WWDC 2021 Apple Smart Home Updates

Apple unveiled several new features for its smart home initiative at its annual WWDC conference, including a way to unlock your front door with an iPhone via a digital key in the Wallet app.

But Apple is taking a different tack with its smart home strategy than with its major platforms, such as iOS and MacOS, where the company builds the hardware and controls the software.

Instead, Apple’s smart home strategy relies heavily on encouraging third-party hardware manufacturers to adopt Apple’s platform, HomeKit, which aims to simplify the process of making devices from various companies work together. No problem.

For example, Apple did not release an Apple-branded smart lock, but it did promote a smart lock that uses Apple software and tightly integrates with the iPhone’s Home and Wallet apps. Other HomeKit-enabled devices include air conditioners, video cameras, motion sensors, doorbells, and lights.

For Apple, this strategy aims to position the iPhone and Apple Watch as controllers for a wide variety of functions around the home, making them more valuable to current customers and discouraging them from switching to an Android phone when it’s time to upgrade. Apple’s smart home strategy could also boost sales of Apple TV or HomePod, as these devices can be used as the hub of the smart home.

‘Hey Siri’ comes home

Perhaps the biggest smart home announcement at WWDC for iOS 15, to be released this fall, is that Apple said it planned to open Siri, its voice assistant, to work with third-party smart home devices like Ecobee’s smart thermostat later on. . year. Soon, users will be able to say “Hello Siri” to non-Apple devices, matching a skill that the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa were already capable of.

“While we don’t think Siri is one of the main reasons people buy Apple products, we do believe that expanding Siri to third-party devices could help drive Siri usage and help support Apple’s momentum. in the smart home market, “Sidney Ho, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note this week.

Through a compatible third-party device such as the Smart Thermostat, users will be able to call Siri and send messages, add reminders, and even use family members’ iPhones, Apple Watches, and HomePods as an intercom.

However, there is a downside: the feature requires a HomePod or HomePod mini. Essentially, the third-party Siri device passes messages to the HomePod for processing.

Apple’s Home Key feature in the Wallet app.

Apple

Apple will also allow users to unlock the front door or garage with their iPhone, if the user has a compatible smart lock installed. While Apple didn’t announce any devices this week, it did show a slide saying that major lock vendors like Schlage and Aqara will support the feature.

There were also smaller, incremental updates that users will appreciate. HomeKit can use Siri to schedule events, like turning on smart lights every day at 7 am. The cameras can identify when a package has been delivered. Users can monitor HomeKit cameras on an Apple TV in full screen mode and easily turn on lights or activate other devices in the scene.

Most intriguingly, Apple has begun bundling one of the key smart home features together as a paid service. Cameras are one of the most important smart home devices, and Apple relies heavily on its privacy pitch to stand out against competitors like Amazon’s Ring, noting that it stores raw footage encrypted and privately on iCloud called HomeKit Secure Video.

To take full advantage of this feature, users will need to subscribe to the high-end iCloud service, which costs $ 9.99 per month for 2 TB of storage. And, unlike Amazon, Apple does not make its own smart cameras, but relies on partners like Logitech.

For the 50 third-party hardware manufacturers that support these features, HomeKit allows them to reach a generally wealthy consumer group without having to do a lot of technical work to enable basic functionality. But it also means that they have to participate in Apple’s MFi accessories program, which means that Apple can exercise some control over what they release through the program contract.

Apple said this week that it is endorsing Matter, a standard that is designed to allow smart home devices to work together, and Apple said it contributed an open source HomeKit code. Amazon, Google and Samsung also participate in the standard.

In a video session on Thursday, Apple engineers said Matter’s goal is to ensure that smart home devices remain compatible for years to come and to facilitate the development of new devices and applications. For developers, the HomeKit code will work with Matter with no changes required, Apple said.

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