Have you heard about Apple’s new initiative to bring Smart Home Automation to nearly a billion iOS and OSX devices? It’s called Apple HomeKit!
To start with an Apple solution to a technical issue isn’t always a skinnier form factor or a newer version of a popular mobile device.
In the case of smart home automation, the focal point isn’t even on products.
Instead, Apple is making moves toward standardizing communication between existing technologies, making the management of competing smart home products a smooth, seamless process through the introduction of a unifying protocol.
The plan is to have a number of smart household accessories using this Apple inspired HomeKit platform to talk to each other.
This may not be the leap into smart automation hardware territory developers were hoping for, but the move has an elegant logic.
Think of smart homes as playing the same role as the immature tablet market, a market that was transformed by the introduction of the iPad.
The Apple HomeKit then plays the part of the peacemaker, an envoy engineered to consolidate the discrete technologies that compete for attention in the smart home automation market.
Imagine the protocol as the glue that holds smart homes together, invisibly working to allow each smart thermostat, door camera, security sensors, leak detectors, and IP cameras to talk to the other with Apple accented instructions.
But enough metaphors, let’s add some facts to the conjecture.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT APPLE HOMEKIT?
The settling dust from the Worldwide Developers Conference and the announcement of iOS8 is where rumor has condensed.
Tighter integration to cloud services is no surprise.
A renewed dedication to health applications was expected, especially with the explosion of wearable devices coming to market in 2014, but the Homekit forms the third point of this triumvirate.
It confirms Apple’s dedication to making smart homes a reality, to constructing the framework of a system that can be controlled with any iPhone or iPad.
Of course, Apple being the master of innovation that the iconic company is, the control goes further than using a smart home automation App.
Siri will be the mistress of the home, conducting the entire setup with quiet efficiency.
With a murmured command issued to Siri, a homeowner can vocally control lighting, heating, security, and manage kitchen appliances.
It’s a bold move on Apple’s part, designing a single protocol to unite smart components, but Apple is seizing the day, using HomeKit to sidestep chaos born of operating system fragmentation.
The software engineering behind the protocol will depend on home automation manufacturers conforming to the standard.
When this happens, the household accessory receives a seal of approval from Apple, a Made for iPhone or iPad certification that enables Siri to control the home.
INSIDE APPLE HOMEKIT
Details on the technical aspects of HomeKit are sparse, but they’re trickling out as the launch countdown approaches.
The keyword for implementing the system is compatibility.
The developing ecosystem has to talk the same language and use Apple licensed technology when forming the communication link.
Fleshing out this concept involves defining the minutiae of how authentication is implemented, the configuration of Bluetooth LE, and all the connectivity standards required to certify a partner product as compliant in the MFI, made for iPhone, program.
To this end, compliant products driven by the Apple HomeKit and the accompanying API must securely pair individual devices, organizing them in a logical hierarchy.
The communication standard will categorize and label rooms and devices.
A series of action sets, somewhat similar to an IFTTT (If This Then That web service) recipe, uses the labeled rooms and devices to triggers an event.
Say “I’m home” to Siri as the car pulls into the drive and a chain of labeled actions is set in motion – for instance opening the garage door, turning on outdoor lights, illuminating a keyless entry system, and turning the heat up to a preset comfort level.
APPLE HOMEKIT CERTIFIED PRODUCTS
The communications protocol and the entire platform is barely more than thousands of line of attractive code without certified and compliant products under the umbrella of Apple management.
Siri needs friends to play with, telling them to get in line and do what they’re told.
The smart bulb manufacturers and connected thermostat designers are on the list, as are the makers of next-generation locks and remote-controlled switches.
Expect to see dozens of companies, including Philips and Honeywell, Belkin and Withings, gain certification in the Apple HomeKit protocol.
The integration of a wireless chip ensures compliance with the framework, but there are a number of specifications and third-party technology profiles to consider.
Some of these accessory development stipulations could be considered overwhelming, a fact demonstrated by the details provided in the MFI program – but it’s all part of guaranteeing the communication framework controls and manages accessories, discovering devices and quickly configuring them for Siri to access.
The aforementioned manufacturers will receive software development kits to play around with when working on the compliance of their products, with the SDK creating virtual triggers and events to demonstrate how well the protocol is integrated into their smart device.
USEFUL SMART APPLE HOMEKIT APPLICATIONS
Along with recruiting Siri as the voice command coordinator of various action sets, this initial step into smart home automation could employ other elements of the Apple ecosystem, components that go beyond picking up an iPhone or iPad from the coffee table and asking Siri to turn down the room temperature.
Apple TV may be called in after a software update, acting as a central hub for the platform. Also, keep an eye on iBeacon, Apple’s Bluetooth-based location service.
With this feature implemented as part of a home automation setup, the smart home can track the room an occupant is located within real-time.
Homekit then comes to the fore, turning up the air conditioning to meet user presets, or switching on a bank of lights at a precisely dimmed setting.
FINAL HOMEKIT THOUGHTS
We mention an overwhelming amount of technologies whenever talking about a smart home.
While exciting, there’s the potential for a schism, a fragmentation of what should be a unified system working in concert to control every part of the home with minimal supervision.
The aim of the Apple HomeKit is to set Siri as the conductor among this discord, smoothing the rhythm and tempo of the whole home with the initiation of a unifying protocol.
It may not be a box of wonders, a shiny gadget to fawn over, but fans of home automation should be applauding Apple’s singular vision for rescuing smart homes.