Apple enables HomeKit support for home security cameras and router

Store footage in iCloud for 10 days at no charge

Apple’s smart home system, HomeKit, is adding support for several new types of devices this year, including home security cameras and routers. Apple has steadily expanded the types of devices that HomeKit can handle since its introduction in 2014, adding a few year by year as product makers have requested support for them. This year’s additions fill an important gap in the home security space.

The support for home security cameras, which include models from Logitech, Arlo, and more, has been long requested by homeowners with HomeKit systems. The new HomeKit Secure Video API will let these cameras send their video to an Apple HomePod to locally analyze it before sending it up to the cloud. Once analyzed, the video is encrypted and stored in iCloud, where you can have up to 10 days of footage stored at no charge.

The new router support in HomeKit will let you firewall off accessories, so they can’t access your full home network. Linksys, Eero, and Spectrum will initially support the HomeKit features.

HomeKit remains one of the easiest to use smart home systems thanks to its deep integration with Apple devices. If everyone in your home owns iPhones, HomeKit allows smart home devices to be controlled from everyone’s phone, through Siri or a variety of different apps, including a Home hub made by Apple.

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What exactly is a ‘smart’ device anyway?

Not too long ago, maybe you remember, most at-home tasks were done by hand.

From vacuuming the carpet and cooking dinner to turning on the lights and adjusting the temperature in the room, all the day-to-day domestic drudgery required some degree of manual labor.

Those days are fleeting as the rapidly evolving tech industry continues to unveil new convenience contraptions that are triggered by sensors, computers, timers and the sound of our voices.

“Smart” this and “connected” that. Society has grown accustomed to using simplified tech lingo to describe the latest nifty devices, but have you ever stopped to think about what it all means?

It’s easy to use the terms smart and connected interchangeably, but the truth is they’re not exactly the same thing.

Here are the differences between these similar technology terms:

Connected vs. Smart

Stay informed: How a smart home works for you all day

In November 2014, Michael E. Porter, professor of business administration at Harvard, and James E. Heppelmann, CEO of computer software company PTC Inc., broke down the differences between connected and smart technologies in the Harvard Business Review.

Connected devices, as described by the duo, have ports, antennae and protocols that facilitate communication between a product and its operating environment.

Simply put, “a connected device can share data directly with other devices or over a network,” said Rick Kowalski, senior manager of Industry and Business Intelligence at the Consumer Technology Association. “The data transmission can be one way or two way.”

A simple door or window sensor that tracks the state of your home’s entryways is an example of a connected device, Kowalski said. These devices solely let you know if a window or door is ajar.

Smart tech, on the other hand, is often more complex. These gadgets contain sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, and, typically, an embedded operating system.

“Smart devices enable more than just connectivity,” said Kowalski. “A smart device typically has an operating system that will let you connect with other information services, entertainment services or apps.”

Take a smartphone, for example. Not only does the device allow you to browse the internet and make calls, but it also lets you connect to apps that unlock endless possibilities.

New rules: ‘Don’t call me before you text’ and other rules of the digital era

Some wireless home speakers are solely connected, allowing you to play music from your smartphone via Bluetooth connection, while others that can be controlled by, say, Amazon’s cloud-based voice assistant (Alexa) are considered smart.

“Speakers didn’t become ‘smart’ until they added digital assistants that gave us answers to our questions, access to our music services, and the ability to control our smart home devices,” Kowalski said.

USA TODAY Tech contributor Jennifer Jolly gave us a tour of a prototype of the smart homes of the future, called KB Home ProjeKt, which features moving walls, 400-plus smart appliances and much more. USA TODAY

Smart home vs connected home

Crossing wires: A smart home sounds like a great idea. So why is it still so complicated?

The terms smart home and connected home have evolved to be used interchangeably, Kowalski, a consumer tech expert, said.

A truly smart home is equipped with lighting, heating, or electronic devices that can be controlled remotely — as in when you’re away from your home — by a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Using the technology within the home, you can control and see what is going on in your house, even when you’re not there by using websites or apps on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

For instance, if you’re expecting a delivery while you’re away, you can install a home camera that allows you to check in on your front porch. That way you can see when your package arrives or interact with people who come to your door even when you’re away.

Smart thermostats are intelligent because they can make calculated decisions based on other system components, such as the owner’s previous room temperature adjustments, built-in algorithms, and sensors.

A breeze: Staying cool with my new learning thermostat

Smart TV vs Regular TV

Smart TV tracking features: How to turn them off if you want some privacy

There are two major differences between smart and non-smart televisions. Smart televisions can access the internet and they can be boosted with apps—just like a smartphone or tablet. “Dumb” or regular TVs aren’t manufactured with those capabilities.

Similar to regular TVs, however, smart ones come in many shapes and sizes and you can get an LCD or Plasma.

You used to have to connect a computer or laptop to a conventional TV if you wanted to access Internet-based content. Nowadays, thanks to third-party hardware devices like Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku, regular TVs can become smart-er.

Still, truly smart TVs have access to streaming services like Netflix and YouTube built in.

