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Apple teased its HomeKit software platform for iOS 8 at the 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference. Its basic premise: Today's smart home is a bit disorganized. So many different products and protocols exist that you're spending most of your time trying to manage multiple apps rather than enjoying the convenience of automation that's truly hands-free.
The tech giant kept things pretty vague back then, but what it did share really piqued our interest. It referenced a "common network protocol," the potential for individual and multi-device automation, secure pairing and Siri integration.
But the HomeKit rollout has been disjointed at best. While the first batch of HomeKit-compatible products hit retail just days before WWDC 2015 (about a year after the original announcement), the annual developers conference came and went with only a brief mention of HomeKit and it didn't come up at all at the September 9 event where the iPhone 6S, the iPad Pro and the new Apple TV debuted. So, where does Apple's smart home platform stand today?
HomeKit works with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth protocols and it integrates with Siri when your phone is connected to your local network. You will need a third-generation Apple TV if you want to use Siri when your phone is connected to a cellular or a remote Wi-Fi network, though.
An Apple support page provides further details: "If you have an Apple TV (third generation or later) with software version 7.0 or later, you can control your HomeKit-enabled accessories when you're away from home using your iOS device. Sign in with the same Apple ID on your iOS device and Apple TV, and you'll be able to use Siri commands to remotely control your accessories."
You can also add your Apple Watch into the HomeKit mix, provided the product has a watch-supported app. And you can use Siri, but getting it to work is pretty tedious right now. Although the Apple Watch version of Siri can answer basic questions and perform simple commands, some queries are too complex for it to handle.
Instead, those questions have to be passed to an iPhone via a feature called "Handoff." So, if you ask Siri to turn off a light -- or another complex HomeKit-related command -- it will reply with, "I can help you control your home when you use Handoff on your iPhone." Basically, that means that you'll have to grab your iPhone and swipe up from the small Siri icon that will appear on the lock screen. It isn't hard, but it's an extra step that I wish wasn't there.
The tech giant had already secured various HomeKit partnerships from the August Smart Lock to Honeywell's line of Wi-Fi Smart Thermostats , Ecobee's Ecobee3 thermostat , Philips Hue LEDs and more (some of these products are available for purchase now, while others are en route soon). And, even though Apple hasn't committed to an official HomeKit product launch, we've already tested a few products that work with this iOS-based software platform, including Lutron's new HomeKit-enabled Smart Bridge , the Elgato Eve Room air quality sensor and the iHome iSP5 SmartPlug .
But, the smart home is growing fast and the fledgling HomeKit is already facing a serious challenge from Google's Brillo and Wave Android-based smart home operating system, announced in May. Amazon is also becoming a major player with its Echo wireless voice control speaker, compatible with a growing number of connected devices.
Apple needs to pick up the pace to stay competitive in the smart home arena, but it does seem to be plugging away at its HomeKit-enabled product releases, with connected window shades, carbon monoxide detectors and motion sensors slated for upcoming integration. We'll keep an eye out for these and other announcements, so stay tuned for updates.