Apple's HomeKit rollout to require Apple TV for remote Siri control

Excited for Apple HomeKit-enabled smart home devices? Better get excited for Apple TV, too, because you'll need it to use one of HomeKit's coolest features.

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home | Windows PCs | Cooking (sometimes) | Woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
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LAS VEGAS -- The full shape of Apple's HomeKit smart-home initiative is becoming clearer, and it's not as dependent on Apple TV as previously believed. Forbes wrote last fall that Apple was positioning its video streaming box as a smart-home hub. According to both reporting by the Verge and what we've learned ourselves, you'll need an Apple TV for only one feature of HomeKit. It's a big feature -- Siri input from outside your home network -- but the good news is that this situation might not be permanent.

HomeKit is Apple's effort to simplify the smart home for users and developers alike by baking support directly into iOS. One of the most exciting features of HomeKit will be Siri support -- imagine telling Siri to turn off your lights and lock your front door. As Apple's device partners have been blabbing all week, if you want to use Siri from the office to unlock your front door at home, you'll need an Apple TV to make that work.

The Verge cited two anonymous HomeKit device manufacturers and a HomeKit development source on the Apple TV news. I heard the same from Apple device makers, who also asked for anonymity, throughout the day today.

If you can tell Siri to execute a command on your phone, it's hard to understand what technical hurdle would stop it from sending that same command to a Wi-Fi-connected light bulb or garage opener over a cellular network. Technically speaking, inserting Apple TV into the process step seems unnecessary, and perhaps makes it look as if Apple is trying to drum up Apple TV sales.

Apple HomeKit gadgets of CES 2015

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That may not necessarily be the case, at least from what I learned from one HomeKit device partner who would go on the record.

Gary Bart is the president of a company called Zendo, a previously unannounced HomeKit partner I met with this afternoon. He would not comment directly on Siri and Apple TV, but he did say that Apple is moving deliberately on HomeKit. "Think of this as HomeKit 1.0," said Bart. "Apple is very aware of the competitive space, and it will likely add features as consumers get used to the first round of products."

If Apple TV is training wheels for HomeKit's remote Siri control, it's still not clear what technical purpose it serves, but at least Bart's comments suggest room for optimism. Apple itself wouldn't comment publicly on the Apple TV-Siri-HomeKit relationship. It's also worth noting that you don't need Apple TV to control smart home devices via their apps when you're away from home.

The first batch of HomeKit-enabled devices launches in Q1 2015, and many of them were shown to the world for the first time at CES 2015. You'll see them in the gallery above, and they include devices like smart power outlet adapters, a smart door lock , a connected garage opener from Chamberlain, and Elgato's sensor kit.

These will likely be the first smart home products for many people, and while some might be irked when they find they can't use Siri remotely without an Apple TV, Apple's bigger challenge may emerge when those early buyers become more savvy and look to integrate more products. Once mainstream buyers start to realize you can't get your HomeKit lock to talk to your Nest thermostat , we'll see just how much patience consumers have for yet another platform fight.

The smart-home products of CES 2015 (pictures)

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