Apple HomeKit and IoT Standards

Last Monday, Apple announced a new feature called HomeKit that is coming in iOS 8. This feature will make the smart home smarter by allowing users to control the smart devices around their house such as lights, door locks and security cameras all through their iPhone or iPad.  It’s a good start for a standard with some cool capabilities for allowing devices to talk in the home.

Common standards for devices in the home is one of the key pieces to moving the Internet of Things (IoT) industry forward, and up until this point, it has been largely missing. Currently, one-off integrations being made for individual smart devices are proving to be expensive and time consuming. Having a common language that each device can use to talk over the network is definitely something to help move IoT manufacturers and their smart objects into the future.

How HomeKit Works

At the center of HomeKit is a common database that all HomeKit compatible devices will talk to.  This central database allows different apps to control and manage all of the smart devices in your home.   When a user first starts working with HomeKit, they will define their home (or multiple homes, if they are so lucky).  Within the home, you then define all the different rooms.  Those rooms can then be grouped into zones, such as “upstairs” or “downstairs.”  Different smart devices are assigned to a particular room in your house and contain different actions that you can take using these devices.  These services can also be grouped by common devices allowing for actions like, “Turn off all the lights.”  These actions can be controlled manually or triggered at certain days or times.  Commands and control of devices, actions, and action sets can all be manipulated by a user via voice control with Siri. All in all, this will provide a common experience for all HomeKit compatible devices and allow all our connected devices to start talking to one another.

Security & Privacy

Security and privacy are among the largest concerns of all individuals as they look to add intelligent devices into their homes.  This was central to the design of HomeKit and something that Apple took very seriously.  To create a secure ecosystem, Apple has implemented end-to-end encryption in HomeKit between all iOS devices and the smart accessories they will control.  This ensures privacy for users and that their smart devices cannot be misused.  In addition, they went further in protecting users’ privacy and security by ensuring that the HomeKit APIs can only be accessed by apps in the foreground on iOS.  This means that devices will only be accessed when users have Home Automation apps open and are aware of the possibility of those devices being controlled.

Less value in Hubs & Gateways?

With Apple’s HomeKit being a network protocol, it favors anything that is a “smart object.” A smart object is any IP enabled device that can talk on the network. A hub that serves as an access point to devices may begin to provide less value to IoT in the future. Right now, hubs and gateways are still needed to talk with non-IP enabled protocols like ZigBee and Z-Wave.   While HomeKit provides support for these types of devices, they will likely become a commodity or a kit item for products, like they are today with Philips Hue (customers get a ZigBee gateway with a starter pack).  Companies whose core product was a hub or gateway are going to need to bring more value than just connecting desperate products, as HomeKit will now do this task. 

A Smarter Home

I am personally excited, both as a manufacturer of connected devices and as an early adopter of many of these types devices in my own home.  With HomeKit, Apple has given a shot in the arm to the home automation and IoT industries, helping move the both industries forward.  We are currently looking into everything involved in HomeKit and integrating it into our current and future ConnectSense products.  It will certainly be exciting to see what developers and device manufacturers do with these new capabilities.  One thing is for sure though, our homes are going to get a lot smarter and more exciting with many types of new experiences on the horizon.