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Apple HomeKit Automation Gear Sees Slow Ramp

Products that let us use iPhones like remote controls for appliances won't reach stores until this spring.


The first products to take advantage of Apple’s home automation technology won’t likely reach stores until this spring.

That’s nearly a year after Apple announced HomeKit, the software that allows consumers to use their iPhones like remote controls to activate various automated appliances, during its keynote last June at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Hardly happy news for the instant-gratification crowd, intent on creating their very own versions of the Jetsons home.

Among the reasons for the delay, the launch of HomeKit-enabled hardware certification efforts that sources tell Re/code began later than Apple had hoped. As noted by 9to5Mac, the company’s MFI (“Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad”) licensing program kicked off in November. Apple’s rigorous performance standards for chip makers and hardware manufacturers also have contributed to the wait. The Cupertino tech giant didn’t release specifications to chip makers until October.

Broadcom has been shipping chips to device-makers that would allow iPhones to control connected appliances through Bluetooth Smart and WiFi. But the company isn’t yet ready with its fully certified software. Instead, Broadcom has worked with some customers to make their first HomeKit products using an existing chip.

“Like AirPlay, Apple wants very tight tolerances to deliver what they believe to be the best experience,” says Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead. “On one hand, the slower time to market is annoying, but given the fact that AirPlay works well and everyone knows it, it make sense. Apple is trying to ‘fix’ what a plethora of companies haven’t gotten right, yet.”

Some HomeKit devices are trickling out.

Adam Justice of GridConnect traveled to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to show off a product called the ConnectSense Smart Outlet, an Internet-connected electrical socket that turns ordinary household appliances, like lamps, into devices that can be controlled using Siri on the iPhone or iPad.

Justice said he expects the $80 outlet will be available this spring, in time for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

The wait will be a longer for a new smart lock from venerable lock maker Schlage, which is not due out until summer.

The Schlage Sense deadbolt allows iPhone owners to enter their homes with a simple spoken command, “unlock my door,” uttered through Siri. It also can be programmed as one in a series of cascading events that happen automatically in what Apple is calling “Scenes,” in which the lights turn off, the front door locks and the thermostat adjusts with a single command, such as “I’m going out.”

“We want to get it right,” said Schlage’s Chris DeSchamp of the lengthy development cycle. “Maybe we’re not the exactly the first out there. But our values and Apple’s align well.”

The slow start is a familiar pattern for companies that have worked with Apple on past efforts, including the recent AirPlay standard that transmits audio and video from an iPhone or iPad to a TV or speaker.

Apple also sometimes takes a financial cut from the ecosystems it helps start — an effort that started back in the days of the iPod and Dock Connector and has extended into modern devices and connections. The “Apple Tax” this time around is rather modest, with HomeKit products requiring an authentication chip that does provide some revenue opportunity for Apple.

“We are excited to have a growing number of partners committed to bringing HomeKit products to market, including several announced at CES,” said Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller. “HomeKit offers a set of common protocols making it easier for customers to control HomeKit-enabled accessories using Siri or iOS apps. HomeKit is built on a secure foundation with end-to-end encryption which provides customers a secure connection between their iPhone or iPad and HomeKit accessory. “

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