Why HomeKit Has Hurt, Not Helped, The Smart Home Market In 2015

For those of us that follow the smart home market, HomeKit has been positioned as something of a white knight. Sure we've got a market with lots of incompatibility, too many competing standards and way too many competing boxes, but this is Apple we're taking about and, as we know, there isn't anything that the company from Cupertino can't do.

Unless, apparently, it's figuring out the smart home.

And therein lies the problem. The excitement created by Apple by trying to make sense of a hugely fragmented market was palpable, and up until just the last few months most figured that Apple would, well, figure things out.

But as we stand here today in mid-July, it's clear they haven't.  Not by a long shot.

When I wrote a post for Forbes positing the question 'what if HomeKit fails', much of my focus was on how Apple's traditional way of doing things wasn't necessarily a great fit for a market that relies on lots of third party companies.  Sure, it's developed a vibrant and thriving iOS device ecosystem, but all of those devices are ones that plug into an iOS device. With the smart home, it's takes a village - or more correctly, a complicated network of systems from multiple manufacturers - to work together, and I think that Apple miscalculated on the difficulty of making everything, well, work together.

But it's more than that. Apple's high bar it puts on partners has meant they've had to create entirely new products, ones that often are incompatible with existing products, ones sometimes even with the same name.

And then there's the fact that while Apple's HomeKit could conceivably make things easier to connect for consumers and easier to understand, there isn't any real evidence of that today.

One smart home exec told me today that he thinks HomeKit has made the market more confused than it was before, in large part because consumers are probably more confused than they were before. HomeKit doesn't work with the vast majority of products today, and it doesn't work necessarily with most of the existing ecosystems of products built out over the past decade. 

All this to say I think that HomeKit eventually will hit its stride, but as of right now it hasn't. Meanwhile, you have Amazon figuring out that they didn't want to get their hands dirty dealing with protocols and frameworks, but instead figuring they'd just plug in a well designed control interface in Echo to as many products as possible through API integration with Echo and Alexa.

You have to wonder if some folks at Apple is thinking right about now, "we wish we thought of that."

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  • Petra @ iHaus.de

    Hi Michael,

    best regards from Munich – we love your article!
    Your are putting the consumer in the middle of the IoT effort! Thanks for reminding that consumer is the one that decides about using it or not.
    And he will only do it he is able to discover the value.

    From our point of view IoT will only deliver value to consumers if it works boundless and sums up in one data ecosystem that is controlled by him.

    So boundless “networking” of any product or service – regardless of transmission protocol and brand – is key. It builds the base to inspire consumers exploring all the additional functionalities that products are gaining by being combined with others in IoT-network.

    We are a small, German based startup following this idea more than two years already. Our App based network is creating e.g. fire alarm systems speaking via multi room-sound system with you or giving optical alarm via your LED lightning – easy to use, to integrate and to control for the consumer regardless of brand, hardware and protocol.

    There are no technical boundaries if you just use the full integration power of IoT!

    Happy to continue discussion with you.
    If you like just have a look at http://www.ihaus.de/en

  • TechPaul64

    Thanks for the response! I agree that there have been high expectations but also and more importantly, the market has simply had the wrong idea about HomeKit (which you predicted in your Forbes article).

    It seems like we both still have high expectations for HomeKit (maybe next year) but it’s almost as if the market initially likened HomeKit to something like “works with nest”. If Apple had done “works with iOS” (with simply a set of open web APIs) there could have been a hard launch date with lots of partners and existing products that worked on day 1. This could have been a great spark for the industry and I don’t doubt that Apple would do a good job of integrating these protocols into it’s operating system and leaving the interface and app side of things to its developers. I’m sure it would have satisfied many of these high expectations for Apple to “bring balance to the force”.

    But the reason I am excited about Homekit and have high expectations, is because I see Apple as the first company who is asking me to trust the homekit certified products because they will not only have integration but they will also contain reliable components, the setup and management will be easy, their apps are prohibited from gathering my personal data for advertising, and most importantly, my communication with my device through homekit APIs will be secure. To my knowledge, there isn’t any other smart home standard that offers me these assurances because in most cases, integration simply bridges two product’s security systems together. So now my door lock is only as safe as the security that my light bulb company or TV remote implements. My expectations are that with HomeKit, my communication with my devices will only be as good as the security implemented by HomeKit (with end-to-end hardware encryption) and my iCloud account.

    I think if more people felt that they had a choice between security and privacy or a faster rollout with lots of integration, people would choose the former. But it seems like we live in a world that might still care about privacy and security, but seems to feel that it is necessary to give it up if they want to adopt the conveniences of technology.

    On a final note, I’d like to recommend that you have a Smart Home Show episode dedicated to security and privacy in the home that really asks these start-ups for their vision of the future with regards to user data and privacy and how they expect consumers to assess the security and privacy that comes with purchasing competing products and ecosystems.

    I know to most it sounds nice when a company proclaims that they will integrate with as many systems as possible, but I’m cringing when I hear that. Am I the only one??

  • Michael Wolf

    Paul – thanks for your thoughtful comment. You make good points about the potential for security holes and that HomeKit is a work in progress.

    My main point is the market – meaning many who work at startups, large companies in the space and invest in the market – had overhigh expectations for HomeKit and because of this there’s been something of a letdown so far. But, as I say towards the end of the piece. I do think HomeKit hits its stride eventually and it will likely be next year.

    Thanks for the comment and reading!

  • TechPaul64

    I appreciate your analysis, Mike, but respectfully, I disagree this time and would like to make a couple points.

    Although we’ve been talking for a while about Homekit as it was announced in 2014, I honestly think it’s still way too early to judge Homekit as a good thing or bad thing for the industry. Homekit’s promise, like you mention in your article, was not only to create a platform that connects smart home tech (which could easily have been done with Apple supporting various API’s such as nest, smart things etc.), but also to do it the right way with a focus on security, and simplicity for the user. If that means minimum hardware specs and on-board security upgrades, it might be a necessary evil that I as a consumer would prefer. The web-hook API bridge world that exists today honestly scares me because when all of this becomes mainstream, the underlying security and privacy holes will become apparent. You are only as secure as your weakest link and when you daisy-chain your home tech through the internet with complete reliance on each manufacturer’s security protocols, that’s a recipe for disaster. If that’s our future then IoT-gate is inevitable and that will be the day when the smart home industry will really be “hurt”.

    I am one of the customers who was “hurt” because I invested in an ecobee3 too early not realizing that a hardware or software upgrade wouldn’t be possible without purchasing a new device. However, I took that risk knowing full well that I might need to sell my existing device to invest in a “homekit” system for my home. However, I’m an early adopter, and tech enthusiast. My family and friends who aren’t as savvy or interested (who the market are really targeting right now) wouldn’t have cared or been as disappointed as me when I found out I couldn’t get homekit on my ecobee3. I think the benefits of homekit will surface when the next generation of products begin coming out with homekit support. A family of homekit products working together would be a fair time to judge its success. Until then I consider homekit simply incomplete.

    Finally, I think there’s a whole conversation about security, privacy, simplicity that people are largely ignoring because we are so excited about the prospects of this new technology and getting it all to work. Vint Cerf can give us a lesson on that one: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2015/05/30/net-of-insecurity-part-1/
    Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.

    On another note, thank you for covering this industry so extensively. I listen to all of your podcasts and appreciate your reporting, interview and analysis and haven’t found anyone better on the web. Sorry if my first comment to you has some criticism, but oftentimes I agree with you to the point where I don’t have anything to say!


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