iOS 8 in context: HomeKit will define the house of the future

Connor Mason
  • Connor Mason
  • September 8, 2014
iOS 8 in context: HomeKit will define the house of the future

In previous years, Apple’s keynote at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference has been the platform for the introduction of consumer-facing products and features, including the iPhone 4 in 2010 and iOS 7 in 2013. But this year’s conference was different—the final third of Apple’s presentation addressed almost zero consumer features. Instead, Cook and his team fulfilled thousands of developers’ wish lists to the sound of thunderous applause. While non-developers might have been itching for a glimpse of this fall’s anticipated new iPhones, little did they know that these additions to iOS will have a greater impact on their everyday lives than any flashy new hardware or buzz-worthy new feature.

If the redesign in iOS 7 was a fresh paint job, iOS 8 will be an entirely new engine. This is iOS 8 in context.


Apple Hosts Its Worldwide Developers Conference

Connected homes are the stuff of science fiction—visions of the future like the Jetsons’ automated food dispensary and Tony Stark’s JARVIS virtual butler. But new products and services from some of technology’s largest companies are beginning to inch toward that future in a fledgling movement called the “internet of things.” These devices use embedded operating systems and rely on a wireless router as their hub, all able to be controlled remotely via users’ smartphones. As they stand, these disparate “smart home” appliances are controlled by individual apps from each manufacturer—but Apple’s making moves to unify these separate experiences and make the iPhone the hub of users’ digital life at home.

The possibilities for connected home gadgets have exploded in just the past few years, with new standards like Bluetooth Low-Energy allowing for passive connectivity without substantive power drain. This provided for new innovations like connected LED light bulbs that last upwards of 25 years, and security systems that sense homeowners’ presence and adjust their behaviors accordingly. Like in health and fitness apps before HealthKit, each solution comes with its own suite of apps, its own user interfaces, its own modes of user engagement—necessary complications to deliver the best experience for each product.

In iOS 8, Apple is standardizing these experiences and offering a new set of tools for developers to help their connected home products talk to the iPhone. The company plans for the entire home automation industry to fall in line with their elegant solution that not only streamlines how these devices intercommunicate, but also gives users new ways to seamlessly and intuitively manage them. Apple calls their system HomeKit, and—perhaps more than any of its other projects—it’s going to reshape the way customers live.


HomeKit is where the heart is

A wealth of products from startups and major players alike seek to rethink and simplify day-to-day operations in the home. One of the first arenas of interest from “smart home” companies is utility automation, products that can monitor and control energy usage throughout the home. The pioneer in this space is Nest, founded by ex-Apple engineer Tony Fadell and recently acquired by Google, who first sought to revolutionize the humble thermostat. Beyond its elegant and intuitive user interface, Nest algorithmically determines the best times to boost or reduce heating and air-conditioning use throughout the day. Using user feedback coupled with sensors that determine who’s home, Nest learns from homeowner behavior over time and aims to cut users’ energy costs.

August Smart Lock

August Smart Lock

Another obvious application is home security, tackled by a slew of disparate products from startups that want to reinvent every stage of “locking up.” It starts with Bluetooth-enabled doorknobs from companies like August Smart Lock, which sense an approaching smartphone and unlock the door automatically. What’s more, homeowners can grant permission to specific August users to allow them to enter undeterred, for use by guests and house-sitters.

Once inside, app-enabled security systems like the Kickstarter darling Canary aim to simplify the home security experience. Equipped with sensors to detect motion, temperature, and sound, the Canary is prepared to ping connected smartphones in the event of any variance or emergency. Combined with proximity awareness that disarms certain security measures as soon as users get home, the Canary is positioned to do away with cumbersome security keypads altogether.

