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HomeKit promises to clean up the mess of home automation

There's an article in Fortune today that talks about the transition to HomeKit, Apple's home automation framework, and the hardware upgrades it necessitates. Unfortunately, instead of trying to inform people about what's happening and why, so they can make better buying decisions, the article sensationalizes it. And that hurts the reader.

So, what's really happening?

The article tries to say HomeKit is a "mess" because of the hardware requirements. The truth is, home automation is a mess, and HomeKit's hardware requirements are an attempt to clean it up.

Until now, there were no security requirements, no way to ensure the consistency or reliability of connections, and no unified interface for controlling all your devices throughout your home.

HomeKit provides for all that. There's end-to-end encryption so that no one can use a bridge or hub to attack your home network, and that any passwords that get transmitted through HomeKit remain secure. There's also a consistent way to communicate, so even if every accessory you have is from a different manufacturer, they can all still work together consistently and reliably. And there's Siri, Apple's personal virtual assistant, which lets you control everything in your house in a unified way, using only the power of your voice.

To do all that, however, to make the connections and control encrypted and ensured between a wide range of different devices from different manufacturers — HomeKit needs compatibility at the hardware level.

And for early adopters, if we want HomeKit, that means new bridges or hubs. Not new lightbulbs or speakers or anything else. Just new hubs. And I say, "if" because no one is being forced to upgrade or use HomeKit, and no one is going around smashing hubs and bridges that don't use it. It's entirely optional. The only reason to upgrade is if the functionality is truly important to you, and then it's worth the upgrade.

I know that because I'm an early adopter, so I've been using home automation for a while already. I have a Philips Hue bridge and well over a dozen bulbs. I have SONOS and a half-dozen speakers. I also have a few other components.

Right now, it's absolutely true that none of them work together. I need separate apps to control each and every one, there's no unified interface for my home, and the security is nebulous or non-existent.

The lack of security led to some of my colleagues to warn me I was sacrificing the integrity of my network by using it. The lack of consistency meant I'd sometimes plug in a new device, and my network would stop working until I painfully adjusted router channel settings. The lack of a convenient, unified interface led to some of my friends wondering out loud why I even bothered with it.

I've was okay, though, because such is life for an early adopter. And, frankly, there was no alternative. Nothing better had hit the market.

Now something has.

With HomeKit, I still have separate apps but I can group them and the accessories they manage together into homes, rooms, scenes, actions, triggers, and more. What was once disparate and difficult is now much easier and more coherent. Siri is a great way to unify the controls, and I really value the reliability and security of the connection.

Just like updating from the original iPhone to the iPhone 3G gave people GPS, and updating from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6 (or getting an Apple Watch) gave people Apple Pay, updating to new hubs or bridges gives people HomeKit.

And as a consumer, I appreciate that ecobee and other vendors are giving me HomeKit now rather than making me wait just so they can eke out sales of the non-HomeKit hardware. I also appreciate that Those who don't want to buy new hardware now can simply choose to wait until they do.

It's as simple — and not-sensational — as that.

As for me, I'll be upgrading as soon as the components become available because the benefits are worth it to me. And I want HomeKit to help clean up the very real home automation mess.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

19 Comments
  • "...no way to ensure the consistency or reliability of connections, and no unified interface for controlling all your devices throughout your home." Yea, there are. Insteon has one, has had it for awhile now. Several other companies have them too. Apple is just another new entry to the market, there is nothing groundbreaking happening.
  • And the sound you hear is that of Insteon *not* taking over the world.
    Hear it? <...crickets...>
  • That doesn't mean anything. His comments were true. No denying it. It makes Rene's statements false and your ass-hattery unnecessary and of little consequence. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • @gknaggs
    Just because one provider may be secure, doesn't mean the rest are.
  • B&O home automation solutions is the de-facto leader in this field. The author of this piece is talking about the low end of the home automation market. aka ghetto solutions. The ironic piece in all this, is another iMore author has an article that basically refutes all the fud in in this article; http://www.imore.com/using-ecobee-3-ifttt
  • Insteon doesn't work with everything. I bet 90% or more is stuff that Insteon makes itself. It's also why Insteon was one of the first to come out with a HomeKit hub.
  • I am still confused about the whole HomeKit situation, and surprised that Apple is not releasing an App to act as a central controller. I would like to buy devices such as controllable outlets and light switches. I can imagine that over time I might end up buying from different vendors as newer models are released. If I do so, it seems that in order to control the devices, my choices are either deal with multiple apps, or use Siri (which might be okay some of the time, but I don't always want to use Siri). Am I missing something? And what about things like programming? Do I need to rely on the 3rd party vendors to allow me to create programs for my devices (i.e. auto on/off during vacations, etc.)?
  • Rene I agree The only hardware I changed was I upgraded to an insteon hub plus
    So that I could use Siri and my apple watch to run my home
  • I can't use any of my GE Link light bulbs. /cry
  • "Until now, there were no security requirements, no way to ensure the consistency or reliability of connections, and no unified interface for controlling all your devices throughout your home" Really? The Z-wave standard seems to have addressed all of these years ago. There are even some open source options out there for controlling things. It's far from hack-proof (I wouldn't trust it for my front door locks) but it works great for lights, thermostats, etc.
  • er... you can't really argue that ZWave address security requirements but that it's 'far from hack-proof' and that you 'wouldn't trust it for my front door locks'.
  • So, I'm still confused. I was hoping the keynote would clear things up for someone like me, who loves all the apple convenience but doesn't always know all the technical details. Alas, no. So here's my question: Did you get the Hue lights working with home kit by buying a new bridge? I have several Hue lights and just don't understand if I need to toss/sell them, or if I can buy a new hub of some sort. And do I need to wait for the next iOS rollout? So confused.
  • Sorry Renee, this time you're not correct. Home kit requires a special hardware chip which means that just about every device in anyone's home will not work. As far as your comments about security, first z-wave and ZigBee, common protocols for home automation devices both support encryption. Like it or not a centralized hub is a more secure way to go as opposed to 100+ devices all talking to the cloud. Think about it, a hub acts as a secure proxy and is only a single point of entry. Hundreds of independent devices talking to the cloud is a hackers dream! There are already several systems that unify the user experience and security model including Insteon and Lowes Iris. One thing is certain, as much as I like Apple I'm not likely to trust them with my home security especially given how reliable iCloud has been over the years.
  • All you need is a new hub people. smh
  • I've heard the biggest difference between a non-HomeKit hub and a HomeKit compliant hub is that the older non-HomeKit hub doesn't necessarily encrypt the control signal being sent to the devices. Apple wisely insists on end-to-end encryption.
  • Rene, I really enjoy your articles that explain truthfully what is happening. It's actual news! It informs the reader! Not like many others that just republish or sensationalize. Just wanted to say thanks!
  • Stop spreading FUD and misinformation: both Z-Wave and Zigbee use AES 128-bit encryption. Home automation is a mess because there are too many competing protocols. They're all SECURE and RELIABLE, but they're all incompatible with each other. Apple has added to the mess by introducing yet another incompatible protocol <slow clap>.
  • I have read the article that Rene linked to, and have read Rene's comments about that article. Big disconnect. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • So... I have 8 Hue bulbs, 7 WeMo plug controllers, 5 Filtrete WiFi thermostats, all being controlled by different apps - how will HomeKit allow me to control all of these things from one "interface for controlling all (my) devices throughout (my) home."? I'm guessing it won't unless for some reason some of these items will be backwards compatible (like the Hue allegedly will be). HomeKit = big woop