Get to know the software behind Apple’s Siri-powered smart home platform.
“Siri, open my shades.”
You might not know it, but you’re using every time you issue a smart-home-related voice command on your , — or other -compatible device.
HomeKit is to actions are to . It’s that intangible, but vital in-the-background software that makes it possible for you to turn on your smart lights every morning with a simple Siri command (or from Apple’s iOS-only Home app). what are to , or what
HomeKit software was introduced way back at smart home landscape. — before we had even heard of those now-ubiquitous smart speakers called the and the . Still, HomeKit and the HomePod smart speaker aren’t nearly as well known as their competitors. Here’s a close-up look at Apple HomeKit — what it is, why it matters and how it fits into the growing
A brief chronology
The timeline for HomeKit is important because it helps explain how Amazon and Google gained ground so quickly — even though they technically joined the smart home market after Apple. Take a look:
June 2014 – at WWDC, but no accompanying smart speaker and keeps it closed to developers
November 2014 – , along with Alexa, Alexa skills and the Alexa app
June 2015 – , updated with MFi chips as part of Apple’s certification program
September 2016 – for adding HomeKit devices and controlling them from your phone
October 2016 – , along with Google Assistant, Google actions and the Google Home app
February 2018 – , the first Apple smart home speaker, nearly four years after HomeKit
Between November 2014 and February 2018, Amazon and Google also added additional smart speakers to their device lineup. Amazon’s smart speakers range from the $50 (£50, AU$79) to the $230 (£200 or roughly AU$300 converted) . Google’s range from the $50 (£50, AU$80) to the $399 (not yet available internationally, but we predict a £399 and AU$599 price when it is).
TAKING A LOOK AT HOMEKIT’S COMPETITION
|Software||HomeKit (closed)||Skills (open)||Actions (open)|
|Voice assistant||Siri (iOS only)||Alexa (Android and iOS)||Google Assistant (Android and iOS)|
|Device(s)||Apple HomePod||Amazon Echo (among others)||Google Home (among others)|
|Mobile app||Home (iOS only)||Alexa (Android and iOS)||Google Home (Android and iOS)|
Open or closed?
There’s a reason HomeKit isn’t as well known as Alexa skills or Google actions.
Unlike Amazon, which opened up its Alexa skills to developers early on (the same goes for Google actions), Apple has maintained control of HomeKit from day one. Outside commercial developers can’t create Siri-voice-powered integrations for their connected devices. Also, Apple previously required third-party companies requesting integration with Siri to install a piece of hardware called an MFi chip in their devices.
The , but HomeKit hopefuls still have to go through the MFi certification program to apply for integration with Siri.
Largely because of its closed-off nature, HomeKit hasn’t advanced as quickly as its competitors. Here’s where you can find .
HomeKit lives in the iOS-only . It’s the place where you pair new compatible devices, assign them to rooms in your house and create custom “scenes” (if you want) like “Good morning.” “Good morning” might turn on your , adjust the living room and open all of the — simultaneously.
You can either enable your “Good morning” scene from the Home app or ask Siri to do it on your iOS device or on a HomePod smart speaker.
Adding a HomeKit device to the Home app (see the screenshot above) involves scanning a special code included with your purchase. It’s typically printed on a sticker on the device itself.
Unlike Amazon or Google, Apple’s Home app wasn’t introduced until two years after HomeKit was first announced. The earliest HomeKit integrations, unsurprisingly, were confusing to configure because there was no mobile app to launch them from. You instead had to connect them through the third-party device’s native app, which didn’t always follow a standardized process.
Apple finally has all of the main pieces it needs to be a comprehensive smart home platform — HomeKit, Siri, the HomePod and the Home app. Why it took the tech giant four years between introducing HomeKit and actually offering a smart speaker to accompany it is less clear. Either way, there are still a couple of things Apple could do to grow the customer base of HomeKit: a Home app for Android customers and a HomeKit SDK that’s completely open to developers (another thing that was MFi licensees) — but I’m not holding my breath., but is currently only available to