Smart Home

Apple’s HomeKit partners show off some new tricks for the smart home ahead of iOS 13

We all know HomeKit isn’t the widest smart home platform out there. Even the biggest Apple fans have to admit you’ll have many more options when it comes to choosing products if you go with Google or Alexa’s versions of voice assistants and smart home platforms. Still, Apple knows it has dedicated fans out there who are in it for the long haul and bought into the HomeKit experience.


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While HomeKit isn’t often the topic of conversation in Apple keynotes, we did get a few announcements earlier this year at its World Wide Developer Conference keynote address. The biggest news was the reveal of the new features coming to Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system software, iOS 13, when it debuts later this fall. Today, Apple’s HomeKit device partners are announcing products that will be adopting some of those features. 

It’s a good sign to see the HomeKit ecosystem expand its capabilities in the smart home. Apple has partnered with familiar enough brands that can do some really interesting things. While Nanoleaf is admittedly a niche smart lighting product, an update that will turn its Nanoleaf Canvas lighted tiles into customizable smart home buttons will add even more novelty and perhaps some real practicality to the product. 


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Imagine pressing one of the tiles to turn all the lights off in your home, or to open all the shades. Using the tiles as a tactile smart home command center is not only unique, it’s offers multi-user convenience that’s similar to voice input, but without the awkwardness of having to pause your human conversation to shout out a verbal command. 

Then there are the updates that bring good old fashioned convenience. Neato robot vacuums announced compatibility with Siri Shortcuts, that will go live this fall. You’ll be able to use your voice to start, stop or pause cleaning as well as return the vacuum to its charging base or ask it to clean a specific area. Shortcuts are also coming to the Smarter Coffee Machine, for simple commands like, “Hey Siri, make a small pot of coffee.”


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That sort of multi-product usefulness makes Siri a more powerful assistant, something it’s been lagging behind in for years now. Siri Shortcuts are one way Apple is making Siri more conversational. While it takes some effort on the user’s part (you’ll need to set it up and record your shortcut phrase), it pays off in the long run with a voice assistant that feels more intuitive. 

Apple’s emphasis on privacy came across strong during its WWDC keynote presentation, and Secure Video was the headliner on the smart home side, with Apple outlining a aggressive data storage policies to help ensure you stay in control of any recorded video clips. Another element of Secure Video is that it will standardize 10-days of free cloud video storage from any HomeKit-compatible video camera or video doorbell. One question was whether or not it Secure Video will come to existing HomeKit cameras, some of which offer paid subscriptions to store your video clips remotely. 

Logitech will be the first company to adopt Secure Video, and it’s going specifically to the existing Logitech Circle 2 home security camera later this year. 

Secure Video puts an interesting kink in the economics of being a camera company. When revenue is based on not just the MSRP of a camera, but the monthly subscription for a cloud storage service, Secure Video’s 10 free days of cloud storage seems like a profit-killer. 


I reached out to Logitech about the choice to integrate Apple’s Secure Video into its product line and what that means for product pricing and the company’s existing 14-day, $4 per month video subscription. They told me there aren’t any plans to change pricing, availability or storage for Circle Safe subscriptions.

Of course, a handful of product announcements came along with these HomeKit updates. Lifx announced a new HomeKit-compatible, $45 candle bulb with Polychrome technology that allows it to emit multiple colors at once for better customization.


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They’re also working on a $70, meter long light strip called the Z TV Light Strip, designed to go behind your TV, with what the company calls “uniquely addressable LEDs” that can animate and display multiple colors at once. We’ve seen similar products from Dreamscreen and Philips that sync with the colors playing on your TV, but the Lifx Z TV strip won’t do that. You’ll set colors and animations from the Lifx app. Both Lifx products will be available in October. The light strip will be sold only at Best Buy

A new feature coming today, Moen is adding HomeKit compatibility to its U by Moen Smart Shower system. You’ll be able to start your shower, control the temperature and navigate presets with Siri commands and add it to HomeKit scenes. 


Chris Monroe/CNET

While thousands of smart home products work with Google and Alexa, a large portion of those still lack HomeKit compatibility. Some for competitive reasons, like Google Nest products, others simply because Apple’s Siri voice assistant hasn’t been good enough to be a priority for manufacturers. 

I’m all for expanding options for the HomeKit smart home. It’s the least Apple can do to stay competitive with Google and Alexa. If they’re going to keep in the conversation, consumers need more choices for their Siri-centered homes. These announcements take a step in the right direction, and it’s what Apple has to do if it wants to keep a foot in the smart home space.

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