HomeKit, Apple's take on the home-automation/Internet of Things concept, was unveiled alongside iOS 8 at WWDC last June, and is expected to launch soon, possibly even in June. In our HomeKit release date rumours article, we discuss when HomeKit products are likely to launch in the UK, as well as all the details we know about HomeKit at this point. What exactly is HomeKit and what does it do?
When Apple first introduced iOS 8, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple is working on a new Apple system called HomeKit. With HomeKit, developers can build gadgets for your home that can connect directly to the iPhone and iPad so that you can control them. You will be able to control heating, lighting, security and other home appliances and systems via a dedicated app on your iPhone or iPad.
This dedicated will allow you to control various smart accessories in your home, as well as enable you to group products into “rooms,” “zones” or “scenes”. This enables you to turn off every HomeKit product in a room – such as lights and the TV – with a single tap. The aim is to make the smart home simpler to use.
Read: What is Apple's HomeKit?
HomeKit is closely related to The Internet of Things (or IoT). You might have heard of that buzzword, and IoT is big news in the tech industry at the moment. As devices become cheaper to make, and wireless devices become smaller and easier to integrate, we are going to see a big push to hook up the technology in our home to the Internet.
With HomeKit, Apple is set to unify all the different IoT devices into one system - all plugged in and ready to go, via your iPhone or iPad. Reports suggest you will be also able to control HomeKit accessories and appliances in the home using Siri and that the Apple TV will be part of the equation that makes Siri integration possible.
HomeKit release date: When will HomeKit products come out?
Apple first announced HomeKit in at WWDC in June 2014, but has kept pretty tight lipped about it since.
That hasn’t stopped a number of home automation vendors showing off their products using Apple’s HomeKit frameworks at CES at the beginning of January. A number of gadget makers are hard at work integrating Apple’s HomeKit frameworks into their products. Even though it seems that many companies have a HomeKit enabled product ready to sell, from what we have seen so far most look unpolished and need more time to get the HomeKit and Siri integration just right.
However a report released recently suggests that devices that are compatible with Apple's HomeKit could be on sale as soon as June, as Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said "HomeKit has been available for just a few months and we already have dozens of partners who have committed to bringing HomeKit accessories to market and we're looking forward to the first ones coming next month,". She didn't give any indication as to what these devices are, or where they'd be sold though.
The statement comes as a response to a Fotrune report that claims the first HomeKit enabled devices wouldn't hit the market until early autumn, slipping from a May-June launch to a late August-September release. The report claims that even though Apple is planning a HomeKit related announcement at WWDC, it's struggling to "stabilise certain aspects of the software".
One aspect Apple may still be working on is the necessary software for the consumer side of its HomeKit framework for developers. The framework was made available to developers after WWDC and you require a developer’s account to develop it (more information below).
Siri is said to play a part in communication between you, your device and your HomeKit products, so it could be that Apple is still testing this implementation.
Indeed, it has been suggested that in order for Siri to control the gadgets in your home when you aren’t in, it will be necessary to rely on the Apple TV to communicate with HomeKit ready products. If that is the case an Apple TV software update may be necessary (although an update to the Apple TV has already bought HomeKit features).
Another suggestion is that there are a number of HomeKit ready products waiting for approval from Apple, but Apple hasn’t yet verified any. Why would Apple be making venders wait? One suggestion is that Apple will hold an event to introduce its connected home solution, which we thought would be announced alongside the launch of the Apple Watch. To everyones surprise, HomeKit was barely mentioned throughout the Apple Watch announcement.
Here's a round up of HomeKit products that have already launched, or are coming soon: Remote control IoT HomeKit products round up
HomeKit FAQs: What does HomeKit do?
HomeKit is a system for developers who want to build home automation gadgets that can be controlled from one easy to use iPhone or iPad app. Consumers will benefit, but only once developers start releasing home automation products based on the HomeKit system.
Whenever you hear an Apple term with the word 'kit' at the end, that's your clue that Apple has made something for developers. Other examples include Sprite Kit for games developers and HealthKit for fitness device developers. HomeKit is a framework of functions that enables developers creating Wi-Fi devices, such as wireless heating and lighting systems, to connect them to an iOS device in an orderly manner.
HomeKit is a software framework that enables developers to integrate internet-connected home devices with iOS apps. Rather than having to build the connections from scratch, HomeKit offers a whole set of systems that developers can use to integrate iOS apps with wireless devices.
In order to get involved with HomeKit, developers have to sign up for Apple's Made for iPhone (Made For iPhone (MFi) programme. This enables hardware manufacturers to create products that carry Apple's MFi logo. It also ensures that customers are buying a product that uses legitimate Apple connections, and something we can be sure will work with the iPhone and iPad. Hardware developers have to pay Apple to be in the MFi program, but it is integrated systems like HomeKit that prove the worth of these systems.
Apple often talks about how its integrated hardware and software approach gives it an edge over other manufacturers (who may specialise in one or the other). Systems like HomeKit extend that hardware and software integration to third-party manufacturers.
[Find out about the Apple Watch: Complete Guide to Apple Watch: release date, UK price, specs, size & weight]
HomeKit FAQs: How will HomeKit work?
Once ready for prime time, HomeKit will be a platform that can control all of your smart devices from one central hub. It’ll allow you to group products into “rooms,” “zones” and “scenes”.
Room control is fairly simple – with a single tap, you can turn on/off all smart devices in, for example, your living room.
