Apple heads for home: Why HomeKit may not bring an 'iLight' or 'iLock,' but a new Apple TV

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited July 2014
As follows any new announcement from Apple, the world's most secretive consumer electronics company, the days since the the unveiling of HomeKit -- Apple's new "smart home" platform -- have been filled with rumors and speculation about where it might go. AppleInsider now steps back to take a look at the most likely scenario.




The promise of so many mid-century science fiction stories is now closer to reality than it has been at any point since the invention of the transistor: our homes are coming alive, learning to respond to and even anticipate our needs. One could, if one was so inclined, at this very moment knit together any of a number of free web services and devices available at local hardware stores to have their home lighting, security, ventilation, and audiovisual systems respond automatically to their owner's presence or absence.

But it's difficult. Not in the way that doing very large-scale integration for processor design is difficult, but in the same way that getting the $0.20 clocks on your microwave, oven, and television to display the same time at the same time is difficult.

As Steve Jobs would have said, it's a bag of hurt.

The State of the Home (automation system)

Crestron's iPad-powered home automation control console
Crestron's iPad-powered home automation control console


The easiest way for homeowners to give their house an education is to contract a professional to install a proprietary system from companies like Crestron. These work exceptionally well, but they can cost tens of thousands of dollars and generally don't play well with others: expansion requires another significant investment, not just plugging in a new bulb and connecting it to your Wi-Fi.

Today's crop of smart home devices is trying to run an end-around on these established systems. This is 2014, the thinking goes, and technology that can make people's lives easier should be available to everyone, not just those who can meet their yacht in Saint-Tropez each June.

Unfortunately, everyone has a slightly different idea of what that should look like.

As AppleInsider has shown in the past, the consumer smart home market is massively fragmented. Many devices use competing standards, some use proprietary protocols, and few can even speak between themselves -- never mind talking to each other.

Enter HomeKit




Apple has aimed HomeKit squarely at the root of the problem: interoperability. HomeKit is designed to abstract away the difficult job of managing connections between smart home devices and instead allow control interfaces to speak a single, common language whether they're talking to a garage door opener, a light bulb or a lock.

Users, Apple believes, shouldn't have to put up with using five different apps to control five different aspects of their home. Likewise, developers shouldn't have to reverse-engineer protocols or work to support five divergent control schemes.

Apple's thousands of engineers haven't created HomeKit out of the goodness of their hearts, of course. They need to sell iOS devices, and one of the ways they've chosen to go about it is by creating an ecosystem that makes users' lives easier for having chosen an iPhone over a Nokia handset or an iPad instead of a Galaxy Tab.

The seemingly obvious extension of that strategy is for Apple to move past the HomeKit software solution and design their own line of connected light bulbs and locks, and multiple rumors are now circulating to that effect. To think this way, though, is to ignore Apple's entire history when it comes to developer platforms.

Apple's platform history




The generally accepted premise behind Apple's recent success is one of control. Apple wants to dictate the user experience from beginning to end, a position spurred by Jobs's favorite Alan Kay quote -- "people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware."

Since the beginning of the iPod era, Apple has put forward a consistent strategy when it comes to developer platforms and the massive ecosystem of accessories that surround its products. Apple dictates the way in which third parties can build off of its foundation -- keeping a degree of control -- and in exchange for doing things the Apple way, accessory makers and developers gain access to Apple's hundreds of millions of relatively wealthy customers.
Apple wants control, but it also needs a robust third-party ecosystem.
Most of the time, this system works extremely well. Today there exist numerous large companies who are mostly or completely focused on designing and manufacturing accessories for Apple's devices, never mind the enormous number of software development jobs that the App Store supports.

Sometimes, though, when the system breaks down and Apple feels it can do better, it creates something to show the others how it thinks things should be done. The iPod Hi-Fi is an infamous example; so were the original iPhone's Bluetooth earpiece accessory and the iPhone 4's bumper case, designed to show off the glass back of the device.

But the smart home industry doesn't have a hardware problem. Indeed, by most accounts, generally excellent hardware is held back by inferior software -- that's what HomeKit is for.

The HomeKit Hi-Fi

The new boss: same as the old boss?
The new boss: same as the old boss?


