(Pocket-lint) - Apple HomeKit is going to hit the mainstream with the release of iOS 9 - expected on an iPhone or iPad very soon after 9 September - and it's going to turn the smarthome segment on its head.
Some people may refer to connected devices, connected appliances, smart appliances or home automation, but we use the umbrella term smarthome to cover everything that's happening in your home with this newfangled internet of things.
And there's a big change coming.
A disconnected present
The current situation in smarthome is that there are a lot of devices in a lot of categories. The aims are the same: easier interaction, access to more information, and control through your smartphone.
Each device is unique in the way that you interact with it. The setup is different, the apps are different, the platforms and protocols are different, the experience is different.
It's a connected future stumbling around in a disconnected present.
Where Apple's HomeKit comes into this isn't at the top level, but at the very bottom.
HomeKit becomes the platform that binds your smarthome devices together and manages them within the Apple ecosystem.
Technology is all about standards. As a "consumer" (i.e., someone who is going to buy this stuff), having all your devices singing from the same song sheet is the most important thing for a harmonious future.
In setting a standard for manufacturers to adhere to, Apple isn't slapping a badge of exclusivity on it. A smartplug that "Works with Apple HomeKit" isn't exclusively Apple, it just has to adhere to a particular set of standards to carry the HomeKit badge.
That might mean that some manufacturers have to jump through hoops, but the advantages to both the industry and the experience for consumers are innumerate.
We have seen lots of smarthome devices here at Pocket-lint, and the setup of all of them is different. It's a different process, opening the app, pressing a button, sometimes using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, entering codes, deciphering flashing lights and so on.
One of the biggest things that HomeKit is going to do is standardise the process of setting up your new devices. Each individual device will have a unique code on it, which can be scanned using your iPhone, just like setting up a payment card in Apple Pay, or redeeming an iTunes gift card.
It's both a simplicity thing and a security thing, ensuring that your neighbour cannot connect to your devices during setup. Apple is also taking a firm stance with data: your data can't be shared or sold and needs to be kept secure in the HomeKit environment.
But there's something else that HomeKit offers your devices: app interoperability, and this is a huge deal.
Because HomeKit is controlling your devices through iOS 9, all the information can be recognised between your smarthome apps. That means you can access and control different devices through the same app.
This is a huge change from the current siloed approach where to change your lights you'd need to open that app, to switch on the heating you'd need that app, or to switch off a smartplug you'd need a third app.
Yes, it might be best to use the app designed for the individual products, but the point is this: with interoperability it opens the door for app develops to create amazing apps. In the future, you might have one app to control your entire smarthome comprised of a dozen different manufacturer's devices.
For those looking for simplicity, being able to open one app and do a range of things is a huge advantage.
Scenes, triggers and scenarios
With everything being able to speak the same language, HomeKit will make it much easier for everything to work together.
Those with existing devices are probably familiar with services like IFTTT (If This Then That). IFTTT allows you to create "recipes" that basically say "do X when Y happens". It's an approach to automation that's popular, but might find itself playing less of a role in future.
HomeKit will be able to do this natively, rather needing a third-party to enact cause and effect scenarios between disconnected entities. Want your lights to turn off when you leave the house? HomeKit will do that for you, you don't need to wait for the smartbulb manufacturer to add that feature to its own app, or to be compatible with something like IFTTT.
To keep it simple, HomeKit will offer a range pre-defined scenes, like returning home or going to bed. This will make it easy to automate what your home does at these times - perhaps turning off all the lights and smart plugs in your house when you go to bed, or turning on the heating as you come home.
Manufacturers can still use existing protocols
We said before that Apple isn't stream-rolling everyone into conformity through HomeKit, but is formulating the communication and cooperation between devices.
Apple will have its own iCloud service supporting HomeKit functions and this will be free and secure, hosted by Apple, so there's no barrier to accessing your devices when you're out of the house.
How this is used by manufacturers will be up to them, but we'd expect you to easily be able to access anything that works with HomeKit when out of the house - which isn't necessarily the case now.
It's also important to understand that Apple isn't making every device use the same protocols. There will still be Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and proprietary protocols used by manufacturers, but the point at which this interacts with the outside world and your iOS device might change.
Part of HomeKit approval requires hardware security using an approved chipset (Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek, for example). In many cases, this is something that's managed through a hub. For example, Philips Hue has a hub connected to your router that controls the system. This is the part that will need to conform to HomeKit requirements.
That might mean that you need a new hub, but the rest of the devices - blubs, switches, etc - remain the same. Whether that hub upgrade will be free or will cost you remains to be seen, and will likely come down to each individual manufacturer. We've already seen early leaks about the new hub from Philips Hue.
But, thanks to interoperability, you can (in theory) have a scene that contains Philips Hue bulbs and that Elgato Avea bulb you were given, without a problem.
It all works with Siri
Naturally, Siri has a starring role in HomeKit. You'll be able to speak commands and speak them in natural language.
Part of the setup process involves naming rooms, zones and devices. When you give something a name, this is what Siri will recognise.
That will enable you, for example, to be able to tell Siri to turn on or off individual things. If you have a fan connected to a smartplug, you'd name it "fan". You can then tell Siri to turn on the fan, rather than turning on the plug.
But with things grouped into rooms, you'll also be able to ask Siri to turn off the kitchen lights, for example, or turn off the downstairs lights. You'll also be able to set predefined scenes through Siri, for example to set yourself up for watching a movie or going to bed.
As an extension of this, Apple Watch will support HomeKit, both allowing you to talk to Siri on your Watch, and through Watch apps. With Watch 2.0, where the digital crown will be made available to developers, you'll also be able, for example to twist the crown to turn up the heating, or turn down the lights.
A smarthome in union
There are already some HomeKit compliant devices available to buy (iHome, Elgato Eve, Lutron Caseta, etc) and with the launch of iOS 9 and HomeKit, we can expect a huge buzz in activity though the end of 2015. This may well start at IFA 2015 where we expect to see a lot of smarthome devices, and there will likely be a HomeKit deluge by CES 2016.
Philips has already confirmed that Hue will embrace HomeKit and although there will be new devices launched from lots of different players, it's these established brands that will be watched most keenly.
HomeKit is coming and it will bring with it a huge change in how people interact with smarthome devices. It's a change for the better, it's going to make it simpler, easier, standardised and more secure.
HomeKit might be limited to Apple device owners, but with Google working on Project Brillo, aspiring to the same aims for Android users, in the future, your smart devices will be singing in harmony.
Yes, your smarthome is about to become homogenised and that's a good thing.