Apple wants to make the smart home a whole lot smarter. With a feature called HomeKit that's coming in iOS 8, iPhones will be able to start controlling smart devices, such as garage door openers, lights, and security cameras. They'll all be controllable through Siri too, so Apple says that just by saying, "Get ready for bed," a smart home could automatically dim its lights and lock its doors.
Trying to clean up the smart home mess
HomeKit will allow iPhone users to control individual smart home devices right from their phone, and it sounds as though it'll all happen through Siri, rather than a specific app. Homeowners will be able to put their smart home devices into groups too, so that they'll also be able to control a series of items at once — perhaps an entire room's worth of appliances or an entire floor's lighting.
Apple will also run a certification program to go along with HomeKit, which will guarantee that products support the new features. Initial partners include August, which is known for its beautiful smart lock, Philips, which makes the Hue connected light bulb, and others including Honeywell, iHome, TI, and about a dozen more.
This is Apple's first step into the burgeoning smart home market, and it sounds like an ambitious attempt to make some sense of it. Smart home products have been crippled by compatibility issues, so homeowners have had to do a whole lot of work just to make sure that their supposedly "smart" homes can actually function. By introducing a protocol that will let devices work together through one of the most popular phones around, Apple can very quickly start to straighten up that mess. "There are great apps and devices on the market, but we thought we could bring some rationality to this," Apple software chief Craig Federighi said today at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference.
It's still unclear if Apple's solution will be perfect for every device out there though. Many smart home products have extremely delicate power requirements that don't allow them to work over Wi-Fi, for instance, which means that they could be incompatible with the iPhone.
It's likely that there'll still need to be a hub for all of these smart home products too, in order to continually monitor them. Here too, Apple hasn't given any details yet, including what company will be responsible for making a hub or if existing Apple products might be able to perform that job. But nonetheless, Apple may still be making great strides toward letting a large number of products act in sync, and that'll make the smart home much smarter than it already is — which isn't all that much.
The smart home may well become a growing focus for Apple too, especially after Google took a big step into the home earlier this year with its acquisition of Nest, which has drawn plenty of acclaim for its smart thermostat and smoke detector. It's only a matter of time before major tech companies begin vying to be the thread that connects appliances and devices throughout your home, and this seems to be Apple's first step in the door.