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Smart Home

Google up next after Apple plays its hand for the smart home

Apple made its play today with HomeKit, a developer-focused software development kit to link smart home devices more deeply into iOS. Now it's Google's turn.

Tim Stevens/CNET

Tucked among Apple's slew of announcements at this year's WWDC was a quick rundown of HomeKit, a new platform for the connected home that developers can find baked into iOS 8.

This announcement confirmed recent reports that Apple was setting its sights on bringing order to the Internet of Things -- though, like some had predicted, it wasn't as much of a splash-inducing cannonball into the smart home's swimming pool as Google's $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest and its Learning Thermostat was.

With no hardware announcement, and only a smart home-focused portion of its new developer tools instead of a more consumer-facing app, Apple's HomeKit announcement arguably reaffirms the kind of piecemeal approach to the smart home that iOS users already work with.

As subtle as it might seem, I still think HomeKit will be a smart home game changer. Here's why:

Healthy competition with Google is a very good thing.

After buying Nest, Google has been relatively silent about its smart home plans. Given the sheer size of that acquisition -- about twice as expensive as YouTube was -- Google obviously sees tremendous value in the smart home category. After today's announcement, the idea of a Google unveiling a smart home platform at its upcoming I/O technology conference seems increasingly likely (not least because of this post earlier today from Google art director Christopher Bettig).

In essence, both of these heavyweights are finally in the ring. That level of competition is the exact kind of thing that could accelerate innovation across the smart home category.

Apple already has a model to follow.

WWDC 2014 also saw Apple announce HealthKit, another developer platform focused on monitoring health, both through third-party devices and hardware already built into iOS devices.

By all accounts, HealthKit looks more present to consumers than HomeKit given the dedicated Health app. Ultimately, HealthKit could end up paving the way for the sort of third party integrations Apple is likely hoping to build on top of its HomeKit foundation. An early focus on HealthKit could "teach" iPhone and iPad users how to think about engaging with the sort of third-party devices needed to build a connected home, Apple style.

Tim Stevens/CNET

Apple can move the needle.

It's hard to think of a tech company with more influence over the mainstream than Apple. No matter what was actually put forth, the fact that Tim Cook and company dedicated a slice of their WWDC presentation to home automation will lend the category a healthy dose of credibility with the public at large -- including the majority of consumers who aren't yet familiar with smart home tech. Just wait until they see high-profile TV commercials with catchy jingles and footage of Siri locking the front door.

This popularity can translate to the specific companies and manufacturers partnering with Apple, too. Particularly for the little guys, Apple's support could prove to be a booster shot of exposure (it'll be interesting to see what happens with the products already highlighted during Apple's keynote, like the Netatmo Weather Station and the Withings line of gadgets). Products like these have a clear incentive to play by HomeKit's rules -- just think of how successfully the "Works with iPhone" stamp has driven sales in the past.

At this point, the ball is back in Google's court as the two companies compete to build the better smart home. Apple was the first to lay a foundation -- now it's Google's turn.