Not quite magical.
I’m an Apple guy. I was raised on a Power Mac in the 90s and our home currently houses 2 MacBook Pros, 3 iPads, 2 iPhones, 2 Apple Watches, and 2 Apple TVs. It’s safe to say I’ve drank the Kool-aid.
Except for HomeKit. I was as excited as any other Apple nerd when they unveiled their smart home initiative a few years ago, but seeing it in practice and reading the tea leaves has left me less enthusiastic for my favorite electric fruit company. Here are a few reasons I’m not ready to hand Apple the keys to my smart home just yet…
Let’s just get this out of the way: Siri sucks, and seems to be getting worse. This is purely subjective, but while every other voice assistant seems to be improving by leaps and bounds, Siri seems kind of stuck. It’s not in the way you would think, either… Siri is adding plenty of functionality on a fairly regular basis (though maybe not at the speed of its competitors), but the core experience of actually using Siri’s voice control is consistently awful for me.
Maybe it’s the hardware? I don’t know. Whereas Amazon’s excellent Alexa assistant on the Echo seems to understand me 29 out of 30 times, Siri’s accuracy is maybe 2 out of 3. That’s a major bummer when you want to do something as seamless as turning your lights on by voice command when you enter a room. I’ve been testing a HomeKit-friendly Philips HUE setup for the last week, and although Siri has more overall functionality (changing light colors, for example), I find myself using Alexa must more often because it’s dramatically more reliable.
Who knows… maybe they’ll release an Echo-competitor like Google’s Home project, but I’m not holding my breath. If you use HomeKit, be prepared to yell at your light switch as much as you yell at your Apple Watch.
HomeKit Support is Hard to Come By
Even with HomeKit standards finalized for well over a year, there still aren’t that many products that support HomeKit. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with Apple’s typically high licensing fees, or maybe in this case it’s their hardcore encryption requirements (which are a good thing!). Whatever the cause, if you want to use a bunch of different products in your smart home, HomeKit will limit you to a fraction of what’s out there on the market.
This will change over time, with Philips just adding HomeKit support, and even our beloved Canary teasing HomeKit support for this fall. For now, it’s hard to know if this is a standard worth investing in.
Apple Abandons Fringe Products
Speaking of investments, Apple has a nasty habit of ditching sucessful fringe businesses and unofficially abandoning many projects. It’s a good sign they’re building HomeKit into iOS 10 in a big way, but this is the same company who has ruined its industry-leading video software, ditched its respected cinema display lineup, and is keeping products like the Mac Mini and Mac Pro on life support for undetermined periods of time.
Their legendary product secrecy isn’t going to be too fun when you’re trying to plan the next smart upgrade for your home.
Yearly Updates Are a Long Wait
Another issue is Apple’s tendancy to tie large software updates to its yearly operating system release schedule. There’s a chance that semi-regular point updates may introduce new features, but with home automation being a footnote in iOS, I don’t expect the kind of frequent updates and feature-additions you see from companies like Wink, Nest, and Smart Things.
If you’re spending the time to pimp out your home, you’ll probably be bummed out by waiting on yearly update cycles to try new automation trends.
Apple Doesn’t Play Nice With Others
Probably the best trend in the home automation/internet-of-things marketplace right now is an unspoken commitment to make everything work with everything. Most gadget makers cover their product packaging with stickers advertising support of several popular services, wearing their platform-agnostic pedigree as a badge of honor.
That’s obviously not Apple’s thing, as they company famously loves to cultivate an exclusive “walled garden.” Apple is extremely selective about the products that work natively with its devices, which mean many of your favorite products from competitors like Samsung’s Smart Things and Alphabet’s (aka Google’s) Nest division will likely never integrate fully with HomeKit.
That’s not to say that you can’t use those devices with your iOS devices through their apps, but don’t get your hopes up for Siri-integration or prime real estate on your lock screen.
It’s Apple’s Way or the Highway
Everyone runs their smart home differently, and half of the fun is the ridiculous kinds of customization you can pull off if you’re willing to get a little bit geeky. I don’t see this as the kind of openness that Apple is keen to support.
HomeKit is definitely improving this fall through iOS 10’s standalone app and its deep OS-level integration, but I doubt users will ever see deep support for geeky services like IFTTT, NFC beacons, or many of the other advanced smart home customizations that geeks tend to love.
So what hub SHOULD you use?
First, let’s dial it back for a minute. HomeKit is cool, and for the average joe or non-geeky consumer, it may offer exactly the basic level of functionality those customers are looking for.
However, when you start building a smart home, you’ll want to begin playing with automation that HomeKit just isn’t suited for. Samsung’s Smart Things hub is a great option that I hear is very reliable, but my money is still with Wink. Their user interface is great, their product support is stellar, and they add great new features and improvements to their system on almost a monthly basis.
Another big advantage? Their service is free, and since they don’t have ties to any of the big hardware manufacturers, they’re completely platform agnostic with no skin in the game or secret agenda. In other words, if a product exists, and its developers are open to it, it has a good chance of integrating with Wink.
So, that’s where I’m at. I know this post will likely be divisive, so I want to hear your opinion on the matter. Am I right on or way off base? Let’s get the discussion going in the comments below.