Apple HomeKit

More ane more Apple HomeKit devices are coming on the market. Has there been any more thought about enabling HomeKit control in Simplecontrol. I thought the rebranding of Roomie Remote to Simplecontrol was to become more of a whole home control rather than just a remote for your tv.

I’ve commented on this in the past, but it is probably archived in the pre-Simple Control forums so I will briefly comment here again.

HomeKit is just another device to us. There is little to no value in “supporting HomeKit”, it does not give users a feature or functionality. The cursory Siri support it provides is sufficiently walled off that our users would not find it useful and it can’t be seriously compared to the Amazon Echo integration we provide.

There is value however in supporting specific devices. We have a long list of devices that users request that we support. Nobody requests “HomeKit” as a device. Instead, they request a specific device. To date, none of the requested devices users ask us to support require HomeKit to control them. For instance, last Fall users requested Ecobee. We could have chosen HomeKit or non-HomeKit implementations. Instead of limiting ourselves to a closed block on a given device to control Ecobee, we implemented Ecobee support directly allowing a broad range of additional functionality including triggers, remote access, etc. Given that supporting a device directly is better than using a proxy API via HomeKit anyway, it has so far been significantly better to support requested devices directly.

If a specific device is requested in sufficient quantity by users that can only be controlled by HomeKit, then certainly adding HomeKit support in order to control that particular device would be a minor task. Until then, in other words, until HomeKit provides a genuinely unique path that isn’t accomplished in a better way by not using HomeKit, we will continue to add direct support for devices. I imagine that as HomeKit grows over time, eventually there will be interesting cases that we can enable using it. Just as we have been at the forefront of many technologies such as iBeacons, and introducing an Apple TV app just weeks ago, I have been eager for compelling scenarios to present themselves related to HomeKit though they have not yet done so. Perhaps HomeKit will grow up a bit at WWDC and over the Summer we can re-evaluate once again whether it then provides any additional value for our customers.

Thank you.

It may be too soon to know, but did Apple’s presentation at WWDC support the hope that HomeKit would grow up a bit? I’m not asking about adding “Home Kit devices” as that term has been used (or misused) and I understand your approach continues to be device specific. Rather, I am asking if Apple is opening up some of those walls related to Siri, to allow Siri to be used to control Simple Control - similar to what is being described as Echo’s current interface with SC.

This unfortunately was not the year HomeKit grew up.

First, on the Siri API. There has been, as usual, a lot of misinformation in the press about this. The press hears “Siri API” and writes glowing articles about lovely API perfection without the burden of any technical detail or factual correctness.

The reality of the “Siri API” is that it has been severely limited in two ways. First, it has been locked down to 7 specific domains including ride sharing, making calls, and a few other very constrained things all totally irrelevant to automation. You cannot use the Siri API to do anything at all other than those 7 things. If you are not a ride sharing app or a VOIP app basically, you’re out. So that makes that simple to ignore for the next year anyway. Siri completely ceded the home to Amazon Echo, so we will continue to focus our efforts on Echo for the foreseeable future.

Second, the Siri API does not support Intents. Even when/if Apple eventually adds a domain like “automation” or whatever it might be, the API itself is not extensible. By comparison, in the Amazon Echo system we commonly define new syntax such as “Alexa, tell Simple Control to tune Food Channel.” The ability to “tune” is something we were able to add dynamically via Amazon’s extensible Intents API. There is no such concept in the Siri API, and indeed it is explicitly blocked. Apple decides for a given domain what someone can say and that’s that. So if your ride sharing has special options or ways it works that are special, sucks to be you. All domains are generic, all syntax domains are 100% controlled by Apple, and you may not deviate with a single word.

To say I am concerned about the Siri API would be too gentle. It needs a rethink. Adding domains will not fix it. As a V1 effort, I suppose it’s a good sign they want to do something, but it’s the wrong thing unfortunately even in just the 7 domains it supports.

Meanwhile, on HomeKit. To review, this is the entire list of supported HomeKit devices:

It is sad, to be generous. If HomeKit were a 1 person startup founded in 2015, I think it would be great for them to have those 20 or so devices. It is sadly not a 1 person startup that was just founded. This is year 3. 3 years. ~20 supported devices. Really? Is there someone, anyone, who thinks this represents success?

To the point, what item from that list is there sufficient user demand to justify adding it as a device for us, and is there a direct API that would allow superior integration, or is HomeKit in fact the best option? I have yet to find a device that is only available via HomeKit. There are so few devices that support HomeKit at all that it seems very unlikely. The most popular HomeKit devices are Hue and Ecobee, and we support both of those already via superior direct integration.

Why is HomeKit such a failure? I could write whole blogs about this. I was initially quite optimistic. The short story is that, like the Siri API domains, there was obviously some very strong internal desire to lock down HomeKit so that non-Apple platforms would be unable to benefit from any of it. This was accomplished (1) by requiring proprietary hardware chips in every device that supports it, and (2) managing a new set of rules to prevent many useful use cases.