Internet of Things

Also known as IoT, it’s the umbrella term that refers to the connection of devices to the internet. These devices broadly encompass connected appliances, connected cars, wearable tech, smart health and fitness, security cameras, smart TVs, smart clothing, smart homes, smart cities and all of the services that are layered on top of those.

As the Internet of Things grows over the coming years, more devices will join that list.

, USA TODAY Published March 2, 2019

Smart switch? Psh. Leviton wants to smarten up your whole breaker box

The newly cloud-connected Leviton Load Center features intelligent circuit breakers that you can control or monitor from your phone.
by  2019

Promising to bring your breaker box into the 21st century, Leviton introduced a new Wi-Fi-enabled load center this week at this year’s NAHB International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas. Hook it up, and you’ll be able to monitor and control each individual circuit in your home direct from your phone.

Simply called the Leviton Load Center, the new breaker box uses a built-in hub to connect your circuit breakers with your router, and with the My Leviton app on your Android or iOS device. Connect everything accordingly, and you’ll be able to turn breakers off right from your phone, track their energy usage, or even predict your next power bill.

leviton-load-center-circuit-breaker2
The Leviton Load Center uses Smart Branch Circuit Breakers to communicate to the My Leviton app.Leviton

No word from Leviton yet on what this will cost, but CNET Appliances labs manager and lead technical editor Steve Conaway estimates that it’ll be expensive, likely costing at least a few thousand dollars. A dedicated DIY junkie (and the first guy I go to for advice when I need to fix something in my own house), Steve also tells me that he’d consider splurging on the Leviton Load Center in his own home — his next big project is to go solar, and a connected breaker box would let him monitor his whole-home power consumption with granular, circuit-specific detail.

Short of enthusiastic home hobbyists like Steve, the new Load Center really seems to be aimed at people who build and renovate houses. As demand for smart home tech continues to tick upwards, whole-home upgrades like Leviton’s smart breaker box might be the sort of things that catch the eye of potential home buyers.

“It is easy to install for contractors, provides home builders with a smart, safe and aesthetically pleasing product for their customers, and simplifies the daily lives of homeowners,” says Leviton president and chief operating officer Daryoush Larizadeh.

Beyond the smart features, the Leviton Load Center promises a focus on electrical safety, including patented GFCI lockout technology that Leviton claims exceeds UL standards. That, in addition to the ability to turn circuits off in the Leviton app, might help the Load Center feel like a worthy upgrade over retrofit devices like Neurio and Curb that clamp onto your existing breaker box to track its energy use.

Leviton won’t have a price for the Load Center locked down until this summer, when it’s made available through Leviton’s network of electrical distributors.

Consumer ‘Smart Home’ Technology Predictions For 2019

The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the premier consumer electronics event, where companies big and small get a chance to showcase their new technologies. It always provides a strong glimpse of where the industry is going, and as such, is a must-attend for analysts like myself. On the eve of the show, here are my top 5 Nostradamus-inspired predictions for 2019.

#5: We will start to see practical robot solutions for the consumer that are “sociable” in design, capable of natural interaction with humans. The solutions we’ll see in 2019 will still be a far cry from the lovable robots in The Jetsons, Star Wars, or Lost in Space, but they will be an important step forward from the single usage model products (e.g. Roomba) that we have today.

Advances in digital assistant technology such as Amazon.com'sAMZN -0.16% Alexa, Google GOOGL -0.19% Assistant, and (to a lesser extent) Apple AAPL +0.31% Siri, have laid the groundwork for the human interface capabilities needed to make these solutions useful and intuitive to use. Companies like Boston Dynamics have done amazing work with robots that utilize high resolutions cameras to sense the environment and move with animal-like dexterity. Given the developments we’re already seeing in the AI and machine learning area that will allow robots to “mature” and become more useful over time, I suspect we’ll see products similar to Sony ’s next generation Aibo (which was announced at last year’s CES). Genuine robotic pets may indeed have mainstream appeal, for uses such as giving comfort to the elderly or providing “roaming” home security surveillance in a way that a fixed camera cannot.

Mobile robot solutions like Temi, which performs a number of interesting entertainment, news dissemination, and video conferencing functions, point in the direction of where the market is headed. Roomba, look out.

#4: 802.11ax, otherwise known as Wi-Fi 6, is going to be the next “big thing” in wireless connectivity—particularly in the connected home. Both Qualcomm QCOM +0.35% and Intel INTC +1.1%introduced new chipsets supporting this new specification, and new routers with 802.11ax-based radios will start to hit the market this year from all the major routers companies (including Netgear and Linksys).

Why is 802.11ax going to be such a game changer? The essential problem with today’s Wi-Fi is not purely speed—802.11ac provides sufficient amounts of bandwidth for most home users, with theoretical speeds over the Gigabit threshold. The much larger problem is Wi-Fi congestion in the typical home, with many devices (sometimes up to 15 or 20) competing for bandwidth. The 802.11ax standard takes its cue from how LTE cellular technology solves network overcrowding, with wider and multiple channels that significantly increase throughput.  Yes, 802.11ax will be anywhere from 5X to 10X faster than existing Wi-Fi technology, but more importantly, it will handle these competing client requests for bandwidth in a more organized, intelligent and robust manner. In addition, 802.11ax promises to improve battery life on devices, since the range will be (generally) further and the transmission of data will be faster.  In that manner, the clients will not need to work as hard.

