Apple unveiled several new features for its smart home initiative at its annual WWDC conference, including the ability to unlock your front door with an iPhone using a digital key in the wallet app.
But Apple is taking a different path with its smart home strategy than its main platforms such as iOS or MacOS, on which the company builds both the hardware and controls the software.
Instead, Apple’s smart home strategy relies heavily on encouraging third-party hardware manufacturers to adopt Apple’s HomeKit platform, which aims to simplify the process of seamlessly collaborating between devices from different companies.
For example, Apple didn’t release an Apple branded Smart Lock, but it did promote a Smart Lock that uses Apple’s software and tightly integrates with the iPhone’s home and wallet apps. Other HomeKit-enabled devices include air conditioners, video cameras, motion sensors, doorbells, and lights.
For Apple, this strategy aims to position the iPhone and Apple Watch as controllers for a variety of home functions, making them more valuable to existing customers, and discouraging them from switching to an Android phone when it is time to upgrade. Apple’s smart home strategy could also boost sales of Apple TV or HomePod as these devices can be used as the hub of the smart home.
‘Hey Siri’ is coming home
Perhaps the biggest smart home announcement at WWDC for iOS 15, released this fall, is that Apple has planned to use Siri, its voice assistant, to work with third-party smart home gadgets like Ecobee’s smart thermostat to open later this year. Soon, users will be able to say “Hey Siri” to non-Apple gadgets, in keeping with an ability that Google’s Assistant and Amazon Alexa were already capable of.
“While we don’t believe Siri is a primary reason people buy Apple products, we believe that expanding Siri to include third-party devices could help drive Siri usage and Apple’s foray into the smart home market to support. “Wrote Deutsche Bank analyst Sidney Ho in a note this week.
Using a supported third-party device like the Smart Thermostat, users can call Siri and send messages, add reminders, and even use family members’ iPhones, Apple Watches, and HomePods as intercoms.
There’s a catch, however – the feature requires a HomePod or HomePod mini. Essentially, the third-party Siri gadget forwards messages to the HomePod for processing.
Apple’s Home Key function in the Wallet app.
Apple will also allow users to unlock their front door or garage with their iPhone – provided the user has a compatible Smart Lock installed. While Apple didn’t announce any devices this week, it displayed a slide that said top lock providers like Schlage and Aqara will be supporting the feature.
There have also been minor, incremental updates that users will appreciate. HomeKit can use Siri to schedule events like turning on smart lights at 7 a.m. every day. Cameras can tell when a package has been delivered. Users can monitor HomeKit cameras on an Apple TV in full screen mode and easily turn on lights or activate other gadgets in the scene.
Most intriguing, Apple has started bundling one of the most important smart home features as a paid service. Cameras are one of the most important smart home gadgets, and Apple relies heavily on its privacy pitch to differentiate itself from competitors like Amazon’s Ring, noting that the raw footage is encrypted and stored privately on iCloud called HomeKit Secure Video.
To get the most out of this feature, users need to subscribe to the top iCloud service, which costs $ 9.99 per month for 2TB of storage. And in contrast to Amazon, Apple does not manufacture its own smart cameras, but relies on partners like Logitech.
For the 50 third-party hardware manufacturers who support these features, HomeKit enables them to reach a generally affluent group of consumers without doing a lot of technical legwork to enable basic functionality. But it also means that they must participate in Apple’s MFi accessory program, which means that through the program agreement, Apple can have some control over what they launch.
Apple said this week that it supports Matter, a standard designed to allow smart home gadgets to work together, and Apple said it contributed open source HomeKit code. Amazon, Google and Samsung also participate in the standard.
In a video session on Thursday, Apple engineers said Matter’s goal is to ensure that smart home devices stay compatible for years and that it becomes easier to develop new gadgets and apps. For developers, the HomeKit code will work with Matter with no changes required, Apple said.