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Apple Loosens Up, Opens HomeKit To Outsiders

NEW YORK – Apple created a tightly controlled ecosystem for its smartphones and tablets, but it has loosened up a bit in launching its HomeKit home-automation initiative.

Details emerging about Apple’s HomeKit initiative show the company won’t lock out Android-phone control of HomeKitcertified products, nor does Apple preclude HomeKit products from talking to products that aren’t HomeKit-certified — albeit indirectly through a HomeKit-certified hub.

From the limited product announcements made at International CES, and through interviews with home-automation executives, TWICE found that:

• HomeKit will leverage Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which Apple phones support, to deliver hub-less home automation. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices will be able to communicate with one another, perhaps using the iPhone itself as the bridge between the device types.

• Many existing products will be firmware-upgradable to add HomeKit certification.

• Suppliers are developing HomeKit products that can be controlled from Android apps, not just from apps running on Apple iOS 8 phones. Android-app users, however, won’t be able to control their home systems through Siri. And to enable home control from remote locations through Android apps, suppliers will have to build their own Clouds. The apps won’t send commands through the Apple Cloud.

• Although suppliers are creating their own iOS apps to control products, they will use Apple’s communications protocol and user-interface guidelines, including Apple terminology for executing specific commands.

• Perhaps most important, products that are not HomeKitcertified will communicate with products that are certified — as long as a HomeKit-certified hub/bridge is used.

At least one company, Insteon, will offer a certified hub/bridge, but the potential exists for other companies to follow suit. At CES, Insteon announced plans for a hub/bridge and iOS app that will control all existing Insteon home-automation products based on Insteon’s proprietary RF and powerline technologies. The Insteon products will be able to communicate with HomeKitcertified products through the hub to execute scenes and scheduled events that involve a mix of Insteon and HomeKt products. The bridge/hub will also deliver Siri voice control over the Insteon products, said president/COO Joe Gerber.

Insteon declined to say if it would offer an Android or Windows Phone app to control the hub, as it does with its current hub.

More bridges: Other hub-based systems, such as Lowe’s Iris and Staples Connect, could potentially add HomeKitcertified hub/bridges as well, enabling the integration of Home-Kit-certified devices into a system that includes homeautomation devices using the Z-Wave and ZigBee wireless standards and other proprietary technologies.

Another development at Insteon holds out the tantalizing potential for the company’s Insteon/HomeKit bridge/hub to bring Nest products into the HomeKit environment. The company announced at CES that its current hub now controls Nest devices but hasn’t announced whether the planned hub will control Nest devices.

What’s coming: Though Nest’s future with HomeKit devices hasn’t been laid out, some things are known. During CES, a handful of companies were granted permission from the Apple high command to talk about products, though they were limited in what they could reveal.

Based on their comments, the first products will arrive sometime in the first half, indicating the HomeKit program is running late based on a statement last year by iDevices that it would have a product on the market in the fourth quarter of 2014