In June, Apple hosted some 5,000 developers from more than 74 countries at its 27th annual World Wide Developers Conference. There, the tech giant will give updates on all of the latest software enhancements they’ve been working on and new tools for third-party developers that utilize Apple’s platforms.
Per the usual, Apple kicked the event off with a major keynote.
CEO Tim Cook opened his address with a touching tribute, offering his thoughts and condolences on the senseless tragedy that unfolded in Orlando, Florida, the weekend prior to the company’s event. He then gave a brief overview on the morning’s four big announcements—updates to each of the Apple platforms: iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and (the finally renamed) macOS. Each platform will receive some significant upgrades over the current iterations, but there was one clear standout from the event, which will resonate in the consumer electronics retail and custom integration spaces: HomeKit.
Apple’s take on the connected home, HomeKit has served as a de facto hub for smart home products and appliances that play well with the company’s software. To this point, the platform has worked in the background, connecting the user’s different HomeKit-enabled devices, providing seamless control through their iOS device. But now, with the launch of iOS 10 in the Fall, users will have a single platform—the new, aptly-named, Home app—where they can control all of those devices.
With Siri integration, which allows the user to turn off their lights, close the blinds, lock the doors, etc., Apple is morphing its virtual assistant into an Alexa Lite of sorts, with its sights set on controlling more of the user’s home and providing a much cleaner, more Apple-like experience. The simplicity of the new platform can’t be overlooked and seems like the perfect entry point for the average consumer to begin to think about their home as a hub of technology. Consumers will become familiar with setting scenes in their home (turning their home off at night or on during the morning; controlling different rooms of the home; and so on). Further, Apple revealed that remote access and automation will be available and work through the consumer’s Apple TV, and the Apple Watch will receive support for the new Home app.
The move also puts Apple in the company of platforms like Control4 and Crestron who’ve made it their goal to give consumers a single platform where they can control all of their connected devices, the laundry list of which will look awfully familiar to those we mentioned a few lines up. What Apple brings to the table, though, is a platform that is familiar, perhaps simpler, and doesn’t require yet another third-party application to be installed on the user’s device. Not to mention the fact that the app comes from a company with one of the most recognizable names in the world at the moment.
Not to say that the Home app is a killer to companies/platforms like Control4 and Crestron, but Apple is clearly encroaching on their space.
That said, the aforementioned companies don’t necessarily see this as a problem. Rather, as Paul Williams, Control4’s VP of Solutions, put it, it’s more of an opportunity.
“We would put this in the category of something that we think helps the smart home automation market,” Williams recently told Technology Integrator. “much like when, in the rise of the Internet of Things and IoT, what it’s really done has opened up consumers’ eyes to the possibilities. We’ve said, long before IoT came around, the biggest hurdle that we have in this space for us and other manufactures that specialize in home automation is customer awareness. Customers don’t even realize that this technology is available, that they can even do these kind of things, that there’s these sophisticated but simple-to-install and simple-to-use home automation systems that allow them to have great experiences in their homes.”
If awareness is what companies like Control4 are looking for, they’re certainly getting it with the new Apple Home app. Not all customers are going to want to buy into the Apple HomeKit way of life, or even understand what that even means, but the exposure that simply talking about it creates is enormously vital to other companies in the space. Consumers might just become curious as to what else is out there in the smart home world, or just want to educate themselves on the possibilities of connected tech, thus giving these companies an opportunity to attract new clientele.
“The vast majority of consumers don’t even realize that there’s an option there, they just don’t get access to it,” said Williams. “we’re not of a size, and in fact even some of our larger competitors aren’t of a size that we’re taking out Super Bowl ads or Wall Street Journal advertisements as well to kind of educate the public on what’s available there. But there’s this need for people to understand what’s going on.”
Williams also noted that, for a majority of customers, the experience that the Home app will provide might be enough for them—and that too is just fine. “The reality is that that consumer is probably not a Control4 consumer,” he said. “They’re going to put in a few lights, control them through this new app, and they’re going to be happy. That may be all they ever need in their home. But for some consumers who want more, they may find that this is lacking what they really want to do, and as they look out to see what’s available, they’ll find companies like Control4.”
As for the app itself, Williams—like most of the tech-loving world—was rather disappointed by the lack of attention and information that Apple shared about its new app at WWDC.
“They didn’t spend very much time talking about it. If you look at the total time spent on it, I think it was less than 4 minutes, whereas something like text messaging got 30 minutes or so,” Williams said. Of what Apple did show, “it looked pretty simplistic. It’s basically a super app that allows you to have your Home Kit-enabled devices all in an app where I can interact with them individually or have them work together in these scenes.
“I was expecting more—I was actually hoping for more,” Williams added. “We didn’t get too much of an in depth look at it other than seeing the devices and the fact that you can have scenes. I’m hoping that there is more to it, but we’ll see where that goes.”