It's telling that the list of easily-remembered, Apple-manufactured accessories is short. If Apple's ecosystem were a house, it would have clean lines, well-supported walls, and a neutral color scheme -- ready to be customized by its owner, because Apple knows that everyone has different tastes, but we all need a place to live.

This is why Apple's most likely entry into the smart home space isn't an "iLight" or an "iLock." Instead, it's a revamped Apple TV with a built-in smart home bridge.

Imagine bringing home a fourth-generation Apple TV, connecting it to your Wi-Fi network, and immediately being able to ask Siri to turn off your downstairs lights and raise the temperature in the house when you go to bed, no matter which smart home manufacturer made the bulbs and thermostat. All of this with minimal additional configuration -- and minimal investment -- thanks to the behind-the-scenes work done by Apple with HomeKit.

Apple doesn't want to replace your smart home devices. It just wants to make them easier to live with.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 77
    spaterspater Posts: 1member
    As an Apple owner (Macs, iPhones, iPads) and Control4 owner, i'm excited to see how HomeKit allows extensibility for purpose built Automation systems. I was asking from day 1 of the announcement how they were going to integrate all the piece parts (light bulbs, outlets, etc) and not just relying on the iOS device. One of the main reasons I like the dedicated system its that it doesn't just rely on WiFi. Control4 uses ZigBee, and open standard wireless P2P mesh technology. It's much more stable than WiFi. The other issue that I see is ask yourself how many times you have to reboot your Apple TV because it's locked up or just won't play Netflix.
  • Reply 2 of 77
    kent909kent909 Posts: 691member
    As much as companies whine and moan when they percieve the "playing field to not be level, that is all they really want. Just slanting toward their company. Apple is offering a level playing field and only time will tell if companies choose to take advantage of it. However that will mean they will have to compete rather than control. It should be interesting to watch it unfold.
  • Reply 3 of 77
    alfiejralfiejr Posts: 1,524member
    Actually, i question the entire notion of the 'integrated automated' home - if that is indeed what HomeKit is all about. is it really worth the trouble?

    in fact, for most of everyday life, old school manual/built it controls remain the easiest sufficient UI of all.

    they are located, of course, where the activity is happening - appliances for example. why bother to use an app or voice UI to deal with my refrigerator or dish washer? i still have to open the doors, move things in and out of them, etc. their button controls are simple and quick. same with thermostats, lights, garage opener, and the rest. it is not like you car, where a hands free UI is mandatory. and you can use inexpensive motion sensing switches now, for example, to turn lights on/off when you enter/leave a room, so why bother with a voice UI?

    there certainly are exceptions. for example, i cannot figure out our drip irrigation system control box. its UI is a total mess. there is no diagram of the system, and all the adjustments you want to make to its zones - how much water, when, etc. - are bizarrely difficult to enter. boy, could that ever use an app.

    which highlights the point that where timers and complex adjustments are useful there might be a real role for home automation. fancy lighting perhaps, and maybe your HVAC, but few other things.

    but even then, dedicated apps (and web based controls) are superior to any generic UI system. the several brands of home security systems, for example, include very detailed information and varying capabilities to display and UI. plus you don't need a HomeKit to just add geofencing to them. and new smart lightbulbs like the Hue are easy to control via their own app - and much more flexible to locate exactly where desired than any built-in lights at modest cost could ever be.

    "Home automation" is already happening - some of it very well done. the gadget-head holy-grail of a "master" UI to somehow control it all via a single voice UI interface - like a sci-fi movie - sounds very cool, and Apple, Google, and others are working on it i guess.

    but maybe it will wind up being like all those universal TV remotes that are never as easy to use as promised to control your entire AV set up and never quite as good as the remotes that came with each gizmo.

    the smartphone/tablet has already solved this real problem. IMHO a single portable hand held device with multiple specific optimized UI apps for each gizmo is actually the best UI of all. nothing else really needs to be standardized. i really don't care if all my appliance clocks are synced to the second - that's utterly trivial.
  • Reply 4 of 77
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member
    Nice take. Particularly the last sentence.
    It's the same answer I've given regarding an "Apple Television set" ever since that rumor first started.
  • Reply 5 of 77
    This post appears to give no reason for putting Siri and homekit in the Apple TV itself instead of just touch-based iOS devices.
  • Reply 6 of 77
    blazarblazar Posts: 270member
    Apple needs to make the classic "key" unnecessary for home and car.

