"I wonder how much more they can squeeze out of a rectangle,” Motherboard contributor Max Cherney quipped as we were discussing today's kickoff of Apple's uber-hyped Worldwide Developer's Conference. Well, here's something: Thanks to Siri, the iPhone and iPad will now double as a voice-activated remote control for the emerging smart home.
Apple software chief Craig Federighi confirmed rumors that the Cupertino giant would be dipping a toe into home automation—as Google and Microsoft already have—with the announcement of 'HomeKit' at WWDC.
HomeKit's not an app, it's more like an operating system for your future robot house. Already, there's a host of smart gadgets on the market, most with their own apps. With HomeKit, Apple wants to link them all together, making it easy to control the disparate products with your iDevice.
Instead of having one app to open the garage door and another to unlock the house and another to turn on the front lights, getting Apple "certification" would make them work together, controlled from the same place.
It will also integrate with Siri, so you don't need to finger around with anything. You can say, "Siri, get ready for bed," and it'll (she'll?) turn off the lights, lock the doors, and turn the security cameras on, and so forth, Federighi said at WWDC.
In other words, Apple’s finally caught up with its rivals by making a play for the connected home, a treasure trove of user data and consumer habits. Despite being hyped to high heaven, the smart home market is still a niche space. Fancy intelligent thermostats and smart locks that welcome you home are novelty products; it’s mainly tech-savvy and relatively well-off consumers rushing out to buy them.
But if Apple makes them sleek, user-friendly, and fun, it might just catapult the smart home into the mainstream. Which is what Apple does. Unfortunately, that would likely mean trapping people into the Apple ecosystem and squeezing smaller startups out of the market. Another thing Apple does.
Apple's got the brand recognition, and has partnered with a dozen or so smart gadget makers for the HomeKit rollout, including Philips, August, Honeywell, iHome, and Kwikset. Some of these companies' products are already sold at Apple stores. Like headphones and speakers that are "Made for iPhone," iOS-ready smart devices could give consumers additional incentive to buy Apple products over Android.
Though of course, Google will give it a run for its money. Android@Home was launched in 2011 and petered out, but, with its $3.2 billion purchase of the Nest smart thermostat in January, it's trying again. I wrote at the time that it's easy to imagine Google integrating voice recognition technology to control your home. OK Google Home, dim the lights and turn up the music.
Now, Apple has caught up. There's even rumors based on an Apple patent) that its home automation system will include location tracking to essentially follow you around the house and anticipate your needs before you ask.
In the 10 minutes or so Federighi spoke about HomeKit today, he was sure to bring up privacy protections, as he did many times throughout the keynote address. But the more your computer, cell phone, home address, front door lock, camera, light switch, and TV are tied together, the creepier this stuff gets.