Apple Homekit explained
Hot on the heels of the home automation trend, Apple has introduced a new system called Homekit that will enable you to have wireless and electronic control of your home, household features, activities, appliances, and more.
Although HomeKit is not yet available for consumers, you've probably wondered how it works and what exactly it can control. Luckily, Apple outlined much of this through developer sessions at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference. But instead of directing you to those monotonous and complex lectures, Pocket-lint has broken things down and explained everything below.
We not only discuss the fine details of Homekit but also some currently-available alternatives from companies like Google's Nest. Keep reading to learn more.
Why did Apple develop Homekit?
Apple developed the Homekit framework so it could simplify the current state of home automation. With Homekit, Apple essentially created a common language that smart devices (also called accessories) from any manufacturer can understand and support. Homekit also leverages Siri, Apple's intelligent voice assistance, letting you control smart devices with just your voice.
Imagine having a house chock-full of smart devices (like a light bulb, coffee pot, and smoke alarm) from multiple manufacturers (like Honeywell and GE), but they can understand each other and work together. What's more, you can tell these smart devices what to do through Siri on your iOS device. That's home automation...and Homekit makes the experience very consumer-friendly.
Manufacturers have to add support for Homekit in their smart devices, and only then will those devices be considered Homekit-enabled. When Apple showed off Homekit at WWDC in June 2014, it announced partnerships with many manufacturers. Some of the companies that have revealed they will soon offer Homekit-enabled devices include iHome, Haier, Withings, Philips, and more.
And finally, Apple's HomeKit system in iOS 8 will guide you through the process of configuring and naming Homekit-enabled devices as well as every room in your house. Homekit provides you with the ability to remotely control your home and all the smart devices inside it. Again, it simplifies home automation.
How does Homekit work?
In the HomeKit system, practically everything - such as a home, room, device, function, setting, etc - must have its own name and be stored in a common database accessible by Siri. That's because Siri has to recognise what it should control whenever you speak a command.
For example, if you own a house and a condo, you will need to assign each home a different name (such as "House" and "Condo"). Every room in your home must have different name as well. Take note that you can have a "Kitchen" in both homes but can't have two "Kitchens" in one home.
All Homekit-enabled devices in your home, which you should have synced and configured through your iOS device, need their own names too. And every function or service that the device is capable of providing will need a distinct name in Homekit. So, if you want to make a cup of coffee, you can name your machine "Coffee pot" and the function "Brew".
Siri will only be able to control your home, rooms, and Homekit-enabled devices if it can recognise the pre-programmed names you mentioned during a spoken command.
Those of you who are very tech-savvy could conceivably have hundreds of names in Homekit for all your rooms, devices, and functions. To make it easier for you to control multiple things at once, Apple has included a grouping feature in Homekit.
Grouping allows you to, for instance, turn off all the lights in your house with a single spoken command. That means you won't have to ask Siri to shut off every light in every room in every house you own, one by one. Grouping also includes sub-features called Action Sets or Scenes, so you can control more than just multiples of a single type of device.
Imagine you've assigned a scene called "It's bedtime", and various devices and actions are connected to that scene (such as locking your doors, turning off the lights, and setting your alarm clock). Every time you tell Siri "It's bedtime", Homekit's grouping feature will instantly alert your doors, lights, and alarm clock to do their respective tasks (in no particular order).
Homekit features privacy and security layers, according to Apple.
More specifically, HomeKit includes end-to-end encryption between iOS devices and smart devices. The HomeKit API also requires that third-party applications for smart devices in use must run in foreground. This allows you to know exactly which apps are controlling your devices at home. It also maintains privacy - while preventing smart devices from being misused.
When does Homekit release?
HomeKit will debut with iOS 8 on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. You can expect the company's next-generation mobile operating system to release this autumn, though third-party app and accessory developers can use the current iOS 8 beta period to release new or update existing products to work with Homekit.
What are some Homekit alternatives?
Apple's Homekit is unique in that it doesn't have much stiff competition. Sure, Samsung offers a home automation platform called Samsung Smart Home, but it just debuted earlier this year and is still new.
There's also a nifty platform and app called SmartThings, which turns your smartphone into a remote to control for smart devices in your home and recent rumours have claimed Samsung is considering acquiring SmartThings, which could be interesting for the future.
Apart from Samsung and SmartThings, Apple should keep on eye on Google. The Mountain View-based company already has the potential to both topple Homekit and dominate home automation, thanks to a company called Nest Labs.
Google acquired Nest Labs, the makers of the Nest smart learning thermostat, for $3.2 billion in January 2014. The high price tag of the acquisition, coupled with Google’s newcomer status to the smart home market, made headlines, and it confirmed the search giant’s interest in home automation.
And then in June 2014, Google announced a new developer program for the Nest division. Called "Works with Nest", the program provides a set of APIs that manufacturers can include in their smart devices in order to let you link and remote control them as well as integrate them with Nest and other Google products.
The thing is, if you watch Nest's 4-minute YouTube video posted on the Nest developers homepage, you won't hear anything about Google or even Android. Google is keeping the Nest brand separate at the moment and letting Nest spearhead home automation for the company (which will likely and eventually include giving Apple's Homekit a run for its money).