For developers who, like us at Thinka, work closely with Apple to design and build devices for the Apple and HomeKit ecosystems, the annual WorldWide Developers Conference (WWDC) event is a pretty big deal. This anticipated event typically sees thousands of like minded developers descend on California for three days of news, updates and sneak-peaks at future capabilities and features. This year’s WWDC was once again a virtual event (due to coronavirus) but it was no less exciting.
For the many developers who look forward to WWDC (or ‘dub-dub’, as it is affectionately known) each year, the conference promises a common roadmap for us all to work towards – with an overview of Apple’s vision for their ecosystem development. It’s actually a lot more than a simple announcement of new features, however.
The WWDC is also an amazing opportunity to network with other developers and start tackling ideas and issues immediately in roundtable-style chats and Q&As, labs, coding and design challenges, and over 200 focused sessions that look at individual topics in depth.
For smart home owners this year’s WWDC21 has been a real treat, with lots of new features that are bound to keep HomeKit users happy.
Thinka has been working as an Apple-approved developer for a number of years already, and KNX home users know how installing a Thinka can open up the entire HomeKit ecosystem to their KNX home.
Many new features with iOS 15, including updated customisability, enhanced security and privacy features, the launch of Spatial Audio, and extensions to the Find My app that will enable users to find their devices even if turned off, deleted or very, very lost using a secure expanded network. Even better, you can enable a separation alert, so you’ll get notified when you get too far from your AirPods, other device or AirTag.
There were also some very exciting developments that add interesting possibilities to the HomeKit ecosystem too. As you will see, these new features show Apple’s commitment to ‘building-out’ the HomeKit ecosystem with a full range of secure functionalities.
Without much further ado, the headline news for smart home users:
HSV requires that camera manufacturers stick to rigorous standards of security, and there are several third-party brands already available or coming in the future, including from Netatmo, Logitech and Eufy. Of course, a KNX smart home might have its own cameras as well.
Recent updates to the Apple TV mean you can now view multiple feeds on a single screen, and the HomeKit Secure Video offers some serious side-benefits in terms of automated alerts, external storage, and other automation possibilities.
The secure video service has offered reassurance and security since the launch of iOS 13.2. This premium-quality service is now becoming available to a wider range of users, with HSV support coming to iCloud storage subscribers from the 50GB plan upwards. Now, users with a 50GB storage plan will have support for 1 HSV camera, while 200GB subscribers can use up to 5 cameras. If you are on the 2TB plan support is available for an unlimited number of HSV cameras.
The sweetener for the deal is that none of the video footage itself counts towards your iCloud storage limit.
One of the most downright useful updates to the iOS 15, is the addition of ‘parcel detection’ to its existing set of recognition skills. Security cameras and video doorbells can detect when a package has arrived, and send a notification.
Parcel detection is the latest skill to be added, joining pets, people and vehicles as the entities that can be recognised. A variety of automations can be arranged around recognised events, and this can make the smart home even more convenient and, well ...smarter.
Other security cameras and doorbell cameras have had this feature for some time already, so it is good to see that Apple is keeping pace with the competition – indeed it seems that they are more focused on ‘running their own race’, by staying on-track with a development strategy that values perfection above speed-to-market.
Adding HomeKit to your KNX home is about much more than just Siri – but the convenience of a home assistant is a big perk. Voice-control is a special benefit for smart homes, especially when it is as secure as Siri is. Several improvements to Siri have been announced this year at WWDC21, with two interesting developments for smart home users.
HomeKit is known as the most secure smart home system, because Apple is dedicated to maintaining a high standard of privacy and data security. For this reason, almost all the processing and requests already happens within the Hub or device, however the speech processing part has been done in large data centers until now. This is done securely using an anonymous ‘device identifier’ code that even Apple can’t identify, and only the minimum of request data is sent or stored.
Well that’s going to change - because now Siri’s processing will be based entirely on the iPhone/device using the Apple Neural Engine, meaning that your privacy is even more protected than it already was. Thanks to much faster on-device processing capabilities, Siri can achieve the same powerful speech recognition with the same quality as server side speech recognition, but doing it with enhanced privacy and even faster than before.
Siri is now going to be available on more third-party devices, such as smart speakers or smart thermostats like the Ecobee 4. The rollout to more devices will be expected to accelerate quickly now the possibility has been unveiled. This greatly extends the range and reach of Siri within the home, as well as the possibility for different devices.
Using a HomePod or HomePod mini as a hub, Siri can be relayed through third-party devices to open up the full range of functionalities that Siri already offers (sending emails, asking questions, setting reminders etc.), with all the heavy processing happening securely in the hub.
A new feature is coming to Apple Wallet that will allow users to store ‘keys’ that can open doors locked with a smart lock. Obviously you need to obtain the key in a legitimate fashion (it isn’t just a magic key that opens any door), but there is a wide range of possibilities including hotel rooms, cars, and home doors. It is already being used for cars from manufacturers like BMW.
This feature uses the Ultra-Wideband capability of the ‘spatially-aware’ U1 chip; this already makes it possible to use AirDrop directionally (by pointing your device at the target device), and to find other nearby devices and AirTags. Smart locks made by Hyatt, Evergreen, Latch and Schalge are among the first to adopt this new feature.
HomeKit users already have the convenience of Geofencing, which makes it possible to automate based on location; but by using the U1 chip, Apple Wallet can unlock doors at very close range, which is more secure and convenient. It also offers the possibility to give guests a ‘guest key’.
You may have already heard about Matter – the ‘universal’ smart home protocol being developed by Apple, Amazon and Google. It’s early days yet, but this will have a big impact for smart home users by opening up the ecosystems of all three platforms to a wider range of devices with secure interoperability. The goal of this project is to ensure that home devices will work seamlessly together, and continue to function together for many years to come. For HomeKit developers the good news is that HomeKit code will not require any changes to work with Matter, so it will hit the ground running once it is fully launched.
What is clear about this year’s WWDC is that Apple is aware of the market challenges it faces in the smart home sphere, as well as challenges from other tech companies. Not only that, it is obvious that Apple is devoted to meeting these challenges through a steady policy of investment in innovation and security.
For HomeKit fans, it is gratifying to see that Apple is devoting a sensible approach to broadening the range of possibilities, including the extension of advanced HomeKit features to third-party devices.