Last year, after another WWDC keynote had passed by and Apple neglected to mention any updates to its smart home framework in HomeKit, I tweeted that the company's HomeKit push amounted what had to be one of the softest launches ever for a big Apple initiative.
If this #HomeKit launch gets any softer, it'll become a gas.— Michael Wolf (@michaelwolf) June 8, 2015
Well with today's news about a dedicated Home app, I'm happy to say we may have moved beyond the gas phase to the gelatinous mass phase of HomeKit market evolution.
More seriously, by talking about HomeKit after effectively a two-year silence, Apple made this a very interesting WWDC for its own smart home efforts and for the broader smart home industry.
Let's examine the news:
A Dedicated Home App Is Finally Here
Back in May, when the rumors of a dedicated Home app began to swirl once again, I wrote a piece about what this could mean for Apple and the smart home. While MacRumors, the site that originally surfaced the rumors, would later write they'd fallen for a hoax and that a Home app may not be on its way, with today's news we learned that the real hoax may have been the hoax claim itself, since the Home app is actually real (as my son might say, what we have here is #hoaxception).
So with the Home app finally here, what I wrote then still applies:
"... I still believe a well-done native Apple HomeKit app could be important for the industry. With all of the problems and delays HomeKit has had, Apple still has so much going for it. For one, no one is paying as close attention to smart home security as Apple, and that will most likely pay dividends down the road as more smart home platform security breaches come to the forefront. Second, iOS is still the most dominant mobile OS this side of Android, but without Android’s messy, fragmented multi-vendor nature. In other words, iOS’s ecosystem cohesiveness means it’s still the most important mobile OS in the world and, because of this, the flick of the switch for an OS upgrade will put a native smart home app into tens of millions of homes overnight.
Sure, Apple has lots of work to do with HomeKit. They need to make devices work better together and they need to start doing more market education. But if the rumors of a native HomeKit app are true, I think we may, after two long years, begin to see some to see the realization of some of the promise of HomeKit."
Again: all of it still applies. This is Apple, iOS is the world's most important mobile OS, and adding a native Home app that will reside on the iOS home screen is a big step forward for HomeKit and smart home.
HomeKit and Home App Is Control Center Worthy
HomeKit alerts and control are going to be accessible through Control Center. This is important and shows Apple is taking HomeKit and smart home oriented alerts seriously. With the integration of Home into Control Center, users will be able to read alerts and access HomeKit enabled apps from the lock screen (if configured that way). Not only that, they'll be able to get realtime streams from video feeds - such as from a video doorbell - on the lock screen.
Scenes Are Here
One of the most powerful aspects of home automation is the ability to create scenes, so I was particularly excited to see that they built scenes into the Home app. This will give users of the Home app the ability to create and manage scenes across (in theory, at least) all HomeKit compatible devices.
The Home app allows users to create scenes
Video Devices On The Way
One of the shortcomings of HomeKit out of the gate was netcams weren't a defined accessory type, a somewhat strange oversight since Apple had companies such as Skybell, a maker of video doorbells, as launch partners for HomeKit. With today's news, Apple fixed this oversight and we'll soon see video enabled HomeKit devices on the market. Since today's HomeKit news, Canary announced they would bring a new HomeKit enabled security appliance (with a video camera) to market called the Canary Plus this fall.
Apple TV Enables Remote Access To Smart Home
During today's keynote, Apple TV got a shout out during the HomeKit segment as the remote access solution for HomeKit home automation. This is important because HomeKit is, in essence, a "hubless" smart home platform since it designates the mobile phone or iOS device as the control device. While this is both logical and preferable if you are the dominant smartphone company like Apple, this can lead to issues when the iOS device leaves the home. Because of this, I've been writing about the importance of a fixed control point for two years now, and so it's good to see Apple push the Apple TV as this: a way to remotely access HomeKit devices.
Beacons and Geofencing!
By the looks of it, lots more HomeKit devices are on their way
Another feature I've had on my HomeKit wish list for two years is beacons and geofencing, so I was also glad to hear HomeKit and the Home app would support this under iOS10. This could unlock really interesting end-use applications, from the obvious such as home arrival or wake up "scenes" to more interesting ones such as locking doors or sending alerts about a child or elderly parent trying to leave the home.
One of the most interesting aspects about this year's WWDC was how much attention Apple paid to Siri. Not only did they finally make Siri available on the Mac, they also announced they had opened it up to developers and, on the smart home front, HomeKit users can now use Siri to control scenes through the Home app. Siri has been exposed through HomeKit devices before such as with products like ConnectSense's smart outlet, but now, by making Siri one of the primary ways to use Home, Apple is elevating the importance of Siri and voice interfaces for HomeKit and the smart home more generally.
Stil.. after all this news...
Let's Not Get Overexcited
Upon hearing of the new Home app, I realized that Apple treats HomeKit in much the same way it has treated podcasting for these many years:
Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that the similarities between the two industries extended to how they themselves feel about Apple. In other words, just as with podcasting, the smart home industry has for a long time seen Apple as something of a white knight, a company that by the sheer force of its market power could help the industry find its way. After all, this is a company that has been on a win streak since pretty much the start of the millennium, and if anyone could move the industry forward, it was Apple.
Still, for all of the importance of today's news, it's important to look at where the smart home industry is now vs. when HomeKit was announced. In the intervening two years since Apple first announced HomeKit, the industry itself has grown up a bit. It waited and waited for HomeKit, and after last year's WWDC came and went with no real mention of Apple's smart home framework, some in the industry began to move on.
So while I think we should view today's developments as important, they're not the market-defining, tectonic plate shifting news we all wanted two years ago and even last year. This is not because today's news is not important or substantial - it is. Instead, it's because the smart home industry itself has learned to grow up in HomeKit's relative absence.
Bottom line: Today's news was big. HomeKit and the Home app will have an impact. But the industry itself is now in a much different place than it was two years ago, so the impact - while big- may not be as big as it once could be.
Michael Wolf is the Chief Analyst for NextMarket Insights, where he advises smart home, home security and IoT companies on business models and strategy. Subscribe to his newsletter to get posts like this in your inbox. Also, check out the Smart Kitchen Summit.