“Zones” are slightly different. A zone is a cluster of rooms (opposed to a single room), enabling you to control smart devices in multiple rooms at once. Just got home from work? You can turn on the lights in your living room, hallway and kitchen quickly and easily.
“Scenes” may be the most impressive of the three grouping options. Scenes are where you can get creative with your controls; imagine having a “party” scene that you could activate that would then make your living room lights strobe and turn your stereo on. It doesn’t stop there though; you could have a “bedtime” scene that could turn off all the downstairs lights & appliances, turn the heating down and close the blinds without even getting out of bed. That’s the life right there.
As mentioned earlier, it seems that Siri will have a part to play in the HomeKit system, which could mean that if you say “I feel cold” to Siri, it would then automatically turn up the heating system for you.
[We have the latest rumours about the Apple iCar here.]
HomeKit FAQs: Will my non-MFI product work with HomeKit?
What about those products that aren’t MFI (Made for iPhone) certified? Will you have to replace them? Reports have suggested that competing home automation systems wouldn’t be supported, but Apple has recently detailed HomeKit compatibility that suggests otherwise.
While Apple did mention about the possibility of connecting other smart products to HomeKit using a hardware “bridge” at WWDC 2014, it has kept the details under wraps until recently. The idea of a bridge is to communicate with non-HomeKit accessories via varying wireless protocols, such as the popular Z-Wave wireless communications protocol designed for home automation.
While this bridge sounds like it enables almost any device to be controlled via HomeKit, there are restrictions in place – mainly for security purposes. Apple has said that it won’t support accessories that connect over WiFi, such as Philips Hue, and that they’ll have to go through the HomeKit protocol process and become licensed MFI products. Apple also noted that accessories that allow physical access to the home, such as smart locks, cannot be bridged for obvious reasons. You wouldn’t be too happy if your phone was stolen and it had the ability to open your front door, right?
While that may take some popular home automation products out of the question, there are others that will work with a HomeKit bridge. It appears that Apple will permit the bridging of Bluetooth products that don’t provide control of the home, again, such as door locks or a smart security system. As mentioned earlier, the bridge will be able to communicate to accessories that use alternative transports like Z-Wave technology so some of your smart products might have hope yet!
The HomeKit bridge can connect up to 100 accessories and other bridges can also be connected if needed. There’s a catch though – if a non-HomeKit accessory is compatible with a bridge, it appears that the accessory still requires MFI product approval, meaning that even products that don’t use the HomeKit APIs, but are compatible with the bridge will need to be approved by Apple.
HomeKit FAQs: Is there going to be a Home app that controls all HomeKit devices?
Will Apple introduce a dedicated Home app to go alongside HomeKit? It seems logical, but Apple isn't talking.
On the surface, a Home app seems to make sense: after all, Apple's HealthKit system has its own Health app (introduced in iOS 8). But it may well be that HomeKit isn't viewed or treated in the same way. That it's not really an app, but a system that enables developers to integrate their own apps with devices they build.
So far we haven't seen any evidence of a dedicated Home app to sit alongside Health. However, we keep hearing that HomeKit is really about Siri integration. Rather than connecting to a separate Home app, the devices will be controlled directly via Siri - which could well provide the single-app convenience that users would want from a Home app.
HomeKit, Siri and the Apple TV
It is thought that you will be able to use Siri to turn on the lights, unlock the door, and turn up the central heating when you arive home.
However, if you are away from home the only way you will be able to control your gadgets using Siri is if you have an Apple TV. There is evidence that the Apple TV will be part of the HomeKit line up: HomeKit was added to Apple TV at the same time as the iOS 8.1 update came out - if you have installed Apple TV Software version 7.0.1 your Apple TV is HomeKit ready.
But why is it necessary to use the Apple TV at all? If you have a central heating system such as Hive, you should be able to control it from the iPhone app whereever you are. The idea that you could only control it if you were in your home seems to be the opposite of the objective - you should be able to turn the heating off when you don't need it, or turn it up when you are on your way home. Given that these apps can be controlled remotely, without needing the Apple TV or some other hub, why would Apple's HomeKit require Apple TV.
We’d be inclined to think that this Apple TV HomeKit connection was a red herring, except that Apple contacted ArsTechnica in January 2015 to confirm that the Apple TV is acting as an intermediary when you're issuing Siri voice commands to your home from a remote location.
According to ArsTechnica, Apple says the device is less of a "hub" meant to tie all of your devices together and more of an entry point to your local network. To avoid the complicated networking configuration sometimes needed to access your private network from the outside world, iOS devices will send your voice commands to your Apple TV, and the set-top box will then pass that command on to the relevant HomeKit device.
HomeKit and security: will HomeKit be secure?
You might be concerned about using HomeKit for your home security - how easy will it be for someone to gain access to your home if your iPhone is stolen? What if you forget your password? Will you be able to get into your own house? Security is paramount for products such as home security systems, since they provide access to your house, and it is essential that you have confidence in the security Apple has baked in to the HomeKit framework, and its ability to fix any vulnerabilities as soon as they’re discovered.
Apparently HomeKit will be secure. The products will use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (in many cases, both) and thanks to HomeKit, your iPhone will just recognise the devices you want to control. Your iPhone will shares your Wi-Fi details with the device, and thanks to iCloud Keychain, you will be able to authorise other iPhones and iPads to control the device too without having to repeat the process and without needing to remember a password.