I wrote a quick post yesterday with my top of mind thoughts about HomeKit. After a little more reflection, I have some additional observations about Apple’s smart home news from yesterday, as well as some ideas on possible next steps for Apple to further evolve its smart home strategy.
First, we need to see step two to know how serious Apple is about smart home
From what I hear from my sources, Apple has some more in store for their move into smart home. I think HomeKit was just a first step and a logical one, creating an API and and protocol for smart home products to connect via iOS.
However, if they want to actually have iOS and Apple products insert themselves as a central part of the smart home of the future, they’ll need to address a few things, such as…
What about Android?
One of the benefits of smart home systems such as SmartThings, Revolv and INSTEON is they offer Android support, which is increasingly important. Sure, there are a large number of Apple-centric households, but there are also tens of millions of mixed OS households (Android/iOS) and then there are those that throw in with just Android.
Apple is likely ok with just targeting those households that are willing to only leverage an iOS device for smart home control (in fact, iOS lock-in may actually the explicit end-goal of their smart home aspirations), but that certainly isn’t a desired outcome for smart home point solution device makers. If you have a smart bulb or lock, you need to support all of the OS’s to attain the widest addressable market.
So while I think plenty of smart home device makers will sign up for HomeKit, I don’t think any, except for the me-too knock-off crowd, will be satisfied with HomeKit support alone.
Speaking of knockoffs…
I think perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this initial move by Apple will be those manufacturers who want to get to market with a smart home point solution but don’t necessarily want to do a significant amount of investment in software development.
We are already seeing significant competition in the low-end Wi-Fi smartplug and home security appliance markets, and these manufacturers will soon be able to write to the HomeKit API and sell their wares as HomeKit compatible.
On the flipside, I think this creates additional competition for the likes of WeMo.
Like I said, I’m hearing hints that we will see additional moves from Apple in this space, so I don’t think they’re by any means done. HomeKit was a good first step, but it was limited, and I think we’ll likely see a more pronounced effort by the company in the next 12 months.
Here are some ideas for next-steps for an Apple smart home effort:
Unleash Apple TV
One of the obvious next moves for me would be to tie in Apple TV as a control hub. The reality is having mobile iOS devices as smart home hub is limited, because I think you need to have a fixed device in the home to really persistently achieve the benefits of a smart home. Mobile devices, as is their nature, leave homes, and this limits access to those who are, very literally, left behind.
I think by making Apple TV a control hub, Apple would well position themselves and shore up the weakness inherent to an mobile-only smart home control network.
What was most surprising to me about yesterday’s WWDC keynote was the somewhat conspicuous lack of any mention about iBeacon. Sure, it’s a technology that Apple’s really only talked about in the context of retail, but it’s an important foundational technology relative to Apple’s IoT strategy (and we’d all be foolish to assume they don’t have one), and I get most excited about an Apple smart home when I think about the possibility of iBeacon-enabled devices enabled throughout the smart home.
They talked about the idea of “scenes” yesterday, and imagine how more evolved smart home scenes powered with location awareness of iBeacon would be: walking through the house with an iWatch or iPhone, and each device on the smart home network reacting to your proximity (cameras turning on, doors unlocking, lights dimming). Powerful.
My guess is that iBeacon will be a part of the smart home vision for Apple, but they just haven’t gotten it ready yet. I imagine by this fall or early next year, we’ll see Apple unveil a fuller smart home strategy with iBeacon as a foundational technology.
Show us the damn iWatch already
While we all are still waiting for Apple’s move into wearables, I think that when they do reveal an iWatch (or whatever they choose to reveal), it will be an integral part of their more fleshed-out smart home strategy. I can envision a Bluetooth (and possibly Wi-Fi) enabled device with iBeacon intelligence that not only gives persistent information about the location of the person wearing it (as well as sends information about that person, possibly leveraging information gathered through the newly announced Healthkit), but also can act as a control UI for the smart home.
One thing I think we can all safely assume is that Apple is only getting started in smart home. It will be an interesting rest of 2014 and 2015 as we watch a more fleshed-out smart home strategy evolve out of Cupertino.