Apple HomeKit is a better smart home platform than you think. This is why

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Tyler Lizenby / CNET

A friend of mine recently asked me why I don't write more stories about Apple HomeKit. Every story, he said, seems to be about Alexa or Google Assistant, and it's not far from the base. Amazon and Google certainly steal headlines, especially when they announce partnerships with thousands of brands or new voices of celebrities like John legend or Samuel L. Jackson. But voice assistants alone are bad measures of home intelligence, no matter who they look like.

The competition for the best smart home platform does not have a clear winner at this time, and each competitor has serious problems. But Apple's HomeKit platform has projected a vision of the smart home that is unique and different from that of Amazon and Google: it is a vision less concerned with capturing coverage and competing for counter real estate, and more concerned with reliability and safety.

In short, I find myself increasingly tempted by Apple.

Cutting the rotten pieces of Apple

Before delving into why I think HomeKit is the best platform for the smart home at the moment, I want to point out the most obvious problems with Apple's ecosystem. The first and most important problem with HomeKit is the lack of an economical smart speaker like the $ 50 Echo Dot Y Nest Mini. Voice assistants are part of what makes smart devices so easy to use at home, and a centralized smart speaker solves problems posed by different family members who use Siri on their iPhones, or do not have iPhones.

Apple HomePod They are about $ 300 in excess, which makes HomeKit not attractive to homes where not everyone has their own iPhone. And even if everyone has an iPhone, they still have to set up a shared account, which (the last time I tried) was a pain.

Another supposed problem with HomeKit is its closed garden approach to partnerships, which has left it with a few dozen product integrations for Google and Amazon Thousands. However, I will argue below, that this is less problematic than it seems at the beginning.

Some people may also point out Apple's reputation for extracting money from its customers by changing their chargers and requiring new dongles, artificially degrading your own hardware (possibly to encourage people to update) and simply charge exorbitant prices for your products. I share concerns about all these problems, but given Of Google Y From amazon Recent privacy records, I would say Apple does not stand out for my lack of ethics in a Wild west of an industry.

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Google's Nest Mini, along with Amazon Echo Dot, is super cheap and easy to find with significant discounts.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Finally, many people seem I hate the idea of ​​using Siri To power your smart home. Siri sounds more robotic than Google Assistant and Alexa, and Apple seems to have invested less resources in its voice assistant than its competitors. But Siri does exactly what many iPhone users want him to do: the novelty of asking silly questions has faded a lot, and most of us use voice assistants much more frequently to call a friend hands-free or Play music on a smart speaker that verifies a conversation (in which the Google Assistant is much better). In short, if you want a voice assistant to play music and control your smart home, Siri will work just as well as Google Assistant or Alexa. There it is Slight variation between the three, but not enough to hamper an average person after a few weeks of use.

After facing HomeKit's shortcomings, the one I find most convincing is the lack of a budget speaker to anchor the ecosystem in an affordable way. It is not just a lost product; Apple seems unwilling to make home voice control for HomeKit more accessible. That blatant refusal to keep pace with competitors correctly makes HomeKit customers nervous: that their platform could give up other innovations or that Apple's slow approach could discourage partnerships.

Therefore, any praise for a voice-focused HomeKit platform should come with that serious warning: it could work well for single-person homes or for those for whom $ 300 is not a serious financial investment; For the rest of us, the entry barrier is stupidly high.

But HomeKit also has many little-recognized strengths, and that is the real reason why Apple's smart home ecosystem stands out from others.

The application

Apple's Home application has remained virtually unchanged since its launch in 2016, but that is because it is very well designed. As soon as you open the application, you can add new devices, new routines or new automations with one or two touches and without any displacement. The application also provides easy access to your existing smart home (devices, routines and automations) to activate, edit and delete as desired.

On the contrary, the Google Home application It remains full of several icons, which often require three or four little intuitive touches to reach the desired destination. You can't even eliminate routines in the application; You can only edit them. In general, using it feels inefficient at best and confusing at worst.

