What next for HomeKit — into the office or factory floor?

HomeKit could become a solution that puts people in control of their environment wherever they go. It's just a 'Matter' of time.

Apple, HomeKit, iOS, iPhone, automation

Apple is looking for a new leader for its HomeKit teams following the departure of current chief Sam Jadallah. What’s gone well in the last few years, and where should Apple be going now? I think there’s real opportunity in widening the remit of HomeKit to deliver more substantial benefits to product developers and home users, of course, but also to handle more sophisticated needs in offices, factories, transportation and elsewhere.

Jadallah’s story

A former Microsoft corporate vice president and smart home entrepreneur, Jadallah joined Apple in February 2019. His departure was revealed this month.

Across his tenure Apple made some excellent changes in its approach to the smarthome. The 2019 announcement of its support for the forthcoming Matter  accessory connection standard may yet emerge to be one of the most significant steps across that time.

It is not the only one.

Apple’s decision to look at and improve its specific smart home deployments has made HomeKit more attractive. Think HomeKit Secure Video, secured routers, the new Siri API for third-party accessories, and Wallet support for keys as great examples of this.

In all these cases, Apple has chosen to look to what it offers now and tried to move to patch an industry need. We need smart home networks to be secure, especially if Apple has eyes on moving the scheme into more industrial or enterprise uses.

Some aspects of Apple’s approach haven’t changed much. While it wants to get you to acquire an Apple TV, HomePod or iPad to act as the "brains' of any HomeKit deployment, most smart accessories come from third parties, such as Eve, Belkin, Phillips. At the same time, it is to Jadallah’s credit that Apple’s vision moved so much.

But now it must move more.

Where we are

Apple is focused on the core of the experience, which means the hardware and software that runs it, and seems to want to outsource accessory development to these firms.

(And with component supply constrained into late 2022 – particularly of the kind of lower-order tech smart accessories likely require – I think Apple is unlikely to announce any self-branded HomeKit accessories yet.)

Apple launched HomeKit in 2014. Despite its effort, HomeKit remains a minnow in a smart accessory industry presently dominated by Amazon and Google. For every HomeKit device you can buy, your money will fetch you up to 10 from other ecosystems.

This will improve dramatically once Matter makes its appearance next year, as this should enable HomeKit users to also manage other devices through one free of complexity interface. This should widen the opportunity for consumers to build their own smart homes on Apple’s platform, though smart home devices do in general remain quite dumb.

And smart devices aren’t just in the home.

Expanding the vision

For me, the problem has always been about the vision of HomeKit. A great deal has changed since 2014.

Wi-Fi has advanced to Wi-Fi 6, 5G is here, various vendors are building to the universal interconnect standard, Matter, and situations where automation can make a big difference now extends far beyond the home.

We see smart factories, smart cities, smart agriculture, smart medical, smart transportation, and more. HomeKit, or its successor, needs some presence here. It doesn’t have to reinvent those systems, just support those that already exist.

We know Apple has some intimation that smart devices have much wider strategic importance than just the home. The company has been exploring this space for years. In 2017 it reached an industrial partnership with GE, along with its iOS for industry agreement with IBM. Foxconn’s iPhone factories are heavily automated. Apple is making many investments that relate to this space, as evidenced most recently by some of the solutions supported within its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative.

The opportunity for smarter offices also exists.

Given Apple’s continued push into enterprise IT, I think it also makes sense to expand what HomeKit does to cater for this. In the office or remote, there must surely be opportunities for closer integration? Can the information you create in your home be of use in situations (of your choosing) outside of it?

In other words, HomeKit needs to answer more questions for more people in more places and more situations.

Where is the puck going?

As for where Apple takes Homekit now, I think it is likely that any movement the company wants to make will need to wait until the introduction of the Matter standard.

This is because Matter can be seen as a kind of integration engine that helps make smart device languages work better together than they can at present. The Matter standard also needs to continue to expand to embrace the standards used in enterprise IoT deployment.

I think it’s about embracing a human-centric vision. Humans don’t just live in homes;  they live in offices, factories, on public transport and elsewhere, and many of these environments are becoming increasingly connected.

There is a chance for HomeKit to become a human-centric system that supports us as we navigate increasingly smart and augmented environments — a personOS for an automated age. Though for all of that, I still get a kick out of asking my lights to change color.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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