Almost one year ago, Apple announced HomeKit — a framework that allows people to develop home appliances that you can control using the iPhone.
These can include smart door locks, light bulbs, garage doors, and other otherwise ordinary home products that can perform tasks based on commands issued from your iPhone.
Apple and Samsung are both buying into this concept that we should be able to manipulate the objects around us using the tiny computers in our pockets and on our wrists.
But, while they’re all betting big on the so-called “Internet of Things” trend, none of these devices have really taken off yet. They’re often more expensive than ordinary household products, and most people don’t really feel like they need them yet.
Apple could change that, but devices powered by HomeKit haven’t even hit the market yet.
We caught up with some developers and companies working on HomeKit products to learn about the types of challenges they have been facing so far and why they think a technology like this could be revolutionary.
- The selection of components companies can use to make these products is limited. Since HomeKit is still relatively new, there aren’t many Apple-certified components yet, according to Marcus Tempte, CEO of Friday Labs, which is currently developing a smart lock that works with HomeKit. “The process is a long one,” he said to Business Insider when referring to certification. Companies making HomeKit products should also make sure they’re careful about the component manufacturers they decide to work with. “What if you’ve bet on the wrong component? That is a gamble you’re taking,” he said. “Can you get components that are readily available that will make it through the certification?”
Because the selection is limited, it can be difficult to create a device that performs the way you want it to. Products compatible with HomeKit communicate with your phone either via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The component options available for each product depend on which of these methods the product uses to talk to your phone, which can be limiting. “What we quickly discovered was that with the chipsets that were readily available, it was going to be a stretch,” said one person currently working for a company developing a product compatible with HomeKit that requested to remain anonymous. In this company’s case, the challenge came in working with component suppliers to find the right chips that would enable its products to perform smoothly while also offering long battery life since the selection is so slim. “It was a challenge to find a part that met all of those requirements,” this person said. “[There’s] a narrow field of chips that were a viable option for us.”
WWDCApple’s Craig Federighi announced HomeKit at WWDC 2014
- HomeKit is really secure, which is good for users, but can mean more work for developers. “There’s a tremendous amount of encryption technology that’s going into these accessories,” this person said. “And that’s honestly what’s driven some of the concerns with chipsets.” This high level of encryption — a security tactic that masks your data by translating it into an unintelligible code while it’s been transferred between devices — is different than what this company has seen in connected locks that don’t work with HomeKit, according to this person. If you don’t have the right components to support the level of encryption Apple requires, you could end up with a device with poor battery life or laggy performance. “This is a situation where there’s all this encryption that has to happen,” this person said. “We can certainly do it, but at the expense of battery life or latency. That was something we definitely had to work through.” None of these challenges have been significant enough to affect the timeline of the product this company is working on, but HomeKit certainly presented new obstacles.
- Apple controls everything developers can create on its HomeKit platform, so developers may not have the freedom to make whatever they want. Apple isn’t open-source like Android — the company has pretty tight restrictions over the apps that can run on the iPhone and what you can do with it. So it’s not surprising to hear that HomeKit will likely operate the same way. “The biggest challenges that a developer would probably face is that since Apple is really controlling, they’re controlling what the devices do,” said David McGraw, an iOS developer that created a test app with the HomeKit framework. “How flexible Apple becomes to the hardware vendors is probably the most challenging thing when interfacing with HomeKit.
Despite these obstacles, it sounds like Apple created a system that saves developers a ton of work.
The HomeKit framework handles all of the communication between devices, which means developers don’t have to worry about doing it. Before HomeKit was released, developers had to create their own protocols to determine how something like a smart light bulb would communicate with your iPhone.
“[It] gives developers a common language to work with,” McGraw said. “To develop a means [of communication] between the device you’re building and your iPhone, that’s what takes a serious amount of time and investment.”
We also reached out to Apple to learn about the type of feedback they have received from developers regarding HomeKit, and will update this post accordingly if we hear back.