Apple announced this week that it's joining the smart-home revolution by creating a platform, called HomeKit, that will eventually allow people use their iPhone to control their house — everything from the locks and lights to the thermostat and refrigerator.
By getting developers to build on HomeKit, Apple wants to turn the iPhone and iPad into hubs for how smart products talk to each other in the home.
Although Google hasn't announced plans for a similar network, we know it's eyeing home automation too. It recently acquired smart thermostat and fire alarm company Nest for $3.2 billion — not to mention it reportedly seeking a possible acquisition of startup Dropcam, which makes Wi-Fi-connected cameras that can record and share footage in the cloud.
Google clearly has big plans for the smart home industry too. But with two major tech companies interested, it opens up questions around compatibility, convenience and the overall vision around home automation.
Smart home, walled garden
Apple isn't known for offering its software outside of the Apple ecosystem. Similar to how iCloud, iMessage and Apple Maps are only available on Apple devices, the company appears it wants to keep its smart-home experience inside a walled garden.
"Apple's move is simple, symbolic, strategic and important for home automation," said Frank Gillett, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. "Google, not Android, will need need to match it eventually."
While Apple wants third-party providers and manufacturers to join HomeKit, consumers will have to make a choice if they want to be an Apple-centric home. If a family has kids with Samsung Galaxy phones but parents with iPhones, will that create a split smart-home experience? Will Google and Apple be able to play nicely together?
"Many devices in the coming months will be built with Bluetooth low energy compatibility and the entire ecosystem will grow rapidly, but at the end of the day, consumers will be missing mobile device support for other platforms, such as Android and Windows," said Radek Tadajewski, CEO of oort, a company that makes smart-home devices.
"Families are not all on a single platform and they don’t want to be locked into one," he added. "I love products from Apple, but my wife will never agree to switch from her Samsung Galaxy to an iPhone. My mother is staunchly in the Android camp as well."
There are more than 200 million iPhones and iPads with iOS 7, but there are a lot more people using Android and Windows who will not be able to use Apple’s HomeKit.
"They will need to wait for a universal cross-platform solution, and Apple is essentially asking consumers to pick one platform and force their whole families to use it," Tadajewski said.
Although it's been long said that the so-called "Internet of Things" is coming soon, experts believe it won't have a widespread effect on the way we live our everyday lives until 2025.
A closed system would mean developers will still have spend time and resources developing products that work on multiple systems — negating one of the supposed benefits of HomeKit. Just as they have been building for iOS and Android for years, the platform war would continue in the smart home, with the same collateral damage.
In order for Apple — or any company for that matter — to grow its plan, it may need to open up its walled garden, at least as far as HomeKit is concerned.
Regardless, it's clear that Apple is getting serious about smart home and is planning a major shakeup that could truly affect our everyday lives. That is, unless Google gets there first.