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6/2/2015
07:06 PM
David Wagner
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Apple's HomeKit Is An Innovation Killer

Apple's HomeKit will improve Apple's hold on a lot of things, but it won't improve your home in the long run.

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Apple's HomeKit lets you control all your smart products in your house using Siri. Sounds awesome, right? A single control for all those far-flung devices will simplify your life, make smart products more productive, and usher in the Internet of Things (IoT).

The problem is that we've been able to do that with iPhones for a while now, so all Apple brings to the party is a bit of software magic and its walled garden via the MFi Program. The walled garden is the last thing we need in a growing IoT sector where innovation and freedom is key. Apple's HomeKit will be a money maker and an innovation killer.

First, let's talk about what HomeKit can do. The first generation of HomeKit certified devices has been announced. They include Ecobee's WiFi thermostat, a line of air quality sensors from Elgato, smart plugs, and bridges from Lutron and Insteon to connect to existing smart home products. All of these will be controllable through Siri.

Using Siri, you can set up things that Apple is calling "scenes." You could name one scene "morning wakeup," a command upon which your house will turn on the lights, turn up the thermostat and, maybe in the future get the smart coffee maker to get the coffee brewing. It's a set of rules that can be defined differently as more smart objects enter the home. Personally, I'd like one called "Make it Christmas" that turned on the smart Christmas tree, started a fire in the gas fireplace, lit the animated snowman I have outside, and hit start on my Christmas music play list.

[ Speaking of Christmas: This woman just donated the best Christmas gift ever to recycling. Read Vintage Apple I Worth $200,000 Saved from Recycling. ]

That's cool. And no doubt Apple will apply its considerable user experience skills to make it work smoothly.

The problem lies in the whole MFi certification process. "It's a rigorous certification program," said Stuart Lombard, president and CEO of Ecobee, quoted in this article for Forbes. "Apple wants to ensure the quality is really high, and that's a good thing. They want great user experience."

One of the first HomeKit products, the Ecobee Thermostat.

(Image: Ecobee)

One of the first HomeKit products, the Ecobee Thermostat.

(Image: Ecobee)

That's great, but in a growing market, do we want Apple -- or anyone else -- telling us what a great product is? Do we think all startups have the money and time to work with Apple on a "rigorous certification program?"

Products such as SmartThings Hub already allow us to use our phones (iOS or Android) to control the smart things in our home, and many allow IFTTT, which is essentially what Apple's scenes are. There are products such as Enblink, which allow you to turn any Android device or your TV (through a streaming device) into the hub for your smart house, which in many ways makes more sense than using your phone.

The point is this: Products already exist to give you everything Apple HomeKit does, and most don't require the products you use to pass some test from Apple. A test which, presumably, has at least something to do with whether the vendor has a product that competes with Apple.

There are many ideas coming down the pike for the smart home. These shouldn't have to gain entry to the walled garden before proving their worth. And, no doubt, the UI problem will be conquered by other, more open products.

The walled-garden versus open argument isn't new. Apple's approach was great when it was used to reinvent the smartphone. It isn't so good when the company is playing catch up in a home market which is already growing without it. The smart home market is poised to double in size to $71 billion in three years. Why stifle it?

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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morningwoodspor
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morningwoodspor,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/31/2015 | 5:18:03 PM
Re: Homekit
Its not closed, its a standard way of doing things.  If I ask siri to "close my door" its not going to know what to do.

If I say "Is my Door Locked"  I will get a response.  If I say "lock door" I will get a  response.  If I ask "Is my Door Closed" I will not get a response.  If everyone has their own way of locking doors, we will get no where.  I support Apple making an attempt to get vendors to work together.  They can still have individual features that make their products different, but if I want to lock a Schleage door or a August door, it will be with "lock my Door" 

Have you worked with any of the hardware or is your article hypothetical on what you think this all means?  Not in a jerky way, but it might help get a better feel for it.

 
morningwoodspor
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morningwoodspor,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/31/2015 | 5:02:47 PM
Re: Homekit
IFTTT is NOT the same as Apple homekit recipies.  IFTTT can take up to 15 min for a recipie to run.  Examples:

IFTTT:

I have a rule configured when I come home to blink my wemo outlet in the kitchen alerting the family that I'm home.  Trouble is it didn't work....or so I thought when the lights blinked 9 minutes later.... or the IFTTT rule that I have set to blink my hue lightstrip when the blackhawks score a goal.  15 min later, and the cool factor is long gone.  