    Apple needs to make the physical credit card unnecessary.

    A complex device is not needed for either of these... Everything else is gravy.
  • Reply 7 of 77
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,331member

    Using the Apple TV as the brain/hub and a calling point out to the Internet for all the devices in your home is a FAR better idea than having to deal with each device from each manufacturer being intelligent enough to call out to their servers on its own, which you then individually ping when you need them.

     

    Changing a function at home should LITERALLY involve calling home–accessing a piece of your home's hardware over the Internet.

  • Reply 8 of 77
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Alfiejr View Post



    Actually, i question the entire notion of the 'integrated automated' home - if that is indeed what HomeKit is all about. is it really worth the trouble?



    in fact, for most of everyday life, old school manual/built it controls remain the easiest sufficient UI of all.

    I'm also undecided on the actual usefulness of all this home automation. It might be beneficial for a large modern home, but the current worldwide trend is increased population density with strict regulations by associations and management companies that are quite restrictive about what you can and cannot install in your small living area. I don't have any exact numbers but I would guess that a large majority of people in the world today who currently have an iOS device live in less than 100m2 apartments (1076 ft2) where very little automation is needed due to compactness of the living space. I just don't see the mass market appeal of home automation.

     

    I have a large home so I might be interested in some automation but it is somewhat of a hassle to install all new appliances and lighting for a marginal convenience upgrade.

  • Reply 9 of 77
    blazarblazar Posts: 270member
    Automation saves water and electricity when done well coupled with motorized shades, foam insulation, and a variety of other methods.

    Smaller homes with higher density doesn't make automation useless. Automation, integration, health monitoring will have a combination of unexpected side effects as well as benefits. Convenience, energy saving, longevity, security are just a few of the potential theoretical benefits.

    This stuff WILL sell I can guarantee it. It just hasn't been done "for the masses" well yet. The tech is now cheap and implementation just requires collaboration.
  • Reply 10 of 77
    65c81665c816 Posts: 133member
    AppleTV + HomeKit + Airport Extreme.
  • Reply 11 of 77
    theothergeofftheothergeoff Posts: 2,062member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Alfiejr View Post



    Actually, i question the entire notion of the 'integrated automated' home - if that is indeed what HomeKit is all about. is it really worth the trouble?



    in fact, for most of everyday life, old school manual/built it controls remain the easiest sufficient UI of all.



    they are located, of course, where the activity is happening - appliances for example. why bother to use an app or voice UI to deal with my refrigerator or dish washer? i still have to open the doors, move things in and out of them, etc. their button controls are simple and quick. same with thermostats, lights, garage opener, and the rest. it is not like you car, where a hands free UI is mandatory. and you can use inexpensive motion sensing switches now, for example, to turn lights on/off when you enter/leave a room, so why bother with a voice UI?



    there certainly are exceptions. for example, i cannot figure out our drip irrigation system control box. its UI is a total mess. there is no diagram of the system, and all the adjustments you want to make to its zones - how much water, when, etc. - are bizarrely difficult to enter. boy, could that ever use an app.



    which highlights the point that where timers and complex adjustments are useful there might be a real role for home automation. fancy lighting perhaps, and maybe your HVAC, but few other things.



    but even then, dedicated apps (and web based controls) are superior to any generic UI system. the several brands of home security systems, for example, include very detailed information and varying capabilities to display and UI. plus you don't need a HomeKit to just add geofencing to them. and new smart lightbulbs like the Hue are easy to control via their own app - and much more flexible to locate exactly where desired than any built-in lights at modest cost could ever be.



    "Home automation" is already happening - some of it very well done. the gadget-head holy-grail of a "master" UI to somehow control it all via a single voice UI interface - like a sci-fi movie - sounds very cool, and Apple, Google, and others are working on it i guess.



    but maybe it will wind up being like all those universal TV remotes that are never as easy to use as promised to control your entire AV set up and never quite as good as the remotes that came with each gizmo.



    the smartphone/tablet has already solved this real problem. IMHO a single portable hand held device with multiple specific optimized UI apps for each gizmo is actually the best UI of all. nothing else really needs to be standardized. i really don't care if all my appliance clocks are synced to the second - that's utterly trivial.

