Innovation of the Week: Apple’s HomeKit site upgrade could revamp company’s smart-home efforts | Crain's San Francisco

Innovation of the Week: Apple’s HomeKit site upgrade could revamp company’s smart-home efforts

Apple has updated the site listing third-party products that are compatible with HomeKit. | Photo by MEDION Pressestelle Flickr

Around the house, a little reorganization can go a long way toward improving daily life. Likewise, Apple Inc.’s reconfiguration of its HomeKit accessory site could go a long way toward improving its position in the smart-home market.

Apple updated the site that lists which third-party products are compatible with HomeKit, the company’s framework for controlling and communicating with connected devices in the home, as reported by 9to5Mac. The new arrangement organizes products by category, instead of by brand. For example, all lightbulbs that are compatible with HomeKit are in a single list now, allowing a user to make a side-by-side comparison between different products and brands.

Other accessory categories on the site include switches, outlets and thermostats.

This small change could have a big impact on Apple’s competitive status. The company is currently playing catchup with other players in the industry, such as Amazon, both in terms of attracting industry support—and in attracting new customers.

“The site was an issue for Apple because it made it difficult to see which devices were compatible with HomeKit,” said Blake Kozak, principal analyst at IHS Markit. “Customers looking at smart-home technology have one problem to solve. For instance, they may be concerned about security, so they go to the site to buy a smart doorbell. Now that the Apple site is organized by category, they can go and find doorbells that are HomeKit-compatible easily.”

Along with the upgrade to the site, Apple has improved HomeKit’s capabilities with the December release of version 10.2 of its iOS software for iPads and iPhones.

“Overall, Apple is behind in the smart-home market,” Kozak observed. “But this will be changing soon following the introduction of iOS 10.2. [which] allows more notifications on the phone. The number of notifications for HomeKit had been limited before, just locks and smoke detectors. The addition will help attract new partners.”

New notification support added to HomeKit include detectors for occupancy, motion and doors and windows. The software has also incorporated notices for smoke, carbon monoxide, and water-leak sensors.

Another obstacle Apple faces in smart homes is the price premium charged for HomeKit-compatible accessories. HomeKit devices require an additional chip certified by Apple, driving up the cost of devices. This has reduced the breadth of HomeKit-compatible accessories, Kozak said.

However, Apple is stepping up its game at a critical time in the smart-home market. The market is expanding quickly, with U.S. shipments of smart-home devices expected to increase to 65 million units in 2017, up from 50 million in 2016, according to IHS Markit.

Only time will tell if these moves will allow Apple to rule the roost in this market.

March 14, 2017 - 7:03pm