Apple’s iOS 11 unlocks a future for IoT

Apple is opening IoT doors, while Hilton Hotels shows how to use smartphones to unlock them

Apple, Hilton Hotel, Internet of things, iOS, iPhone, HomeKit
Credit: vasilypetkov/Thinkstock

With its move to open up near field communication (NFC) support for developers in iOS 11, Apple just opened up to the most significant moment in the birth of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Hilton Hotels' connected door lock system

Hilton Hotels says the smartphone-based unlocking system it has been using at (now) 1,700 hotels across the U.S. and Canada has been used 11 million times without being breached once, reports the Financial Times. That’s significant because it suggests some of the security problems that impacted first-generation connected IoT devices are being worked out.

The chain’s approach to managing the potential security risk is a good illustration of what needs to be done as enterprises look to harness smartphones as part of our emerging connected reality.

Hilton has spent over half a billion dollars on technology and infrastructure, including hiring “a number” of security and hacker firms to test the security of the system it is putting in place.

That kind of stress-testing is essential to ensuring the era of connected everything is really better than what we already have. After all, everything we know about computer security says every connected endpoint will become a viable target for attack, so we don’t want to prize convenience over security.

Safe as Apple's HomeKit

Apple’s whole approach to IoT devices has been widely criticized. When it introduced HomeKit we all got the impression it had a much faster deployment in mind, but the company seemed to slow development once it realized the need to prioritize security.

This meant the company had to first develop, and then persuade manufacturers to use, its own security-focused systems to protect IoT devices.

This move to focus on security wasn’t solely an "Apple thing." At Hilton Hotels, the door lock system isn’t exclusively iOS-based, but instead uses NFC. This is significant because Apple at WWDC 2017 announced that iOS 11 will allow developers to create apps that can read NFC tags using a framework called Core NFC.

Core NFC

According to Apple, Core NFC will allow apps to read near field communication tags that are compatible with the NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF).

The examples it gives are quite limited. They include visitor attractions and museum exhibits, rather than industrial equipment and smartlocks; however, creeping innovation means that while you might use your phone to open your hotel rooms and Declaration of Independence exhibits by the end of the year, it is highly probable you’ll use it for more security-intensive tasks in future.

What’s most significant about the Hilton Hotel chain’s news around connected IoT devices is that it comes at a key moment in the development of these solutions.

The Mobile Development Survey for 2016 by the Evans Data Corporation found that 78 percent of developers surveyed said they plan to write software to support IoT devices.

That survey also found that 45 percent of the developers surveyed intend to use iOS as their mobile development platform.

This is only going to climb on the basis of Apple opening a conduit for NFC through its highly secure (10 years since iPhone one and still no significant malware) platform.

Experience is everything

“Many of the 36 billion objects being connected to the Internet by 2020 will likely take advantage of NFC tags. The key to market growth will be to deliver a predictable consumer experience across all NFC tag-enabled products and services,” said Paula Hunter, executive director of NFC Forum.

“This is the moment many have been waiting for and signals a fundamental change in the industry and for consumers.”

What is happening here is that at a key stage of industry development, Apple has managed to create a highly secure IoT ecosystem (HomeKit) and opened up a door (with NFC support) that enables developers to begin to truly realize the potential of connected solutions in daily life.

This will be an emerging story across the next 12-18 months.

And it's also why the voice assistant wars are really only at the beginning.

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