Finally the Amazon Alexa application It seems to include intelligent home control almost as a late occurrence. You can add devices and routines more easily than in the Google Home app, again with just a touch or two. But if you don't open the Alexa application regularly, you should reorient each time to use a messy interface with other tools. It is not a bad application, per se, but it is out of focus and certainly does not allow you to explore the possibilities of a connected home as Apple's Home application does.

Daily use

The Home application may be the best in the group, but most people do not use the application much beyond setting up their smart home for the first time. So let's see how daily use works.

Scheduled routines, voice control and automation look quite similar between the three large smart home voice-controlled platforms. You can program smart lights, for example, to turn them on at certain times, have them turn off when you leave the house (using location tracking on your phone) and tell your voice assistant to choose to alternate at any time. All these features work essentially the same way on all platforms, and although setting them up for the first time is easier through HomeKit, there is not much difference once everything is in place.


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The biggest difference I've found is consistency and reliability. At CNET Smart Home, my co-workers and I use HomeKit to control lights and smart screens much more frequently than Google or Amazon; In fact, that observation inspired me to write this article first. In general, we have all found that Apple's ecosystem works the way we want it to work, even when integrations on other platforms struggle.

In part, this reliability is due to Apple's slow and steady focus on the smart home space. When i covered With the launch of the Home application in 2016, I argued that Apple was lagging behind the competition. And to my frustration, the tech giant remains behind the curve by launching a low-budget smart speaker. But that cautious approach, despite all its problems, has avoided disorderly retcons like Google's transition in 2019 from Works with Nest to Works with Assistant and forgotten devices like the Echo Tap portable speaker and the Echo Look Fashion camera

Even four years after the launch of the Home application, I can (and use) integrations that I set up that first week, either to open the blinds and turn on the lights, or to close all doors at the end of the day.

Friends with benefits

I noted earlier that one of HomeKit's biggest criticisms is that it integrates with only a few dozen brands. On the contrary, Google has partnerships with more than 1,000 companies, and Amazon works with more than 10,000. Amazon seems to have the obvious advantage in this case, but, honestly, the vast majority of users will consider that the offers of the three technology giants are more than enough to meet their needs.

The most important thing is to look at what categories of devices are covered. Apple, like Google and Amazon, offers connected smart lights, smart cameras, smart thermostats and smart fans. Basically, covering the main brands in each important category of connected home device will cover the needs of most people. There are some exceptions: Notably, HomeKit does not work with Wyze light bulbs, which are our current favorites for their affordability.

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HomeKit may not have thousands of partners, but it works with the main brands that most people will buy: Lifx, Philips Hue, Lutron and others.

Ry Crist / CNET

But for the novelty every Kickstarter device or the technology startup product brings an Amazon smart home, brings an equal measure of security risk. Many small businesses, for example, cannot afford to pay a full-time security specialist, much less a team. In addition, flash devices in the pan that lose support will not receive those automatic software updates that guarantee patches for security flaws. In other words, by launching such a large partnership network, Google and especially Amazon potentially open their customers to less secure devices.

Apple, on the other hand, has made it sometimes very difficult to partner with it due to its security requirements. For a while, it even required companies to add MFi coprocessors to their HomeKit devices: a measure presented in 2017.

Your network, as conventional wisdom says, is as safe as the most insecure device. And Apple seems to be prioritizing that security more than Google or Amazon, especially given its recent implementation of router-based security features through Eero, a company owned by Amazon, while Amazon focuses on comfort-focused features, such as " Wi-Fi simple setup. " And it's not just an association: Apple is doubling in the security front, offering a new feature called HomeKit Secure Video, which encrypts and stores security images for free on iCloud.

This full attention to security and privacy contrasts with the most problematic approaches of Google and Amazon.

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HomeKit's secure video feature will attract many customers concerned about privacy.

Chris Monroe / CNET

But the best?

The lack of an Apple budget speaker is frustrating to say the least. But apart from that problem, Apple's HomeKit platform is slowly positioning itself to be a compelling alternative in what may sometimes seem like a smart duel between an online search giant and an online retail giant.

Is Apple the best platform at the moment? That is debatable. But it is close enough to the competition that it could take advantage of that distinction with only a few smart changes.

Update, February 28: More comments were added.

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