More than two operating systems ago – when Apple rolled out iOS 8 – the tech world became abuzz talking about the promise of an Apple powered smart home. The problem? Apple’s HomeKit never really took off the way most thought it would. Some attribute it to an unfulfilled pledge to make interfacing with smart home devices simpler, while others felt that it was too difficult to find a decent third-party mobile app – even though by last count, there were over 20 of them. Others still, found the selection of compatible devices to be woefully underwhelming.
With the release of iOS 10, the first operating system to include a proprietary HomeKit app, critics are once again becoming believers that Apple’s smart home technology will not only be among the leaders in terms of functionality, but from a DIYers perspective, lead the way with the easy to operate and intuitively designed interface that Apple customers have grown accustomed to lo these many years.
So what is it about the HomeKit that potential buyers should look forward?
Home automation is all about personalization, right? This means controlling devices either remotely via a smartphone, or programming them ahead of time to adjust the conditions within your home to what you like. Many lower end devices are often set using timers; and while they do offer a degree of automation, they’re not necessarily the most efficient way to maintain your home’s environmental controls – largely because such functionality can’t take into account other variables like outdoor conditions.
With the HomeKit’s geofencing feature, you can easily program your air conditioner to turn on when you’re a certain distance from home, or have your porch and entrance lighting come on as you enter the driveway. Alternatively, it could open or close your automated window coverings or turn off your lights just by leaving the house. This level of customization is so easy and intuitive with Apple’s new Home app that any homeowner can handle it on their own without having to rely on an installation professional.
Granted, there are a ton of smart home solutions already on the market and so many more emerging each year. It’s therefore easy to wonder how Apple’s HomeKit stacks up against other similar products. Take the Amazon Echo for example. Both it and the HomeKit are designed to add components in a piecemeal fashion – flexibility that homeowners that aren’t too keen on investing heavily on comprehensive systems all at once find appealing.
HomeKit takes things a step further – integrating into a user’s Apple TV interface (something that the Echo and other devices like Nest and Hive simply can’t do). Though we may hate to admit it, our televisions represent a focal point within many homes, so it stands to reason that you shouldn’t be beholden to your smartphone to turn off the bathroom light if you’ve just sat down in your favourite chair.
As we speak, the Echo edges out the HomeKit in one particularly salient feature: voice commands. While the Echo can be programmed to recognize voice commands like, ‘turn off lights, living room’ or ‘raise blinds, kitchen’ HomeKit is at a disadvantage. Not because it lacks voice command functionality, but because Siri, Apple’s favourite butler, lives within your phone and can’t really be accessed in a manner that is completely hands-free the way that the Amazon Echo’s Alexa can. It is relatively safe to say that this is a pitfall that won’t be around forever – you can bet that Apple is hard at work to bring forth the kind of voice command functionality that their competitors offer in their products.
Arguably the most interesting feature offered by Apple’s HomeKit is the ability to create what are affectionately referred to as ‘scenes’. With scenes, users can make some pretty big changes to your home environment simply by uttering a few simple words. Essentially, programming a scene allows the user to incorporate alter the state of several devices all at once. For example, your ‘Good morning’ scene could include opening your bedroom blinds, and turning up the heat, while simultaneously activating the kettle. The possibilities really are endless.
Now that the Home app and iOS 10 have launched, there’s really no telling how quickly HomeKit enabled products will find their way to store shelves or how quickly homeowners will begin snatching them up