Five startups are announcing the launch of the very first HomeKit-certified devices today. HomeKit is Apple’s standard for how third-party smart home gadgets connect in iOS.
These five HomeKit-compliant devices include:
- Ecobee’s $250 WiFi-connected thermostat.
- Elgato’s line of sensors that collect data on air quality, humidity, air pressure, temperature as well as energy and water consumption.
- iHOME’s smart plug that allows users to turn on and off appliances wirelessly.
- Lutron’s bridge device that connects the HomeKit standard with its connected lighting system.
- Insteon’s bridge device that connects its massive catalogue of existing home automation devices with HomeKit.
Each of these device makers had to go through Apple’s MFi (“Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad”) program to achieve certification. Apple requires device makers to install an authentication chip in their product as well as go through extensive usability testing to make sure the products live up to Apple’s lofty standards.
“It’s a rigorous certification program,” said Stuart Lombard, president and CEO of Ecobee, in a phone call. “Apple wants to ensure the quality is really high, and that’s a good thing. They want great user experience.”
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The Canadian startup has been working with Apple on HomeKit certification since the program was announced at last year’s developer conference. While retooling its supply chain to get the authentication chip in its thermostat took time, the most time was spent on usability testing and tweaking under Apple’s certification program, said Lombard.
One of the benefit for device makers jumping through all of Apple’s hoops is getting to put Apple’s seal of approval on the product — “Works with HomeKit.” Companies will stick that on the box and ideally that will convince consumers that the product works well and is interoperable with any other HomeKit device.
With the HomeKit certification, the setup process is a bit faster for consumers. When setting up a HomeKit device using an Apple product, for example, the password for a user’s home WiFi network is filled in automatically.
Another benefit for consumers is that HomeKit devices work together. In Ecobee’s new app, users can create “scenes,” which determine how other HomeKit devices are grouped and interact with each other. For instance, users can create a “movie watching scene,” where all the lights are dimmed, the temperature is set at the right level, and all the doors are locked.
HomeKit-enabled device also get access to Apple’s intelligent assistant Siri, which so far has been largely walled off for iOS developers.
Even though we’re starting to see the first HomeKit-certified devices come out, most of what we’ve seen isn’t too exciting – mostly just devices that provide a bridge between HomeKit and an existing product. But if Apple’s HomeKit standard starts to show any real power in the market, we may start to see more interesting ideas and products come out of it.
HomeKit was first announced at Apple’s June 2014 developers conference, and things have been slowly coming together since then. The HomeKit protocol has been embedded in the iOS software since the iOS 8 launch last year, but until now, there haven’t been any smart home devices for consumers to use with their Apple devices.
Apple’s HomeKit protocol determines how devices are identified in iOS based on clearly defined device categories and what sorts of actions can be taken with them — turning on or off a light, for example. Ideally, this will allow the interactions between devices to be more consistent and reliable than with previous wireless protocols in home automation technology like ZigBee and Z-Wave. HomeKit also uses end-to-end encryption for securely connecting smart home gadgets and an Apple device.
At next week’s developers conference, it’s widely expected that Apple will launch a new Apple TV, which hasn’t seen new hardware since 2012 and could play a large role in Apple’s smart home vision. The new Apple TV reportedly contains a beefier processor and Siri integration.
The five new devices launched today already work with any third generation Apple TV and later, said Ecobee’s Lombard — the Apple TV provides an always-on presence in the home in case users want to control devices while they’re away from home.
Date: June 2, 2015