In-depth: What Apple HomeKit will mean to custom install

posted on Sunday, 10th August 2014 by Steve May

AWE Europe  HD Connectivity  Wyrestorm  Home automation 

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Just what impact will Apple's HomeKit have on the custom install and control business? A new feature to be included in iOS 8, the HomeKit framework for Smart Home applications opens the door for Apple and third parties to offer integrated control solutions for lighting, security and entertainment. And with a potential sandbox of more than 800 million iOS devices worldwide, the lure for developers to get involved will be huge. Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, descibes iOS8 as "the biggest iOS release since the launch of the App Store."

As a core proposition, HomeKit lets Smart home accessories connect seamlessly. It features a common protocol, secure pairing and the ability to easily control individual or groups of devices throughout the house, with full Siri voice integration. The ability to instruct their mobile smartphone to dim lights, lock doors and adjust climate control will seem revolutionary for many. It also offers Apple developers a rose petal trail into custom install territory.

Philips Lighting has been quick to jump onboard. CEO Eric Rondolat says the company was "excited to be part of the next step in making home automation a reality." One early move will be to integrate the Philips Hue Smart lighting system into the Homekit ecosystem.

Dana Tobak, MD of UK fibre-to-the home provider Hyperoptic, has no doubts about the significance of the development: "HomeKit is a clear indication that the home of the future is now within our grasp. Apple has got an excellent track record in bringing early adopter technology to the masses - home automation could be the norm before the year is out." 

So what exactly should the custom install industry make of Apple HomeKit. Will this 'new norm' be friend of foe?

Stuart Tickle, managing director of AWE, describes Apple's move into the Smart space as "interesting but not entirely unexpected." It's in line with a wider trend, he notes: "Other big CE names like Samsung and LG are heavily developing and promoting Smart home products, and companies like Cisco, Bosch and Siemens are talking the bigger picture of IoT (Internet of Things) that incorporate Smart Home products."

Chris Pinder, Managing Director of HD Connectivity admits "Apple's announcement certainly caught our attention" but notes it "was light on specifics. As soon as we have our hands on some development tools, we will definitely be taking a closer look at what HomeKit has to offer. Few deny that advancements in accessible Smart Home technology are long overdue. Each of our Multiroom HDanywhere devices are outfitted with our advanced webOS operating system, which was specifically designed to integrate with protocols like Apple's HomeKit amongst others…"

HomeKit threat level
It seems the threat level is difficult to assess. Tickle describes HomeKit as "an opportunity that forward thinking companies will grasp" but cautions it could be " a threat to any business that doesn't adapt to the evolving market - this is the fast paced industry we work in. It's probably harder for manufacturers and brands than others further down the supply chain as they have to invest earlier and predict the impact of changes well to remain competitive."

HD Connectivity agrees, saying it's "too early" to say for sure: "It's clear that the smart home concept will become the playing field where tech companies do battle. Apple has a huge global customer base, something which no company should ignore. Apple also has a track record for successfully introducing unknown technology into new markets."

James Meredith, Enado global product manager, believes Apple's move in Smart home tech could do wonders when it comes to consumer education. "Allthough details are still quite scarce about HomeKit itself, the API, apps and products, it has the potential to produce are an excellent platform to raise awareness of the connected home," he suggests, "informing and educating the customer on the enormous possibilities available to them to automate their properties." Meredith thinks HomeKit could create a desire for the very systems the CI industry has spent years developing solutions for. "As a manufacturer, WyreStorm wholeheartedly supports any and all means of helping our industry grow as this can only drive sales of custom installations and encourage product innovation for the next generation of even more intelligent systems."

Rise of the popular connected home
There seems a general agreement that Apple HomeKit is indicative of a growing mainstream interest in Smarter homes, as evidenced by the rapid rise in next-gen thermostat products from Nest, Tado and others.  "The Smart Home was only for the very wealthy but cheaper and wireless products will flood the market very soon," predicts Tickle.  "In the US, Amazon are selling Smart Home bundles for DIY'ers and John Lewis recently headlined an email campaign with Smart Home products. The good news is like everything else, these emerging products promise life changing benefits but come loaded with a whole host of potential headaches. The key is to know the strengths and weaknesses of the options available, sell the difference, and take advantage of the widening demand for what we do." 

Pinder says it's all part of the Internet of Things evolution: "Products like our Multiroom HD system, Google's Nest Thermostat, the XBox One and Sonos are all part of the IoT family. That may be a marketing buzzword, sure, but it's something the biggest players in consumer technology are beginning to seriously pay attention. Analysts predict this trend could turn into a $19 trillion market within a decade as technology becomes accessible and cheaper from standardisation."

Wyrestorm's Meredith believes Apple won't find this an easy market dominate though. "It's not all plain sailing, Apple will be fighting against tough competition from the likes of Google and Samsung who arguably have a more complete home offering with not only more choice of smartphones, computers and tablets but also Smart TVs, Blu-ray players, kitchen appliances, thermostats, fire alarms and wearables." He also observes that the release of the Homekit API "shows Apple have taken the unusual step of opening their usually closed ecosystem, albeit through their app developing community. It will remain to be seen if the possibilities HomeKit offers will be enough to make an impact in the home or be to the benefit or detriment of our market."

Ultimately, it could be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. "One thing I am sure of is that no matter where the future of the smart home lies," says Meredith, "users will still require the highest quality and most robust content and data distribution infrastructures and the first class user experience and support that our distributors and installers provide."

We'll all doubtless learn more when iOS 8 is released later this year, becoming a free software update for the iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPod touch 5th generation, iPad 2, iPad with Retina display, iPad Air, iPad mini and iPad Mini with Retina display.  

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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