    The threshold of 'automation' is when you do or say one thing, and an orchestration of activities in your home is executed.  otherwise, you're just putting one thousand remotes in your pocket.   

     

    The interface is important, you're correct.  But having the logic of many things in one UI is better, and then 'learning' how you want your home is the next level (I program mine with python, using Indigo), and the next level is the 'cloud sourcing' of information (weather for me... I don't want to be watering through a thunderstorm, or 20 minutes before a thunderstorm, and/or I want to close the windows before the rains hit).

     

    your 'utterly trivial' example is utterly trivial.  The better example is I want to turn off the alarm system, unlock the door, turn on the hall lights, and set the temp for 'occupied' when I issue a single command... or even better, when my location and motion indicates that I'm approaching my door.  20 apps for 10 lighting types, 3 motion systems, Sound monitors, video systems,  my HVAC, my alarm system, my water sensors, my water valves, my Home theater system, my intercom, my irrigation system, my curtain control system and my weather monitor isn't 'automation'

     

    It's Babel.

     

    Much like CarPlay, I'm anticipating new homes, retrofits to be wired (WiFied) for home automation.   My guess there will be 4 or 5 players in the game for central controllers (Honeywell, Tyco/DSC, Elk are there now) .   Apple can be one of them, or talk to all of them.   And unlike TVs, the market isn't saturated.  And the home automation 'interface' requires half a EE Ph.D and half a CS degree, with serious knowledge in industrial engineering.    Sort of like programming DVRs and HTs, and TVs, and Cable boxes together.  

     

    If Apple can solve AppleTV,  they can solve this.  Profitably.

  • Reply 12 of 77

    So the speculation is that the next Apple TV will be a "smart home bridge"? Maybe.

     

    Some high-end custom homes had smart features, including a music, PA, smoke-, fire-, and motion-detectors, and light switches in every room. These devices were wired into custom servers running dedicated home automation software. Thanks to wifi, the cost of home network/automation can be more affordable. A low-powered network-connected device like Apple TV could easily run some kind of home automation software without compromising its ability to play media, but, I argue that a more natural "hub" for home automation is a future version of AirPort Extreme. By adding a little more computing power to AirPort Extreme, it could easily store scripts and other customization intelligence, and it's always on. The UI would be available through iOS and AppleTV apps, as well as either a web interface that you could access from any PC or Mac attached to the home network. It could even be iCloud-connected to back up settings, making it easy to replace or upgrade without losing your home automation settings.

  • Reply 13 of 77
    The only smart devices I have are clocks that read the radio broadcast time signal. The only thing I ever have to do with these guys is change the batteries.

    Thinking if getting a wemo and hooking it up to IFTTT
  • Reply 14 of 77

    Something Apple might bundle with the new ?TV are connected speakers & microphones. Perhaps this is already a joint project with Beats? The first priority would be to allow “Hey, Siri” to work from any room in your home. All the other devices could best be left to third parties.
  • Reply 15 of 77
    dick applebaumdick applebaum Posts: 12,442member
    So the speculation is that the next Apple TV will be a "smart home bridge"? Maybe.

    Some high-end custom homes had smart features, including a music, PA, smoke-, fire-, and motion-detectors, and light switches in every room. These devices were wired into custom servers running dedicated home automation software. Thanks to wifi, the cost of home network/automation can be more affordable. A low-powered network-connected device like Apple TV could easily run some kind of home automation software without compromising its ability to play media, but, I argue that a more natural "hub" for home automation is a future version of AirPort Extreme. By adding a little more computing power to AirPort Extreme, it could easily store scripts and other customization intelligence, and it's always on. The UI would be available through iOS and AppleTV apps, as well as either a web interface that you could access from any PC or Mac attached to the home network. It could even be iCloud-connected to back up settings, making it easy to replace or upgrade without losing your home automation settings.

    Ahh ... IDK, the AppleTV seems to have more capability for the price:
    • Ax CPU/GPU
    • RAM
    • Flash Storage
    • WiFi
    • BTLE
    • IR
    • TV Connectivity
    • Programmability

    I suspect that a new 2014 model AppleTV will have an A7 or A8 class APU, and it will support Metal, H.264 encoding, 11ac WiFI -- and support console class games and other apps. Among these apps could be a controller for HomeKit devices.