As always, the downside to new wireless standard transitions is the proverbial “chicken and egg” phenomenon—the client device and the router must both have 802.11ax support to realize these benefits. Still, there is enough industry momentum behind 802.11ax to make me believe that the transition will begin in earnest this year. Consumers will benefit from the upgrade cycle.

On a tangential note, I’m also excited about what Plume and others have done in the “beyond wireless” area with OpenSync. OpenSync is an open source initiative focused on assisting service providers by opening up hardware ecosystems to enable an improved foundation of new smart home services and apps. This type of “outside the box” initiative has already garnered support by several major service providers and device manufacturers and I expect to see a lot of traction around this later this year.

#3: If you think Amazon Alexa is already pervasive in your home, you haven’t seen anything yet. 2019 will be the year that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant become an inescapable presence in homes and public venues. According to Amazon, by the end of 2018, tens of millions of smart devices were already connected to Alexa. Additionally, more than 28,000 smart home devices, among 4,500 unique brands, are compatible with Alexa—a 600% increase over 2017.

While I’m not prepared to declare that the voice assistant wars are over—Google Assistant has also made impressive market share gains in this area—Amazon is clearly the leader in this space. The proliferation of digital assistant devices—not just speakers, but lamps, cars, microwave ovens, TVs, clocks, and more—will be an ongoing big story for 2019. It won’t just be in the home: Amazon announced last year it was partnering with Marriott Hotels to put Echo devices in their hotel rooms to improve guest access to amenities.

Putting aside all the thorny privacy issues that will undoubtedly get more attention in 2019 as “ambient computing” in our daily lives becomes more pervasive, the bottom line is that we are rapidly becoming a world where something is always listening. While some will view this (understandably) as an Orwellian nightmare, there are undisputed productivity and lifestyle benefits to gain as well.

#2: “Genuine” wireless charging of devices will start to emerge in 2019.  Consumers have been fooled a bit by companies like Apple and Samsung who have tried to convince them that “inductive charging,” a technology that has been around for over 20 years that requires two surfaces to be touching each other for a charging connection to be enabled, is the same as genuine wireless charging. Nothing could be further from the truth. While inductive charging for cell phones and other devices eliminates the need for a cable, several innovative companies are working on genuine wireless charging that frees devices from power outlets and battery changes.

One company that shows significant potential in this area is Wi-Charge. Using safe, invisible light, Wi-Charge’s technology provides enough power to charge a phone across a room. The implications of their technology are enormous. Not only could it help solve the battery charging dilemma that nearly every consumer face on a daily basis, it could also enable the use of more IoT devices (e.g. smart locks, door and window sensors, etc.) in the home, where battery replacement is irritating, and power outlets are not available.

Wi-Charge’s technology is already FDA-approved and complies with worldwide government standards. It is currently collaborating with several well-known partners to create wire-free appliances and charging devices. This truly could be one of the big technology stories in 2019.

#1: Facebook Portal may be the first truly great home video conferencing solution that gets doomed because of privacy concerns. It pains me say this, but I can’t remember a similar product like Facebook Portal that has gotten such tremendously positive reviews from a technology, ease of use, and design standpoint, but an almost universal slap in the face from the media because of Facebook FB +0%’s bad track record in the privacy area. The major press reviews have been almost universally consistent: great hardware but you simply can’t trust Facebook.

Having been one of the early users of Portal, I can attest to Portal’s superb video quality, excellent user experience, beautiful product design, and innovation (the camera smoothly follows you as you’re speaking to someone). But to my chagrin, I haven’t been able to convince a single member of my extended family to buy one (even devoted Facebook users like my mom and aunts) because they think Facebook might spy on them when Portal is not being used.  Interestingly, they don’t have any issue using Apple’s FaceTime to video conference with families.

I recognize these fears are largely emotional since Facebook has taken many precautions, both in its backend infrastructure and with the product itself (the ability to cover up the camera to prevent the company from spying on you). Still, many consumers, particularly older ones who remain committed to the traditional Facebook platform, have been put off by the company’s rash of bad press around privacy over the past year. In that sense, Facebook has a much bigger problem than just Portal. Sales of Portal over the holiday season have been modest (even light by some reports). I won’t be surprised if Portal makes an early exit from the scene later this year. It’s a shame, but it’s self-inflicted in my view.

Beyond CES

There are numerous indications that this year’s Consumer Electronics Show will be substantially bigger this year in terms of the number of product exhibitors and attendees. After I return from CES, I will publish a recap of some the more interesting products on display next week.  At CES, I’ll be fortunate enough to attend media-only events like CES Unveiled, Pepcom’s Digital Experience, and ShowStoppers, in which hundreds of startups show off their wares in a convenient, egalitarian format. These annual events truly provide great insight into where the general consumer market is headed and I won’t be surprised if many of the products that are shown speak to many of the themes I’ve described above. Stay tuned.

WRITTEN BY Mark N. Vena