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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.

Siri integration is one of HomeKit's game-changing features. Almost every connected home device already works with one (or more!) iOS apps, but if you have to unlock your phone with a passcode and then find and open the app, that can take quite a few swipes and taps before you're able to control the device. Using Siri is a lot faster--and if your phone is plugged in, you can even say, "Hey Siri!" to give a command. HomeKit products with built-in microphones can even pass voice commands to Siri over the network, so you don't even have to be in the same room.

Letting companies play to their strengths
Those benefits of HomeKit--setup, security, and Siri--were emphasized over and over in my meetings, but they aren't the whole story. The HomeKit devices I saw look simple because they are simple. Each one can focus on solving a particular problem, letting consumers like you and me piece together a system that fits their unique situation, while letting the companies focus on what they do best.

Since Apple provides the HomeKit framework to securely connect the gadgets to iOS devices, and to allow that deep iOS integration and Siri control, developers and manufacturers don't have to roll their own solutions for those functions. A company like Schlage, which has been making locks for 95 years, can focus on making its upcoming Schlage Sense a really great lock, not on finding a way to build in voice control.

Products are certified through Apple's Made for iPhone program, and more than one company mentioned how helpful that collaboration has been as well. Of course, no one wants to be named on the record talking about working with Apple, which I can respect, and I did also hear a few developers say they're looking forward to more functions being added to the spec, like proximity triggers--but they like what's here so far, and more features will roll out over time.

And it's not just manufacturers of gadgets who can use HomeKit. Since HomeKit apps can be written to communicate with any HomeKit-compatible accessory, so developers can design beautiful software if that's their strength, and never create any hardware themselves at all. Zendo is creating its own hardware, but told me the app is just as important to them, and it'll be free to consumers to control whatever HomeKit devices they want, even if they never buy a single gadget from Zendo. If the app can deliver a great experience, the idea is people will want to explore the rest of Zendo's offerings. Ideally, you'll be able to find your favorite HomeKit app and use that (or Siri) for everything--no more jumping from app to app to communicate with different devices around your house. Apple could surprise everyone with a Passbook-ish app to serve as a gathering place for everything HomeKit, but I don't think it needs to.


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