Why Apple must turn HomeKit into homeOS

Apple's HomeKit needs to become a full-fledged smart buildings OS to enable a vibrant smart home platform.

Apple, HomeKit, iOS, iPhone, smart home

Apple’s mooted decision to develop its own smart home products is an inevitable next step for a company that knows the kind of business growth it achieved with iPhone is unlikely to be repeated.

Chasing growth

Think about it like this: Smartphones have connected the planet:

  • There are around 3 billion users in the world today.
  • Around a third of those devices are iPhones.
  • Global population sits at around 7.7 billion.

This means that across most of the planet, if you don’t have a smartphone you probably know someone who does. It also means the rate of growth is slowing as post-adoption replacement purchasing habits take hold.

Most people use their devices for as long as they can before they upgrade them. That’s why Apple is focusing on customer experience and longevity, as it hopes to convince existing iPhone users to choose a new iPhone next time they upgrade.

At the same time, market growth is slowing. So where can Apple find iPhone/iPod levels of growth?

I don’t think it can, at least, not with one product (yet). But it can with several.

That's where smart home products come in: Apple knows the smart home will become more popular, and yet some of the solutions sold to consumers have big problems.

That is a market opportunity – and one it could profit on more strongly with an OS that answers those problems.

Who are your smart home devices talking to?

Are any of the following really what you want your smart home to be about?

  • Door entry systems that tell companies you don’t know and over which you have no control when you are out?
  • HVAC systems that share your personal usage data with advertising and marketing firms without letting you control that information?
  • Poorly protected systems with weak passcodes that become prime targets for hackers trying to gain (digital or physical) entry to your home?

Unfortunately, in some (though by no means all) cases, this really is what your smart home products are about, as unscrupulous manufacturers harvest and trade the data the devices they make gather about you and your life.

Now, it is possible Apple has a plan to pivot to a similar business model. But that’s not what the company is stressing as it continues its complex and sometimes unpredictable battle with the forces of surveillance capitalism.

When privacy is a commodity, you need to sell more of it

It seems more likely that – just like the HomeKit approved routers we’re all waiting for – Apple’s smart home systems will focus on security and user privacy. Logically, then, I think Apple’s self-made smart home solutions are likely to include such unique products as:

  • Door entry systems that don’t share your usage data.
  • Blind and window shuttering systems that use heavy encryption so no one knows where you are when you command them.
  • Sensor-based solutions that hide behind firewalls so no one other than you can even tell they are there.

This seems to me to be a natural extension of what Apple has been building with HomeKit (highly secure smart home management systems). It is also a reflection of its commitment to privacy (one that is now echoed by those who once opposed the philosophy).

But it could take this even further.

That whole widget thing may need adjustment

Apple’s whole widget approach could be considered monopolistic if it dominated any of its markets. It doesn't in market share, it just does so philosophically.

At the same time, it's an approach that lets Apple build solutions that aren’t possible without deep access to the operating system.

And this is why it’s logical that HomeKit should pivot to become an OS in its own right:  homeOS. Not only would this stimulate more rapid product development, but it would enable developers to build more powerful systems. Processing of any information gathered by these systems takes place on the device, or, at worst, on the home hub (iPad, iPhone or Apple TV).

This would also enable developers to exploit other powerful Apple technologies more constructively – machine intelligence, vision intelligence and more. 

Creating a full homeOS system would also enable Apple to nurture a more vibrant HomeKit market, while also avoiding the inevitable questions around market dominance.

While it may develop some key products, I think it should consider transforming its limited HomeKit solution into a more well-featured homeOS to stimulate innovation in the space while guarding customer privacy.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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