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Connected Homes July 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Kyle M. Whitman

Apple's HomeKit Rolls Out

By Michael Gold
Gold is a senior research engineer specializing in innovations in digital technologies and their impacts on businesses, governments, and individuals.

Why is this topic significant?

Apple's home-automation strategy faces challenges. But because Apple remains an undisputed leader in usability engineering, and because poor usability remains a most serious obstacle to a flourishing market for home automation, Apple may be the company that is best positioned to make major advances in home-automation market development.

Description

The first devices that are compatible with Apple's HomeKit began shipping during June. HomeKit lets users control home-automation devices using Siri, and it promises to enhance the security of home networks, potentially an important consideration for devices such as networked door locks. Siri-compatible iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch models can host HomeKit applications; users who want to control and monitor in-home devices when away from home need an Apple TV unit. All other existing and announced compatible devices are from third-party brands, all of which undergo testing by Apple and include an Apple-approved encryption chip in HomeKit-certified devices.

Apple products such as iPhones can control uncertified home-network devices if their vendors include an app for the devices. But users can employ Siri to control only those devices that Apple has certified. Very few HomeKit-compatible product models are available, but users can expect availability to improve in the coming weeks and months. Notable initial products include a new smart thermostat from Ecobee and a new router from Insteon that is in turn compatible with a variety of existing Insteon light and appliance controllers.

Implications

A certification program has the advantage of enforcing Apple's human-interface and security guidelines. But the certification requirement also guarantees Siri's incompatibility with millions of existing home-network devices such as thermostats from Nest. And HomeKit users who own Philips Hue lights may need to buy new certified routers. Many users have invested in solutions that already work reasonably well, so Apple is counting on a combination of recruiting users who are new to home automation and persuading experienced users to undertake upgrades.

Use of Siri to control and monitor connected devices is promising. But Apple could offer an even more compelling value proposition by letting users monitor and control devices using Apple TV as well. Apparently Apple has not announced any intention to enable Apple TV to do so. Analysts and Apple enthusiasts have been expecting a major Apple TV update that has yet to emerge. Improved integration of connected devices with Apple TV could allow people to use big screens to route audio and video to different locations in a home, review energy use and fitness data, and generally let TVs serve as user-interface hubs for the Internet of Things. In theory, an updated or new Apple TV product could have strong support for both HomeKit and possible future Apple-branded streaming video services.

Impacts/Disruptions

Although improved Apple TV integration would improve HomeKit's value proposition, intellectual-property considerations for entertainment content could be interfering with Apple's plans to improve Apple TV. I believe Hollywood copyright owners are at least somewhat reluctant to empower Apple to build a streaming service that surpasses that of, say, Netflix, out of concern that market power and consumer brand loyalty would allow Apple to become not just a distribution channel but a gatekeeper. Thus copyright considerations appear to be complicating the security, competition, and technical interoperability considerations that challenge efforts toward both Apple TV and HomeKit business development.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Electronics manufacturing, appliance manufacturing, software development, film and TV production, packaged goods, advertising

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Connected Major Appliances

By Michael Gold
Gold is a senior research engineer specializing in innovations in digital technologies and their impacts on businesses, governments, and individuals.

Why is this topic significant?

With the exception of climate-control systems, few large appliances are connected to anything but mains power. Suppliers have ample reasons to become more connected.

Description

Various appliances from General Electric (GE), LG, Samsung, and Whirlpool can notify smartphone apps or send texts to users when clothes, dishes, or food is ready. A few dishwashers and clothes washers measure and report their energy use, and likewise a few refrigerators transmit alerts if a door is ajar for an extended period (perhaps the user is in a bedroom and cannot hear a refrigerator's audible alarm). Also, some refrigerators work with Nest thermostats, which coordinate a home's vacation mode. During the days climate controls are disabled, refrigerators can minimize energy use by running defrost cycles less frequently than they would in normal mode.

Broan, which enjoys a large share of the US market for kitchen ventilation hoods, supplies products that remotely connect to air-supply dampers. Unlike old buildings, whose leaks supply air to ventilators, energy-efficient homes are air-sealed and thus need a remotely operated air supply. Some building codes require such supplies for kitchens remodeled with high-capacity ventilators (which are often paired with popular commercial-style home ovens).

Implications

Convenience features will be the most important near-term motivators for purchasing smart appliances. The cycle-complete notifications that now appear on isolated models could become common on mid-priced appliances. And LG proposes to build refrigerators with internal cameras that can show users what's inside. Safety is also important. The ability to shut off ovens remotely might prove annoying in large households; but for small families, suppliers could enhance peace of mind by implementing remote shutoff for stove tops, as well as for both gas and electric ovens.

The existence of alerts that indicate an appliance has completed its task suggest that we can expect many kinds of things—not just people—to supply status updates. Machine-issued notifications need not be disruptive. They might appear on a user's screen only sometimes, such as when one household member discovers that another member has already scheduled a wash cycle or other event. Machines may also need to provide updates to other machines: Messages among devices in the Works with Nest program are outstanding examples of machine-to-machine communication in homes.

Impacts/Disruptions

Networking can promote both required and voluntary energy efficiency measures. The requirement for remotely operated air supply dampers for some homes today could be a sign that future building codes might require further measures such as staggered cycles for clothes washers and dishwashers. To support voluntary measures, users may appreciate information feedback, similar to Whirlpool's energy reports. Natural-gas-flow sensors on individual appliances could enable reports that help users answer questions about whether a gas or electric appliance is better for particular space-heating or food-heating tasks. (Answers often depend on a building, its specific appliances, local energy supplies, and energy prices.)

Similarly, water-use sensors on individual appliances might help users save water and even encourage dishwasher use (which can consume less water than washing by hand). For some users, resource-consumption reports are welcome, and in some scenarios, they might be required even if burdensome. Some people expect that monitoring and control of individual appliances will be attributes of smart-grid services that energy utilities will provide. But instead, they might prove to be features that are native to home networks, driven by building code requirements and by end-user demand for clean technologies.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Aviation, air-traffic management, computing systems, predictive analytics, data analytics, wireless communications

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: