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Opinion: HomeKit is doomed if Apple does not make its own automation hardware


In July 1982, industry pioneer Alan Kay said, “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” In January 2007, Steve Jobs used this quote to define his vision for Apple and the iPhone in particular. Over the past decade, Tim Cook has reiterated his belief that Apple is the best at producing hardware, software, and now services. So why don’t they apply that philosophy to everything they do anymore? Let’s talk about it.

Four key areas for governance

There are currently four key areas of human life that technology companies want to take over. Home, workplace, car and gym. When you take these areas and apply them to Apple’s product strategy, you can see some obvious links. Mac and iPhone rule the workplace. Apple Watch and AirPods own a gym. Then you get a car and a home, two places where the current situation doesn’t match.

Apple’s strategy for cars and the home is to make one core of hardware, and then license some technology to manufacturers in those other fields to write the rest of the story. It’s so flawlessly non-Apple that it’s been driving me crazy the last few years. We now know that Apple is working to correct its automotive strategy by finally building its own car from the ground up. It’s still a long way off, but we hope that when all is said and done we will have the first car that will seamlessly integrate with our digital lives in a way we haven’t so far.

But what’s in the house? What could Apple do to make home automation easier than ever? They are already making a speaker and a TV box. So which parts of the story are missing? The answer is clear and obvious. You should make your own light bulbs, switches, sockets, locks, cameras and routers.

Google and Amazon are ahead

Friends and family keep asking me, “What can I get to make my home smart?” I never know how to answer. Of course, I can tell them to just buy things that have a HomeKit sticker. But I cannot guarantee their quality or reliability. It is a licensing program in which any manufacturer can be a part. I have repeatedly recommended that someone simply go and try out Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem, because they make a lot of products that are needed to get things done quickly and efficiently. Amazon makes its own thermostat, its own plugs, its own cameras, hell, it even makes its own soap dispenser. Their ecosystem is currently better than Apple’s, but it wouldn’t be difficult for Apple to usurp them with a far more powerful offering.

Amazon makes its own plugs, thermostat, air quality controller, scale and more for Alexa

Your average consumer will have no idea where to start at all if they decide to try to automate their home or apartment. Entering any gadget retailer, whether it is Best Buy or Apple Store, will not have a clear and concise answer for anyone. There is no de facto option in any of these categories. The most popular home automation accessories at the moment, Ring cameras, don’t even work with HomeKit. They don’t work with Google Home either, so Google has made its competitor. They made new nest door cameras for the same audience. Of course, Google doesn’t produce all the necessary accessories, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they go that route soon.

Why Apple brand automation?

Apple needs to make its own accessories to give HomeKit the boost it needs. For HomeKit to be successful, a company must give consumers a clear best choice that they know will only work when they return home and turn it on. There must be Apple-made accessories that integrate with an Apple-made app that can be controlled by Apple-made speakers.

When a customer goes to the Apple Store to buy a HomePod, they should easily understand the HomeKit. With Apple-branded accessories, it is much more likely to come out of the store with a handful of automation tools next to the HomePod. And imagine how much easier the pairing process could be. With Apple’s own hardware and custom silicone, the company could make light bulbs that work just like AirPods. Screw it into the lamp and the modal flies to your iPhone. It can be connected to your network with one touch and added to your home.

Apple should produce light bulbs, sockets, switches, cameras, locks and more

Currently, everything in the Home app is made by another manufacturer. Nothing ever works properly. Devices do not always communicate properly with each other and you must rely on these other manufacturers for software updates and compatibility.

Imagine if all of these talked to each other imperceptibly. They can all have a microcomputer designed by Apple with a U1 chip so everyone knows they’re nearby and an H1 chip for easy talking to your basic Apple devices. Of course, that would probably raise the prices of these products, but you should want something reliable and solid in your home. You want things that can last.

Expansion of the Sirin imprint

This year, Apple presented the possibility for HomeKit device manufacturers to integrate more closely with Siri. This means that products like the Ecobee thermostat can actually accept Siri requirements and commands using their built-in microphones.

Apple’s current home ecosystem only offers physical controls via an app on your basic devices. There is no option to buy a smart screen that can act as a kind of hub. So, with this new feature of placing Siri on almost any device, why not place a microphone in each of these conceptual HomeKit products designed by Apple?

Picture of ecobee SmartThermostat with voice control and Siri orb with "Hey Siri".
The Ecobee thermostat now allows you to ask Siri questions

Siri could become really ambient in the house and work from any corner of your living space. If your light bulbs, plugs, cameras, routers, etc. had microphones with built-in Siri support, you wouldn’t even have to think about the device you’re sending the request to. This is especially the case if computers designed by Apple inside each accessory can easily talk to each other. Information could appear through the appropriate device, even if the request is made to one without a screen or speakers.

Just like the HomePod, you can disable the microphones on each of these devices if you want through the Home app. There should be some sort of smart implementation here that is first in privacy protection, whether it’s building Siri to work locally on all these plugins without the need for constant web access or some sort of new portal to access the history of things Siri has heard.

Environmental impact

Apple products these days are, in many cases, made from recycled materials. All of these additions could also be. You might know they are safe and good for the environment. And at the end of their life cycle, Apple could bring them back and use those materials to make the next generation of add-ons.

Home automation devices are fairly new and we have not fully seen what impact they will have on the environment in the future. Computers eventually die, it’s just part of their life cycle. Many people have not fully appreciated the consequences of putting a computer in every thing around them.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s chief environmental officer, talks about the recycling company’s initiatives

These little pieces of computer hardware that are supposed to replace the things that must exist in every home will become increasingly important. They are one of the next battlefields for technology giants. But Apple could take a unique approach and use its goodwill and convenience to rule that space and improve it.

Conclusion

Apple no longer exists in a world where it can only afford to make a few products. We know they have learned this to some extent, having had to expand their core lines and offer products at almost any price. But this is different. These are the ones who immerse their toes in the category for too long and fail to fully dive.

If he wants to win in these new categories, he has to follow his own philosophy of making the whole widget. The HomePod mini is not exactly a home controller if its accessories are mediocre at best, or if someone really buys any.

Credit for the picture of the house in the header: Unsplash

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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