Though Apple didn't have much to say about HomeKit during its keynote presentation on Monday, it turns out the company's smart home system is seeing some very notable changes this year. The updates center on two things: making HomeKit more flexible for users, and making it much easier for developers to start building new products.
The second of those is arguably the bigger deal. Until now, anyone that wanted to create a HomeKit product had to join Apple's licensing program just to get started. That big hurdle is being removed, and Apple will now allow any registered developer to start building a HomeKit device. Forbes says that devs can even put something together using a Raspberry Pi or Arduino now.
There is one very big catch here: HomeKit devices built this way — without an official certification — won't be able to go up for sale. They're only meant for development or personal use.
Still, that'll allow hobbyists to build their own smart home gadgets that integrate with iOS, which is pretty cool. And it'll make it much easier for developers who are thinking about building a product with HomeKit to get started, which means we could see more companies building compatible devices.
Apple is also making one other big change to simplify development: it's no longer requiring that every HomeKit device contain a specific security chip. Instead, it'll allow companies to authenticate their devices entirely using software. Smart home devices out on that market that don’t already support HomeKit will even be able to use this method to add HomeKit support after iOS 11 launches this fall.
That should make life easier for HomeKit device manufacturers in general. HomeKit is mostly unique among smart home systems by requiring all devices to contain a specific chip, complicating hardware development. By allowing manufacturers to do it all through software, HomeKit should now be much easier to implement alongside compatibility with services like Alexa, SmartThings, and Wink.
This is meaningful for one other reason, too: that HomeKit authentication chip had a cost, and this software method doesn’t. While device manufacturers will still have to go through the full certification process if they want to sell anything, they won’t get charged by Apple along the way, which may have previously discouraged some companies from participating in HomeKit. It also means that Apple is giving up a source of revenue in order to spark a bigger ecosystem of devices.
On top of these updates to make building HomeKit devices easier, Apple is also expanding what HomeKit can do in ways that consumers will notice. It's adding two new categories of supported products, sprinklers and faucets, and it's adding a bunch of new ways to trigger actions at home.
One of the simpler updates, but a favorite of mine, is an enhancement to the sunrise and sunset triggers. Those can now be offset by some amount of time, so you could, for instance, have the lamps in your home turn on shortly before the sun goes down at night.
Apple is adding temperature triggers, too, so that events can be kicked off when the temperature goes above or below a certain point. And it's getting better at tracking when people are in the house. It'll now track specific people, instead of individual devices, and use that to better tell you when someone leaves or arrives home. In iOS 11, that'll allow HomeKit users to set things to happen when the last person leaves the house or when someone's arriving home to an empty house.
There will also be a way to temporarily turn on certain devices. Apple gave the example of opening a door at night and having outside lights turn on for just a few minutes, instead of turning on and staying on as they’d have to currently.
This is all still pretty basic stuff, but it shows Apple continuing to chip away at low-lying smart home problems. And that’s steadily making these devices into much more useful ways to augment a home.
Correction June 8th, 1:14PM ET: Apple has clarified that the software authentication method will not include any sort of licensing fees. This story also initially stated that sunrise and sunset triggers were new; in fact, it’s only timing offsets that are new.