CES 2015 Provides Clues About Apple’s Smart Home Plans

Source: Incipio.com

Source: Incipio.com

While smart home products and other connected devices associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) have been a big part of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) during the past several years, a flood of new products appeared at CES 2015. According to CES, this year’s show features the biggest IoT showcase ever seen at the event with “more than 900 exhibitors planning to share innovations that harness the power of the network to connect everyday devices.” A major segment of this broad category is connected home products, also known as smart home products or home automation products. These products can include anything from wireless lightbulbs that can be controlled with a smartphone app, to smart door locks that respond to a user’s voice commands.

Although Apple was not an exhibitor at CES 2015, there were many HomeKit-compatible smart home accessories on display at the tech trade tradeshow. HomeKit — a suite of tools that allows developers to easily create iOS apps for home automation products — was unveiled by Apple at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last year. Here are just a few of the HomeKit-enabled products that were showcased at CES 2015.

Mobile device maker Incipio exhibited a HomeKit-compatible wireless smart outlet, a wireless smart light bulb adapter, and a wireless smart power strip. “Today, Incipio delivers three user-friendly home automation solutions and a complimentary app, at an incredible value, that will truly impact and simplify day-to-day routines with just a tap of your device or a Siri voice command,” stated Incipio chief executive Andy Fathollahi.

Elgato Eve app

Source: Elgato.com

Lock manufacturer Schlage introduced the Schlage Sense keyless lock that is designed to work with HomeKit technology and can be operated with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Like Incipio’s products, the Schlage Sense system can also be voice controlled via Siri. Finally, consumer electronics maker Elgato announced its Eve line of sophisticated sensor products that can analyze air quality, temperature, humidity, air pressure, and energy and water consumption. The sensor products can be controlled by using Siri or through an app on an iOS mobile device.

Although the HomeKit framework has been available to developers since June 2014, it’s still not clear what Apple’s long-term plans are for home automation. While HomeKit is intended to allow third-party manufacturers to embed the controls for their connected home products in iOS, there have also been rumors that Apple might have ambitions beyond just software. Soon after WWDC 2014, unnamed sources cited by 9to5Mac claimed that Apple was developing its own smart home Apple-branded hardware products.

Several months later, researchers at AppleInsider discovered that an Apple TV software update included support for HomeKit. This sparked speculation that the Apple TV could one day function as the official control hub for all of a home’s connected devices. As noted by AppleInsider, the HomeKit support included in the Apple TV update allows the set-top box to operate as a remote access peer for all of a home’s HomeKit-compatible products. Many of the HomeKit-compatible products unveiled at CES 2015 – including the ones from Incipio, Schlage, and Elgato – offer the ability to be operated with voice commands via Siri.

Man uses an Apple iPhone in Tokyo, Japan on July 16, 2014

Source: Atsushi Tomura/ Getty Images

However, as noted by The Verge, the ability to control these smart home products by using Siri is currently not available to users who are away from their homes unless they have an Apple TV. In other words, owners of HomeKit-enabled products will be able to tell Siri to unlock the door or turn on the lights while they are at home, but not while they are at work. On the other hand, users will always be able to remotely operate their smart home products through apps on their iOS devices.

Despite this control limitation, insider sources cited by The Verge claimed that Apple has no plans to market its set-top box as a home automation hub for HomeKit-enabled products. So although the Apple TV will not be a required accessory for a connected home that uses HomeKit-enabled products, the media streaming device will provide users with an additional feature. While The Verge noted that this information came from “a source close to HomeKit’s development as well as two launch partners,” it is also still possible that Apple might alter its smart home plans in the future.

The Google-owned Nest Thermostat can currently be remotely controlled outside of the home by using voice commands via Google Now and that feature is available in both an Android and an iOS app. If that proves to be a popular feature, Apple might decide to incorporate a similar built-in feature into its own smart home system.  While there are still many unknown details regarding Apple’s home automation plans, CES 2015 gave attendees a glimpse of some of the future possibilities.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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