Way back in 2014 Apple announced HomeKit for its upcoming iOS 8 on the opening day of its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). At the time it described HomeKit as allowing iPhone users to control a variety of wirelessly enabled devices such as lights, door locks, garage doors, cameras, thermostats and plugs. Apple also announced a number of partners developing products for HomeKit including Chamberlain, Honeywell, Kwikset, Schlage and about a dozen more.
But then not much seemed to be happening. In fact, there were complaints from some manufacturers about the difficulty of adhering to Apple’s requirements for MFi certification guidelines. A year later we began to learn of availability and pricing for products from iDevices, Schlage and Chamberlain. Due to the slow rollout of HomeKit compliant products, the industry press and some analysts started questioning Apple’s resolve in the smart home market. I confess I was one of them. Not because products were slow to come to market as much as there didn’t seem to be much “energy” aka marketing activity around HomeKit. I visited the Apple campus in Cupertino in 2015 to seek out HomeKit staffers to discuss the market (of course I knew that they weren’t going to discuss their plans), but couldn’t even find anyone in the market intelligence group looking at the smart home market. “Are they really serious about this?” I asked myself.
Well… almost 2 years later I got the answer: YES! I was invited to a nice little several story “flat” in trendy Tribeca in New York City to witness a multitude of HomeKit certified products working together. I must admit it was an eye-opener and a very effective demo. As Todd Wilder and team mentioned, talking about what HomeKit devices can do pales in comparison to seeing them work in real life. Check out this LINK for a list of compatible products currently available and the party-ready apartment in which they are installed – seventeen product categories from 30 some manufacturers… with many more in the funnel.
Apple has said before and it confirmed in my meeting that the company has no intention of making fans and thermostats, garage door openers or locks and the like. But they are seeking out the best and most innovative products to pull into their ecosystem. On this note, it was interesting to see how the HomeKit app introduced with iOS 10 last year facilitates coordination among compliant devices. A thermostat can communicate with a fan or blinds to coordinate adjusting the temperature in a room to the desired comfort level. This can be accomplished through HomeKit without separate hubs for each device.
So, will Apple storm the smart home market as the title of this blog states? There is mounting evidence that the company is building up its HomeKit marketing efforts. The demo space in NYC is an example of them trying influence influencers… when I visited their demo I learned that they had set up a string of meetings with the press and analyst firms like Strategy Analytics for that whole week. This is a similar tactic they have used in the past. I remember when the first MAC was introduced and they had “evangelists” spreading the word about the benefits and unique capabilities of the Macintosh computer line. I can’t wait to see a Super Bowl ad for HomeKit like the 1984 ad for the MAC. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.
They’re clearly building an ecosystem of partners and using ubiquitous industry standard communication technologies: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Home app looks pretty easy to use, but there are a couple of hurdles Apple must clear in order to be a dominant force in the smart home market: HomeKit works only with iOS devices and an Apple TV or a resident iPad is required for remote access to HomeKit devices (maybe the whole HomeKit initiative is merely one to sell more Apple TVs J). These requirements may relegate Apple to a niche player unless they remove them.
I believe Apple is taking the Smart Home seriously and they have to. Think about it… who is Apple’s target market? Answer: the Digital Consumer in every venue and mode they are in. iPhones, iPads, iPods and the Apple Watch address individuals wherever they are. Car Play engages consumers in their cars. The Smart Home is the next frontier for Apple and they can’t afford to pass on the opportunity.