I spent 16 years working on encryption. I was a co-founder of PGP back in 1996. I am quite well-versed in the topic. The encryption required by HomeKit is not something I would have selected. When you combine strange encryption choices with the custom hardware required to enable it, and then you put together a rules regime to block everything else, you’ve got a pretty sour environment that has borne itself out in a pitifully small number of supported devices.

I keep thinking Apple will notice that HomeKit is going nowhere each year and make some changes. The problem is not the lack of a Home app, and never has been. Unfortunately, these things are on annual cycles, so it will be at least 2017 before HomeKit gets another chance at bat.

Thank you.

I think many developers were frustrated with Apple’s “opening of Siri,” particularly after it was so grossly mis-represented by the press. Generally, I think Siri is the least interesting and least reliable of the various virtual assistants out there, between Siri, Google [whatever she’s called], Cortana, and Alexa. I’d agree that the Echo affords developers better opportunities, but the mechanism available to users for managing and configuring home devices and skills in the Alexa app is still pretty terrible.

That said, I don’t think you’re properly representing the state of HomeKit, Will. The first HomeKit products were released in late May/early June 2015, so for consumers, this is the start of year 2. Vendors were working with Apple prior to that to release these products, and the tools for enabling HomeKit development were released publicly at WWDC in June 2014. So for developers, this is now the start of year 3. That doesn’t mean it’s been out there for 3 years—it’s only been out there for 2. Granted Apple let a few select companies into the fold prior to that first public announcement, so arguably some vendors had earlier access, but I assert that doesn’t necessarily qualify it as an available platform for 3 years.

Yes…when HomeKit first came out, it was a disaster. I wrote about and discussed the problems seen in most of the released products for months until vendors finally had more visibility into other products and the platform’s true capabilities. Apple has continued to extend the set of profiles and learn from each wave. Is it an open framework that will integrate with all platforms? No. Of course not—this is Apple. Despite (or perhaps because of) their early missteps at initial launch, HomeKit devices are now simple to provision and get pretty damned close to Apple’s whole “it just works” approach.

As for device support, I don’t know if the iDevices products are addressable through an API of their own, but if they’re not, that could be one area where you might see some demand for new HomeKit-compatible products—particularly as iDevices extends that line this year to include wire-in switches. Does is make sense for Simple Control to consider HomeKit? Maybe not. But the fact that people are asking suggests they think the highly-customizable experience you enable would be a good alternative to the available collection of (largely disappointing) product-affiliated and 3rd-party HomeKit apps.

I completely understand why people and companies—particularly potential integration partners—might be frustrated with Apple about how slowly they’ve been rolling out HomeKit and the limitations it has. But I tend to believe that the framework’s success depends upon Apple not rushing it.

Really informative post, Will. Should be pinned somewhere.

I just began an effort to automate my home lighting with Lutron Caseta. I also have an Ecobee. Controlling both of those with HomeKit (read: Siri) is a real pleasure; however, I agree with you: Apple needs to build a richer and more open API to allow 3rd party developers access to Siri, which is what people are often asking for when they say they want “HomeKit integration.”

The fact that I can dim the lights with Siri doesn’t do me as much good if I can’t also launch a SimpleControl activity with Siri to turn on my various A/V equipment to watch a movie.

Maybe one day…

Not sure if this is the best place to put this question, but Apple has added voice control of the AppleTV via the AppleTV Remote app in iOS, but since they are calling it Siri, I thought I would put it here. However, this doesn’t appear to be the same Siri that works via the OS. Do you know if it is something that can be implemented in the Simple Control app?

This barrier of voice control has popped up on several devices and it makes it impossible to use voice search with a multitude of streaming devices (AppleTV, Roku, Nvidia Shield, etc) without pulling out their original remotes. Is there anything on the horizon that will make it possible to implement these voice control features into the Simple Control app?

Sometimes we do things that users have no idea how difficult the feature is. It just seems like yet another line item in a brief What’s New list.

Samsung TV IP control for the 2014/2015 models was a herculean task, at least 5 months of dedicated work going deep into the cryptography of the system. We fully reversed respectable cryptography to accomplish that. If there were reverse engineering awards, I would give us one for that. It was miracle. There are other examples similar to that where I just felt that a particular device was very important and was willing to commit the resources to get it.

Apple TV IP Control is a perfect case of that. Just a couple months ago, we added the gesture based Apple TV navigation that works much more smoothly than the traditional button presses. We’re the only system with such control.

The new Apple TV Remote app introduces a couple of features we don’t have yet. They are the ability to long-press buttons and the ability to submit raw voice. It’s safe to say I’ve always prioritized Apple TV control very high. If it can be done within the bounds of reasonable physical laws, it will be. We’ll see.

Thank you.

Thank you for the hard work and your quick response. I look forward to seeing if you can get the voice control to work.

New arrival here from iRule. Is there any update on the addition of raw voice input to the app? The voice search feature on the Apple TV 4k has proven a particularly compelling feature for me and to not have to velcro the Apple remote to the back of the ipad i use for home automation would be so great. Thanks.

It’s high on the radar. We’ll probably look at it this year.