and therefore encouraged third parties to contribute their own end user app. Obviously this was not too successful so that Apple seemed to feel pressured to go the first step by providing their own user interface. The result is an app that Smart Home insiders would consider as “just ok.” It allows controlling devices and monitoring sensors and of course to activating predefined scenes.
The fact that changeable wallpaper is mentioned explicitly as a great feature tells everything about the level of innovation we see here. However it is reasonable to assume that it was not Apple's primary goal to come up with the latest and greatest user interface for Smart Home but to just close a gap and offer a common basis for further improvements of an Apple device based user interface. Apple likely knows that they just lack enough understand of user interface expectations to meet the typical sky-rocking expectations on the companies' ability to design interfaces in general.
The next announcement was long awaited. Apple TV can now act as the central controller in the home running an own instance of HomeKit. This makes a lot of sense since scenes and time triggered actions should run inside the home and not in a cloud instance.
Since the list of new things is limited it make sense to remind on the key features HomeKit offered so far:
- Integration with Siri. Although not perfect and a great chance for miss-use the voice integration with Siri is a lot of fun for users.
- Outstanding Security and Privacy. It seems that this is Apples core value and ties in very well with other security and privacy initiatives of the company.
Summarizing the learning's from this summer's WWDC presentation and the current status in the market we can conclude that:
- HomeKit is still alive and there is at least some sort of commitment from Apple for their Smart Home venture
- HomeKit is catching up with features that are considered as standard for current Smart Home solutions. However the statement remains true that there is not one single thing end users can do with HomeKit they can’t do with other offerings in the market.
- Apple HomeKit is limited to the small but interesting market share of iPhone and iPad users.
Taking into account that the “Apple Halo” is always attractive to companies to ride on we will likely see more devices that claim or deliver HomeKit compatibility. On the other hand the limited market scope and even more the missing innovations of HomeKit do not suggest that Apple will take over the Smart Home Market or play a leadership role in the time foreseeing.