Apple’s smart home play will be wrapped under the HomeKit framework as part of the new iOS 8 software development kit, making it one of several “kits” that Apple launched at its developer conference WWDC 2014 on Monday. The kits will act as frameworks to handle the array of data and functionality provided today by one-off devices such as wearables and connected home devices. Other kits include HealthKit for personal health data (gathered from fitness trackers and apps), PhotoKit and CloudKit, which looks like a Heroku-style development platform that might compete with amazon Web Services (or may be built on it).
The idea behind HomeKit is pretty much what I reported last week. Apple is giving consumers with an iOS device the ability to control their home from what sounds like one app, or via a common UI on existing partners’ apps. Craig Federighi, SVP of Software Engineering said users could even group certain disparate apps together and control them via one command, such as turning off the lights and locking the door by telling Siri that you are leaving.
I expect more details on HomeKit later, but so far, Apple has signed partnerships with companies that include Chamberlain (check out the MyQ), August (smart locks), Schlage (smart locks), Netatmo (weather monitoring kits and thermostats), Withings (home health and fitness products) and more. This means the devices from these companies will work with iOS so their devices can take advantage of features like Siri for controlling actions as well as let the user set up
Apple has also brought the chip companies on board, as it needs to do since it is touting a “common network protocol” with secure pairing so only your iPhone can talk to your garage. Companies such as Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Cree and Marvell have already been building Apple’s specs into their connected device platforms, so we’ll likely see a few announcements from them touting those capabilities.
More importantly, Apple showed off a bunch of iOS features that could tie in nicely to any smart home integration such as the ability to take actions on notifications from the lock screen. I can see this coming in super handy. For example if you get a notification that your garage door has been open for more than 15 minutes, you could shut it from the notification screen.
Apple also played up the ability for its devices to understand context. If your iOS phone is near your MacBook running Yosemite you can seamlessly move between the two because the Macbook would detect your phone and vice versa. Other context-aware features such as offering location information to people in a messaging stream if the user gives permission look quite powerful. This ability to understand context and apply it to both devices and inside apps will be crucial in making the smart home more automatic and less app and screen-centric.
By welcoming select third-party vendors, by focusing on context, and by launching an array of user-centric features that let people live their lives instead of manage their homes, Apple is setting itself up to be a significant player in the smart home — albeit only for those that are buying into the Apple ecosystem.
Updated: This post was updated at 5 pm to correct who spoke about HomeKit onstage at the WWDC keynote. It was Craig Federighi, not Tim Cook.