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Smart Home

Apple stays the course with HomeKit

Apple's smart home platform will support automated window shades, carbon monoxide sensors and motion detectors, the company announced at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference.

James Martin/CNET

Apple stepped into the smart home spotlight at last year's Worldwide Developers Conference by introducing HomeKit, an iOS-based connected home platform. This year, HomeKit took a backseat to Apple's other announcements, with only a few quick mentions during the more-than-two hour keynote address.

As expected, the platform will continue to expand as new, HomeKit-certified products come to market. Apple Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi offered examples of categories that HomeKit will support, including automated window shades, carbon monoxide sensors and motion detectors. Existing products should continue to cuddle up with HomeKit too, including big players like Philips Hue's color-changing smart LEDs, which this morning announced HomeKit compatibility for the fall.

None of that comes as a surprise -- supporting a wide variety of smart home gadgets was always the obvious aim, and including existing favorites (especially ones like Philips Hue, which Apple showcased at HomeKit's launch) is a clear no-brainer.

The more interesting HomeKit takeaway is that users will be able to access their smart home gadgets remotely by way of iCloud, something we've already tested out firsthand . As features go, remote access isn't earth-shattering -- a smart home platform that you can't access from beyond the home isn't much of a platform at all. Still, the iCloud mention does offer a bit of clarity as to how HomeKit will function, even if we've yet to hear a definitive description of iCloud's role in the HomeKit scheme. There's room for confusion here given that you'll need an Apple TV box in order to use Siri's voice-activated smart home controls from outside of the home.

Speaking of Siri, she'll soon be able to follow your connected home commands on the Apple Watch without needing a handoff to the iPhone, thanks to a Watch OS update coming this fall. Right now, if you use the Apple Watch to tell Siri to turn the lights off, she'll tell you to get your phone out to finish the job. That's because the Watch currently lacks the HomeKit software needed to communicate with your gadgets -- something that recently frustrated my colleague Megan Wollerton when she reviewed Lutron's HomeKit-friendly Caseta smart lighting kit .

James Martin/CNET

Thankfully, that'll change with the new Watch OS update, which brings native HomeKit support right to your wrist. That's good news for anyone who bought an Apple Watch with hopes of leaving their phone in their pocket more often, but again, it's not a terribly surprising development.

More surprising might be what we didn't see. There were plenty of new apps on display in iOS 9, but a "Home" app with dedicated controls for all of your HomeKit-friendly gadgets wasn't one of them. None of those supported gadgets even got a shoutout by name, not even the five brands pushing out HomeKit-compatible hardware this month. That's a departure from last year, when Federighi introduced HomeKit in front of a backdrop filled with third-party branding.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Make no mistake, though, the HomeKit rollout is underway, with compatible devices already available for sale . We'll continue to keep our ear to the ground, and keep testing those compatible devices as they hit the market.