Apple is looking for a new leader for its HomeKit teams after the departure of current boss Sam Jadallah. What has gone well in recent years and where should Apple go now? I think there is a real opportunity to expand the HomeKit field to provide more substantial benefits to product developers and home users, of course, but also to meet more sophisticated needs in offices, factories, transportation and elsewhere.
Former Microsoft corporate vice president and smart home entrepreneur, Jadallah joined Apple in February 2019. His departure was revealed this month.
During his tenure, Apple has made some excellent changes in its approach to smarthome. The 2019 announcement of its support for the future Matter accessory connection standard could be one of the most important steps over time.
He's not the only one.
Apple's decision to analyze and improve its specific implementations for smart homes has made HomeKit more attractive. Think of HomeKit Secure Video, secure routers, the new Siri API for third-party accessories, and Key Wallet support as great examples.
In all these cases, Apple chose to look at what it offers now and tried to pass to remedy the need of the industry. We need smart home networks to be secure, especially if Apple is looking to move the scheme to more industrial or enterprise uses.
Some aspects of Apple's approach haven't changed much. Although it wants to make you buy an Apple TV, HomePod or iPad to act as the "brain" of any HomeKit implementation, most smart accessories come from third parties, such as Eve, Belkin, Phillips. At the same time, it is to Jadallah's credit that Apple's vision has shifted so much.
But now he has to move more.
Where we are
Apple focuses on the core of the experience, which means the hardware and software that runs it and seems to want to outsource the development of accessories to these companies.
(And given that component supply is limited to the end of 2022 - especially the kind of lower-end smart technology accessories it probably needs - I think it's unlikely Apple will still announce self-branded HomeKit accessories. )
Apple launched HomeKit in 2014. Despite its efforts, HomeKit remains a small entrant in a smart accessory industry currently dominated by Amazon and Google. For every HomeKit device you can buy, your money will bring you up to 10 from other ecosystems.
This will improve dramatically once Matter comes out next year, as this should allow HomeKit users to manage other devices through an uncomplicated interface. This should extend the opportunity for consumers to build their own smart homes on the Apple platform, although smart home devices generally remain pretty bad.
And smart devices aren't just at home.
Expanding the vision
For me, the problem has always been about the HomeKit vision. Much has changed since 2014.
Wi-Fi has advanced to Wi-Fi 6, 5G is here, various vendors are building the universal interconnection standard, Matter, and situations where automation can make a big difference now extend far beyond the home.
We see smart factories, smart cities, smart agriculture, smart medical, smart transportation and more. HomeKit, or its successor, needs a presence here. It does not have to reinvent those systems, but only to support those that already exist.
We know that Apple has some insinuations that smart devices have a much wider strategic importance than just at home. The company has been exploring this space for years. In 2017, it reached an industrial partnership with GE, along with an iOS industry agreement with IBM. Foxconn's iPhone factories are highly automated. Apple is making many investments in this area, as evidenced most recently by some of the solutions supported in its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative.
There is also the opportunity for smarter offices.
Given Apple's continued drive in enterprise IT, I think it makes sense to expand what HomeKit does to address this. At the office or remotely, should there certainly be opportunities for closer integration? Can the information you create in your home be useful in situations (your choice) outside of it?
In other words, HomeKit needs to answer more questions for more people in more places and more situations.
Where is the puck going?
As for where Apple is taking Homekit now, I think it's likely that any move the company wants to make will have to wait until the Matter standard is introduced.
This is because Matter can be seen as a kind of integration engine that helps smart device languages work better together than they do today. The Matter standard also needs to be further expanded to embrace the standards used in IoT deployment in enterprises.
I think it's about embracing a human-centered vision. People don't just live in houses; they live in offices, factories, public transport and other places, and many of these environments are becoming more and more connected.
There is a chance that HomeKit will become a human-centered system that supports us as we navigate increasingly intelligent and improved environments - a person-operated operating system for an automated age. Although, for all that, I'm still happy to ask my lights to change color.
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