With iOS 8, Apple is looking to solve the problem of home automation. In doing so, the Cupertino, California company is introducing a brand new protocol called ‘HomeKit,’ designed to help third-party home automation products better link up with the iOS mobile operating system.

How so, you ask? Read on for the lowdown on Apple’s smart, new home automation solution.

Home auto-what?

The Philips Hue Starter Pack, which includes the Hue Bridge plus three multicolor smart bulbs.

The Philips Hue Starter Pack

Home automation – the concept of creating an automated ‘smart home’ that can think, at least to an extent, for itself – is a booming industry, but it’s not one without its share of problems.

Our recent article Getting started with home automation explained how a growing selection of iPhone-compatible products (like Bekin’s WeMo, Philips’ Hue, and SmartThings) allow iPhone owners to activate their coffee machine, turn on the lights, and even lock the doors using a smartphone, yet at present home automation on iOS is more than a little chaotic.

The problem

This is because there’s no continuity between services: individual products ship with their own iOS apps and use their own protocols, and as such, while this might sound surprising, it’s actually nigh on impossible to ‘automate’ multiple home automation solutions from different manufacturers.

You can create rules for all your WeMo products, or rules for your collection of Hue lights, but joining the two services is far more complex than it should be.

Even configuring separate products on iOS requires users to launch and switch between a multitude of different apps. This setup is far from ideal, to say the least, and so far it’s left those testing the waters of home automation tearing their hair out in absolute frustration.

Cue HomeKit

Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, introducing HomeKit on stage during WWDC.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, introducing HomeKit on stage during WWDC.

The good news for early adopters and would-be home automators alike, however, is that Apple is set to bring a degree of order to this industry with iOS 8.

Much like AirPlay and CarPlay, its HomeKit framework provides manufacturers with a ‘common language’ for their home automation products to speak, and in doing so the market’s current selection of home-automating systems should soon enjoy better degrees of communication not only with Apple’s iOS devices, but also with one another, too.

Apple HomeKit, as introduced at WWDC 2014

Apple HomeKit, as introduced at WWDC 2014

That being said, what exactly will HomeKit offer iPhone owners like ourselves? Well, during Cupertino’s WWDC keynote, four HomeKit elements were outlined on-stage by Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, and this is the vision of HomeKit we expect to see carried through to the public version of iOS 8.

One space for all

Hue bulbs appeared during the keynote; Philips has indeed been confirmed as a HomeKit partner.

Hue bulbs appeared during the keynote; Philips has indeed been confirmed as a HomeKit partner.

The core philosophy behind the framework (and the main feature offered by HomeKit) is to provide a single place for all your home automation products to live on iOS. This means you’ll be able to toggle mains-connected appliances and dim the Hue lights from inside the same iOS app interface, rather than having to press the Home button and switch between applications.

This is not only far more convenient for the end-user, but it also frees-up valuable iPhone Home screen space (even if a bigger ‘iPhone 6’ is expected to allow room for a few extra Home screen apps later this year).

Scenes

With HomeKit, your iPhone becomes the key to unlocking everything under your roof.

With HomeKit, your iPhone becomes the key to unlocking everything under your roof.

Besides providing a single location for all your home automation products, HomeKit also makes it possible for users to join multiple home automation solutions together.

The idea is that when you wake up in the morning, you might want, for example, your WeMo-connected kettle to boil, the living room Hue lights to activate, and the Dropcam security camera in your living room to switch off. With HomeKit, users can create ‘scenes’ where all of the above actions (and more) can be performed at once.

Better yet, it seems natural that varying degrees of automation will be able to trigger when these scenes are activated and deactivated. One scene could be triggered when your iPhone enters the house, or another could be activated when you leave. Of course, we imagine that schedules could be set using either manually inputted times or sunrise and sunset times, as is the case with most of the home automation products on the market.

Secure pairing

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 14.37.42

HomeKit will allow users to lock doors too

Apple’s ‘Family Sharing’ feature in iOS 8 means Apple is really beginning to accommodate towards families of iOS device owners, and as such we’re expecting HomeKit to allow every iPhone owner in your house to turn on and off your various home automation products. Anyone concerned about the potential security implications of this will be pleased to hear that HomeKit also offers users a ‘secure pairing’ option.

With secure pairing, home automators can set particular products to work with one iPhone, or perhaps a limited number of specific iOS devices. The products in question might be the lock on the front door, the lights in your bedroom, the garage door, or even the thermostat. We’re also guessing HomeKit will allow users to easily remove authenticated devices remotely, too, since a lost or stolen iPhone with the power to unlock your front door would be a big problem.

Siri

Perhaps most useful of all is Apple’s final HomeKit feature: support for Siri. This of course means that users will be able to activate or deactivate home automation products, and even individual scenes, using their voice.

Given that Siri has come on leaps and bounds since its initial release, this is something home automators should really be excited for.

What will HomeKit work with?

An impressive selection of home automation manufacturers are supporting HomeKit from the get-go.

An impressive selection of home automation manufacturers are supporting HomeKit from the get-go.

So far, a limited number of devices are known to support Apple’s new protocol, according to CNET, though more could of course be added in the months leading up to iOS 8’s public launch. Confirmed manufacturers and products include:

  • Philips Hue
  • Netatmo Weather Station
  • Withings Smart Baby Monitor
  • Honeywell Thermostat
  • iHome
  • SkyBell
  • iDevices (maker of iGrill)
  • August Smart Lock
Makers of iGrill2 (pictured above), iDevices is also a HomeKit launch partner.

Makers of iGrill2 (pictured above), iDevices is also a HomeKit launch partner.

It remains to be seen whether the popular WeMo product line or the Nest thermostat will support the platform; given that Google recently acquired the smart thermostat company, any kind of compatibility between Nest and Apple’s platform could be unlikely. However, since both products presently retail in Apple Stores, we’re hopeful HomeKit support may be in the pipeline for WeMo and Nest.

Either way, HomeKit is a feature that’s definitely worth looking forward to. Expect to hear more this fall when Apple releases iOS 8.