Apple demonstrated home automation on Apple Watch during its 2015 World Wide Developers Conference keynote speach. The new features include incredible Siri voice control of home automation apps and devices via updates to HomeKit in watchOS version 2 to be released this fall. That’s right, the ifruit company’s watch has only been shipping for a couple of months now and the company already has a second version of its watch operating system on the way!
What is HomeKit?
HomeKit is Apple’s home automation backbone that, in theory, will allow a person to control all their home automation devices seamlessly from their Apple products, including the Apple Watch, using a single app or even using Siri for voice control. Supported devices started shipping from a number of different manufacturers last month.
During Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) today one of the keynote speakers said that HomeKit enabled devices can be controlled directly from the watch and showed a demonstration of using Siri voice control to activate a dinner “scene” as seen in this picture from WWDC 2015.
While the keynote speaker was very light on the details of configuring devices to work with the watch and setting up scenes the technology seems promising.
HomeKit Automation & Information at a Glance
With watchOS 2 Apple will now let 3rd party watch apps provide information widgets called “complications” which borrows from traditional time keeping terminology in which a “complication” is any feature of a time piece that displays anything more than simple hours or minutes.
User can select which complications they would like displayed on custom watch faces. During a demonstration the keynote speaker showcased Volkswagen “complication” that showed the current battery charge on a VW electric car (probably the new e-Golf).
The picture also showed another “complication” that the keynote speaker said was some type of home automation indication, but didn’t specifically say what it was supposed to represent. To me the complication seem to indicate the state of a garage door.
The feature is pretty cool, but very limiting unless it is easy to change faces or the complicating little widgets can be configured to dynamically update depending on context or state changes in the system.
Time Travel Feature
Yes, watchOS 2 now supports time travel, but it’s not what you think! Time travel lets watch users turn-the digital crown and simulate the progression of time and watch events in the future like calendar reminders and weather predictions. In the demonstration the speaker turned time forward far enough to make sure the electric VW would be charged in time to leave to catch a flight.
This feature is hard to understand from just a picture so I am working on an animation that should help. Until that is ready you can check out the full keynote at the Apple web site and fast-forward (time travel?) to 98:40 to see the demonstration for yourself.
Has Apple Solved It All?
Is HomeKit on the Apple Watch a silver bullet solution to the world’s home automation problems? Is my shiny new blog obsolete so soon after I launched it? I think the answer is NO, not even close.
The combination of Siri voice control with a watch seems very convenient and will probably work pretty well considering Apple’s track record, but there are a lot of use cases, unexplained details and barriers to entry here.
First, there’s the price. To have the slick convenience of a luxury brand like Apple you will have to spend a minimum of $349 for the watch and possibly and iPhone and Apple TV if you don’t already have those. Then, unless you buy a bunch of watches for every family member you will be the only one with the convenience of a watch to control everything although, lets face it, your whole family probably already has their own iDevices that should work with HomeKit products even if it is somewhat less convenient.
I say the products should work, because there is another detail to consider.
That VW app on the watch probably has nothing to do with HomeKit and the e-Golf is likely not a HomeKit device. It doesn’t have to be. So if you want to use “hey Siri start charging my car” or “set the climate control to 75 degrees” VW would have to use HomeKit in their app in order to get requests like that from Siri. Crestron, Control4 and others don’t have to use the Apple’s framework and standards to create dedicated apps for the watch.
This means everyone is still at the mercy of the manufacturers to add HomeKit compatibility and features to their apps and in some cases their device. If the manufacturer leave out some feature you really want you will have request it and wait or hack it into existence yourself. That’s where a site like this might be useful!
Finally, using a watch in any form at the moment doesn’t suit the use case that allows for guests to control things in your home, but that use case is likely very small maybe even < 10% of the time. But, it is a promising start that has very high potential to drive a shift in the market.