Homekit:

I raise my apple watch and say, "hey siri, turn all lights off" when I go to bed and all the lights go off within 10 seconds if not immedatley.  Or I can ask "is door locked"  and siri will let me know if I locked my door which is also homekit enabled.

 

 
itKansas
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itKansas,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2015 | 12:53:36 PM
Re: Homekit
David, the problem with your position is its circular in nature.  From your own quote:

"The walled-garden versus open argument isn't new. Apple's approach was great when it was used to reinvent the smartphone. It isn't so good when the company is playing catch up in a home market which is already growing without it."

You acknowledge the ongoing debate of closed/open - you acknowledge, in hindsite, the value Apple brought through its walled ecosystem. When Apple originally came on the scene, critics siad the closed ecosystem was bad for the market or would fail, neither of which occured.

Fast forward, you are claiming the HomeKit and Apple's philosphical approach will be bad - but history has shown us, the market supports both open and closed ecosystems.  Often, products come to the scene initially from Anroid's side of the house and are polished through the Apple side of things.  Everyone can argue the pros/cons of Apple - Android (even Microsoft) but history has shown start-ups, who do not want to play with Apple initially can find success in the Android side of the house and based on user demand (which correlates to investment dollars), Apple development can occur.  Many choose to go after the Apple market first, which is fine as well.

At the end of the day, what Apple has brought and continues to bring to the table is successful.  While arguable, I would suggest overall, Apple's ecosystem has helped advance the connected society, if in no other way, through shear advertising and awareness. The products rise and fall due to the own success and maturity, not becuase of Apple.  Adoption of Apple's HomeKit will be about vendors choosing to tap into that devoted market segment and should be part of their business plan with regards to if and/or when to engage in the Apple ecosystem.

I, for one, would embrace the HomeKit as a formalized standard from one of the three Tier 1 platforms (Andoird, Apple and Microsoft) - a standard that allows uniformity and a true IoT to exist -- right now, I have 8 connected devices in my home and 6 separate apps to manage them - chaos for a non-tech person, which in hindsight contributed to why Microsoft's original Windows Mobile devices were tough to get adoption - they weren't user friednly, they weren't polished the way Android was when it hit the scene and Apple's iOS.  Standards do not stifle innovation, rather provide fasttracks to adoption - I assure you, even with HomeKit, folks like Logitech will still maintain their Harmony platform.  But others, like GE, will embrace the HomeKit to improve market acceptance of the IoT lightbulbs and other technologies.

Standards, whether by Apple or someone else, are good for the industry, especially when they are presetned as an "option" and not a government mandate.

Appreciate the review -- hope you keep yourself open to how this can actually help the industry as well.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
6/3/2015 | 8:39:09 PM
Re: Apple's HomeKit Is An Innovation Killer
Everyone is pretty much in agreement that the IoT is in need of some standardization. I picture open frameworks more along the lines of IoTivity and AllJoyn than something that is owned by one specific party. In fairness, I suppose there's room for both - Apple probably does not expect to dominate the market and capture droves of new iOS customers with HomeKit, but rather cater to the existing ones. Considering who those customers are, something more hands-off might be a good fit. Like you said, guaranteed compatibility and smooth user experience but at a premium are not exactly a new game plan for Apple; in fact, it's been their whole game plan dating back to the iPod (maybe sooner, looking at your Apple I article yesterday).

One could make the argument either way whether that premium is worth what you get for any given product of theirs, but I certainly agree that it seems a particularly wonky fit for IoT, where that extra cost is going to climb higher and higher with every device you add. As to whether or not this is the biggest news of the day, well,  you must be new here. Dave posts articles about putting windshield wipers on your phone. There's dozens of articles on more enterprise-focused topics on the front page, if that's what you're looking for. As for voting with your wallet, I think that speaks directly to Dave's point; what people purchase will direct where the market goes and, and just by the nature of the open standards, I think walled equivalents like HomeKit will have trouble keeping up before long.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2015 | 5:40:52 PM
Re: Homekit
The problem with HomeKit is it doesn't qualify as permissionless innovation. If you have to ask permission, your opportunities are limited.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/3/2015 | 12:09:06 PM
Re: Homekit
@jimstead- Don't worry, I won't. But it is my job to review products, discuss how they impact the market, show choices to consumers and how they might impact future decisions. this is a growing market that needs breathing space, supporting a closed system would be a bad choice for consumers, enterprises, and the space so I feel like it is a topic worth discussing.
jimstead
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jimstead,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/2/2015 | 11:41:44 PM
Homekit
My this sounds like a big deal. How about this: if you don't like it, don't buy it.
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