Apple jumped into the smart home world with the announcement of its HomeKit platform two years ago. But until today, it's felt like one huge piece of that platform was missing: a way to control it.
While it felt like a strange omission, Apple's decision to delay the launch of a Home app until iOS 10 is sensible — from its perspective, at least — for some pretty basic reasons. Really, they all go back to one thing: only now is HomeKit a useful platform.
For one, it took HomeKit a lot longer than expected to get off the ground. While it was announced as part of iOS 8, the first HomeKit products didn't appear until near the announcement of iOS 9. And even then, we were largely seeing power outlet after power outlet — there wasn't a lot of variety. Even as iOS 9 launched that fall, the situation wasn't much different.
It's pretty easy to imagine what would've happened to the Home app if it had launched one or two years ago: it would have been buried away in a folder on most iPhones and iPads, never to be seen again. Putting a new default app on the iPhone is even riskier this year, as Apple is now allowing stock apps to be removed for good.
But a lot has changed for HomeKit in the past year. There are now a few dozen products that work with it, and Apple says that almost 100 more are expected to come out this year. By waiting until HomeKit has at least a basic presence on the market, Apple gives its smart home platform a better shot at drawing the attention of iPhone and iPad owners.
When people finally see the Home app this fall, there'll be a wide range of products for them to actually buy, including thermostats, security cameras, smoke detectors, and — of course — numerous power outlets. There's certainly a better chance of the Home app driving some interest in HomeKit in 2016 than there would have been in 2014, when there were no HomeKit products, or 2015, when there were hardly a dozen.
The downside of this is that the situation has been confusing for HomeKit owners over the last year. Anyone who bought a HomeKit product had to find a third-party app to use it with. But not all third-party apps offered the same features; some didn’t even support all HomeKit products.
Apple's been writing off that problem as something that’s solved by the many third-party HomeKit apps available in the App Store. But there’s nothing quite as simple as knowing there’s one place to go that’ll do exactly what you want it to do.
Home seems to do that. And with its integration into Control Center, it seems likely to be the efficient smart home controller that Apple eventually needed to build into iOS. Home may be arriving a touch late. But really, HomeKit is still getting started.