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HomeKit at CES: It's all about simplicity

Susie Ochs | Jan. 12, 2015
Apple's MFI partners are rolling out simple devices with easy control and strong security. Welcome HomeKit.

LAS VEGAS--"How are your HomeKit appointments going? Have you seen anything cool?" I got this text (paraphrased) from two colleagues as I raced from meeting to meeting, between booths and meeting rooms and hotel suites, talking to a dozen companies about their HomeKit products and apps.

The truth is, I saw a lot of cool things, but not in the flashy, over-the-top, Rocketskates sense that so many other products shoot for at CES. HomeKit has a lot going for it, from ease of use to security to deep integration with iOS. But the products themselves are refreshingly simple--you would be forgiven if you saw one, after all these months of anticipation, and said, "That's it?"

Yeah, that's it. And quite by design. The live demos I got mostly went something like: "You plug a lamp in here, and you can turn it on and off. You stick this sensor on your door, and you'll know when it opens." To the end user, it's the furthest thing from rocket science or rocket skates--and that simplicity is the whole point.

Setup, security, Siri
Every company I talked to mentioned the same benefits of using HomeKit, and first was the easy setup. The products use Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi (often both), since that's what's already in your iPhone and iPad, not to mention the Wi-Fi network in your house. Previously, connected home devices that worked with iPhone apps had to come up with their own methods of setting up the device with your iPhone--maybe the device would create its own Wi-Fi network, and you would connect to that in your iPhone's Settings app, then open the device's companion app, and type in the SSID and password for your home Wi-Fi network. It's a clunky dance even when it works, and when it doesn't work as planned, it's downright frustrating.

With HomeKit, your iPhone just recognizes the devices--you can even ask Siri, "What HomeKit devices are nearby?" and she can sniff them out for you. The phone shares your Wi-Fi details with the device, and thanks to iCloud Keychain, you can authorize other iPhones and iPads to control the device too without having to repeat the process.

Security is another huge selling point. One company, Zendo, which plans to roll out a huge array of HomeKit gear by the end of the year (from connected plugs to cameras, door/window sensors, lights, a thermostat, and more), said it would issue an open invitation to hackers to try to break in, both because the company is confident in the security Apple has baked in to the HomeKit framework, and of course to fix any vulnerabilities as soon as they're discovered. Reps from Schlage (which makes door locks) and Chamberlain (garage door openers) expressed the same confidence in HomeKit's security, and security is paramount for their products since they provide access to your house. Just keep in mind that since HomeKit uses iCloud Keychain, that keeping your iCloud password and recovery code absolutely secure will be more important than ever.

 

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