    In anticipation of a programmable AppleTV, I've been experimenting with the new Swift programming language for iOS and OS X -- I really like it.

    So, I thought I'd write a little routine to rate smart phone OEMs (below). Feel free to use it, as Open Source -- just my way of giving something back ...
    func ???? (companyName: String) -> String
    {
        var companyRating = ""
        switch companyName
        {
            
            case "Apple"      : companyRating = "????"
            case "Microsoft"  : companyRating = "????"
            case "Samsung"    : fallthrough
            case "Google"     : companyRating = "????"
            case "Blackberry" : companyRating = "????"
                
            default           : companyRating = "????"
            
        }
        
        return companyRating
    }
    
    var theOEM = "Samsung"
    
    var theRating = ????(theOEM)
    
    println("The rating of \(theOEM) is: \(theRating)")
    
    


    The rating of Samsung is: ????
  • Reply 16 of 77
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,184member
    Home automation is coming. HomeKit can help it along. But it's not the magic bullet. If Apple can extend and build-out its ecosystem to include common household functions, others may eventually hook into it. The comparison to CarPlay is apt. I suspect the transition will be glacially slow. No one expects you to go out and buy a new HVAC, washing machine, refrigerator, or door locks just to use HomeKit today. But when you do finally need to replace those big-ticket items, wouldn't it be nice if they were HomeKit ready?
  • Reply 17 of 77
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DogCowabunga View Post



    Thinking if getting a wemo and hooking it up to IFTTT

    Thanks for the tip. I was not aware of these devices from Belkin. I could use some of these. The main issue I see with my current wiring is that I have banks of switches so the wall faceplates won't work with these, although I am really handy with custom one-off fabrication in my industry. Otherwise I love the fact that you can enter your city and it will keep track of sunset/sunrise. Currently I have photo sensors but they can be unreliable when they transition into shade or on overcast mornings. I currently use vacation timers for some interior lights, but the Wemo version might be a little better as well.

  • Reply 18 of 77
    rivertriprivertrip Posts: 106member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by blazar View Post



    Automation saves water and electricity when done well coupled with motorized shades, foam insulation, and a variety of other methods.



    Smaller homes with higher density doesn't make automation useless. Automation, integration, health monitoring will have a combination of unexpected side effects as well as benefits. Convenience, energy saving, longevity, security are just a few of the potential theoretical benefits.



    This stuff WILL sell I can guarantee it. It just hasn't been done "for the masses" well yet. The tech is now cheap and implementation just requires collaboration.

    How do I contact you when a guanteed item doesn't work?

  • Reply 19 of 77
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post





    Ahh ... IDK, the AppleTV seems to have more capability for the price:

    • Ax CPU/GPU

    • RAM

    • Flash Storage

    • WiFi

    • BTLE

    • IR

    • TV Connectivity

    • Programmability


    I suspect that a new 2014 model AppleTV will have an A7 or A8 class APU, and it will support Metal, H.264 encoding, 11ac WiFI -- and support console class games and other apps. Among these apps could be a controller for HomeKit devices.

     

     

    Do you need A7-class processing power to turn some lights on and off? I got one of those programmable light switches that's barely more processing power than a $29 Casio digital watch with multiple alarms. Even something like Raspberry Pi is overkill for an automation controller.

  • Reply 20 of 77
    ctmike78ctmike78 Posts: 21member
    So the speculation is that the next Apple TV will be a "smart home bridge"? Maybe.

    Some high-end custom homes had smart features, including a music, PA, smoke-, fire-, and motion-detectors, and light switches in every room. These devices were wired into custom servers running dedicated home automation software. Thanks to wifi, the cost of home network/automation can be more affordable. A low-powered network-connected device like Apple TV could easily run some kind of home automation software without compromising its ability to play media, but, I argue that a more natural "hub" for home automation is a future version of AirPort Extreme. By adding a little more computing power to AirPort Extreme, it could easily store scripts and other customization intelligence, and it's always on. The UI would be available through iOS and AppleTV apps, as well as either a web interface that you could access from any PC or Mac attached to the home network. It could even be iCloud-connected to back up settings, making it easy to replace or upgrade without losing your home automation settings.
    Totally agree about AirPort Extreme being the more natural integration point/hub. Then any iOS device would be a client/control point.
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