Like the U.S. during the Civil War, mine is a house divided.
I have a second generation Motorola X handset while my husband recently upgraded to an iPhone 6 running iOS. As such I was curious what it would mean for my home automation schemes as Apple’s HomeKit devices started to arrive. The good news is I shouldn’t find myself unable to control devices in our home, but the bad news, even for homes running all-Apple products, is that you may have to upgrade a device or two to get the features you crave.
Apple’s HomeKit is a developer framework launched last summer at its developer event, designed to help connected devices around the smart home work with the iPhone and iPad. Information about the framework has slowly trickled out, such as it will use the Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad certification program to ensure compatibility and that the Apple TV will act as some sort of hub if your iPhone isn’t at home to be the “brains” of any of your home automation rules.
But the big questions that most people have been asking have been around the features. For example, the expectation is that we’ll see voice activation commands given to Siri. I’ve seen “Scenes” that can be set and notifications that pop up on your iPhone when events are triggered that let you then elect to set your lights on or raise the temperature on your thermostat from your phone easily if you’d like.
But in a divided home, all of the HomeKit benefits will pass Android users by unless you choose a hub that supports both HomeKit and the Android ecosystem. And even if you do elect to go that route, Android users may get a fundamentally different user experience from your Apple-using partner while they enjoy Siri commands and “scenes” and you fiddle around with “Robots” or “recipes.” Possibly more worrisome will be a small sub-segment of HomeKit certified devices that will only support iOS products, leaving Android users out in the cold, much like some apps do today.
While I don’t expect those gadgets to be mass market, you might be in (relative) danger if you see something cool at the Apple store and don’t look closely at the box to ensure it supports Android. And even iOS users aren’t going to get off scot-free in this transition to HomeKit. Some device makers will need to bring out new versions of their hardware to support. For example, Insteon CEO Joe Dada told me at CES that he plans on bringing out a new version of the Insteon hub to support the MFI program although he couldn’t tell me when that would be.
Most vendors were similarly constrained on the record, able to vaguely discuss their products and plans, but unable to address specifics. For example, when I asked Philips about if I would need to replace my hardware in order to get HomeKit supports I was told they are proud that people who bought Hue on day one are still able to use the system and its features and they are committed to keeping it that way. Chamberlain, another Apple HomeKit partner confirmed officially that buyers won’t need to replace their old gear.
So, while I did hear and see a lot of HomeKit at CES, I didn’t get the clarity I was hoping for. It seems that vendors wanted very much to offer me that clarity but couldn’t. Which makes me wonder, as Apple moves into an ecosystem with a far greater number of partners how much longer its vaunted system of secrecy and control could possibly last.