Other products incorporate much broader categories. WeMo light switch and power outlet replacements from Belkin allow customers to power on and off virtually any electric device—lamps, coffee makers, you name it. SmartThings offers a platform for developers to connect embedded systems in a host of app-enabled “smart” appliances, a shortcut to full home connectivity that approaches the scope of Apple’s forthcoming platform. (The company’s recent acquisition by Samsung might have encouraged Apple’s investment in the space.) Other product families achieve even tighter integration, as Nest’s Protect smoke detector can inform the Nest thermostat to shut off the gas the moment it senses smoke. But HomeKit doesn’t want to stop there—Apple wants a platform that welcomes and integrates all of the above products, and encourages them to communicate with one another. Only then will iOS customers be able to take advantage of every “smart home” product in the market.


Make yourself at HomeKit

HomeKit strives to unify and streamline every possible home automation experience for Apple’s customers. We interviewed Punchkick’s developers about the upcoming platform, and gauged their impressions about the new system’s long-term impact.

“HomeKit is probably what I’m most excited about as a consumer,” said iOS developer Chris Cieslak. “I have Nest products and SmartThings, but I’m hoping that HomeKit can make these products quasi-standard, so that my light switches can talk to my thermostat can talk to my doorknob.”

It’s not just a dream—HomeKit prescribes ways for developers to interface with iOS users outside of single-purpose apps. With iOS 8, customers can simply ask Siri to dim the lights, and the command will carry through whether they’re using Philips Hue lightbulbs or a Belkin WeMo light switch. Even further, customers can define custom “scenes” that connect to multiple product types simultaneously, so telling Siri “I’m going to bed” could cut the lights, lock the front door, and lower the temperature to a cool 60º.



“It’ll be easy to take advantage of HomeKit as a developer,” said Cieslak, “because it makes it easier to build connected home products from the client side. It’s all very similar to how Bluetooth already works.”

By deploying a standard for interconnectivity and accessibility in the home, developers can simply adopt Apple’s tools for user experience design and focus on the behaviors of their unique products. “HomeKit gives developers the tools to interact with the awesome things that hardware manufacturers haven’t even dreamt of yet,” said Cieslak. Since there are fewer development barriers to home automation products, traditional manufacturers can jump in on the fun. “There’s no reason an appliance manufacturer couldn’t take advantage of this,” said Cieslak. “The gates are completely open now.”

“Smart house” won’t be like Smart House

Customers shouldn’t expect this year’s home products to tap into HomeKit, but the benefits to both manufacturers and customers are clear. Like Nest’s focus on reducing energy use, similar utility automation products from large appliance manufacturers can offer real value to consumers. Punchkick developer John Norton thinks these savings will drive the home automation industry forward.

“There are a handful of current products that allow you to control the lights, the thermostat, et cetera,” said Norton. “But if you push that further, and if people consider the energy savings when their whole house is wired, these things will really take off.”

Philips Hue

Philips Hue

Not all home automation applications are as utilitarian, however. Like the color customization options in the Phillips Hue lightbulbs, these connected products allow for increased personalization and setting a serious or playful mood on-the-fly. When these products have a platform to intercommunicate, they can begin to anticipate these preferences on their own.

“Imagine if various devices in your home could be aware of you and your preferences,” said Norton. “They could anticipate your needs throughout the home—turning on lights, warming the bathroom floor in the morning, and so on.”

Eventually, these conveniences will extend beyond the luxury. “At first, it’ll be a whole ‘home upgrading’ trend that people will get into,” said Norton, “But these connected devices will become expected features in new homes.” That level of saturation will be facilitated by iOS’s incredible popularity, and by compatibility with similar platforms from Google or Samsung going forward. “You’ll see people building their own homegrown systems that tap into HomeKit, too,” said Norton. “It won’t just be the big companies anymore.”

HomeKit seems like science fiction come to life—speak a command to your virtual assistant and the lights turn on. But these simple conveniences add up to a homeowner experience that matches the elegance and integration of iOS as a platform. Soon, the same device that controls your car and monitors your vitals will permeate every object in your home. Apple wants to streamline the digital home experience—your microwave is about to get a whole lot smarter.

“I can see HomeKit spawning a whole new market of cool home automation products that we haven’t even thought of yet,” said Cieslak. “I’ll be spending a lot more time at Home Depot.”


Let’s Build Together

Thanks for reaching out!

We will be in touch shortly.