iDevices CEO Chris Allen ready to go all in on Apple's HomeKit (Q&A)

The connected thermometer maker expands its horizons with a $10 million investment in making products for Apple's HomeKit smart home protocol.

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
5 min read

If you've followed the smart-home market this year, you know that Apple's HomeKit protocol is one of the next big developments coming to the space. Essentially a smart-home programming scheme built directly into Apple iOS mobile operating system, HomeKit promises to streamline the way consumers manage and interact with connected locks and thermostats by building support directly into iOS devices they already own.

iDevices CEO Chris Allen iDevices

HomeKit will also help device makers by tying into Apple's Siri voice control software. If a smart-home device supports HomeKit, it essentially gets voice controls for free.

The fact that Apple has put in the effort into developing HomeKit says the company sees potential in the smart-home market. Now it's up to the device makers like Avon and Connecticut's iDevices to capitalize on that vow of faith.

After announcing a $10 million investment into expanding its smart-home product development on Thursday, iDevices is showing that it's serious about taking advantage of the HomeKit opportunity. iDevices, previously known for its Bluetooth-connected cooking thermometers, says it will also be launching the first HomeKit-certified product at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Beyond just making devices, CEO Chris Allen says his company is going all-in on HomeKit and that the world will soon come to think of iDevices as a different kind of company. Allen talked with CNET executive editor Rich Brown about HomeKit and the future of iDevices. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: What kind of company do you want to be?
Allen: We see ourselves as like the BASF of the Internet of Things. We're not here just to create products, we're here to create better products. We'll announce some of our own products, but we're also integrating a platform that allows for ease of adoption for other consumer electronics companies. You can think of a number of products that are dead today that will become alive in the future. We're the fabric that ties it all together, that brings them onto HomeKit in a very fast, efficient manner.

By "dead" do you mean commodity kitchen devices, that kind of thing?
Allen: It could be a kitchen device, it could be any number of things around your home. From your mattress to your pillow, it could be a water bottle. When I say "dead," I mean that it's dead when it leaves the manufacturer. There's no enhancement of features.

By going all-in on HomeKit, does that mean you won't be developing for Android or other platforms?
Allen: Not at all. We're still very much looking to engage with those folks. We've had a very close relationship with Apple since 2009 when I started the company. We were lucky enough to be one of the chosen partners early on in HomeKit.

How has it been working with Apple? Have they given you any development resources?
Allen: No money has traded hands. It's more of a collaboration in some cases. We give them active feedback. We're not telling Apple what to do by any stretch, but we may have a different view on different aspects of the development and what other developers are going to need as they develop products. What we try and do is be that sounding board and say, "hey, it's kind of missing this, and it's kind of vital to do that."

Any major conflicts along the way?
Allen: It's collaborative. It would be a poor relationship if we didn't given them our honest opinion. We might be of one opinion because we're working on a specific product for a specific client, and they see a larger ecosystem and say, "this is why it doesn't work there." I wouldn't say we butted heads, we just shared ideas, and vetted them out.

You mentioned before that iDevices is helping other companies bring their products onto HomeKit. Are you building your own platform on top of HomeKit? Wasn't HomeKit supposed to simplify things and bring control of smart home devices under one place?
Allen: Our platform is purely for the integrators, whoever it may be that wants to get into HomeKit quickly. Our platform is invisible to the end-user.

The reality is that even the Fortune 100 companies that we're working with don't have the resources, or the time to wait to spin up their resources to learn HomeKit. There's a lot of integration that you have to learn about.

You can argue that it's easy to learn, but there's a lot of integration that has to go on, especially if your product is not a connected product today. There's electronic components, hardware integration. there's software integration, there's app integration. There's certification processes and everything else that you have to go through. Because we have the entire team in-house, we've combined all of that along with a cloud option so that we have everything that you need to jump into the HomeKit market very quickly and efficiently.

Are you talking with any large appliance manufacturers?
Allen: We already have a relationship with Viking. We're definitely talking to some other large appliance manufacturers.

What are your plans for dealing with device security?
Allen: Security is our top priority. Most of our developers come from a military background, in missile defense and other departments. Apple is being extremely cautious and cognizant of the fact that this is someone's home and they want to make it as secure as possible.

Who owns the data that I assume you guys will be gathering?
Allen: We won't be gathering any of the data in the cloud. It's really gathered at the point of the device, and within the application. If a product developer chooses to use our app, we can gather data there.

Who owns the data on the devices?
Allen: The device manufacturer would own it.

Can a consumer shut that off?
Allen: Well, the data is being shared across the applications. Within the privacy policy of Google or Apple there's certain things that are allowed. It's generalities, it's not tracking you down to your exact location unless you're using geofencing. Consumers should see a benefit to sharing that data, because it allows us to make better, more intelligent products, and learn what features you like and don't like.

We don't share that information, even from our own applications. We can use it for our own intelligence on how to make a better product, but our goal isn't to disseminate it to the world at all.