Apple is expected to spend a lot of time talking about Apple TV next week at its iPhone 6S press event. We’re likely to see new hardware, new gaming functionality, a new remote control, and at least some new information about an accompanying content offering.
Nobody’s talking much about Apple’s home automation platform, HomeKit, but my guess is that the two platforms — Apple TV and HomeKit — will increasingly be tightly integrated. And that’s why I think Apple will (or should) spend some time talking about that integration at its event next week.
So far, the main control device for HomeKit devices has been the phone or tablet. HomeKit was featured in a developer session at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference last spring, but the new code and tools rolled out work in iOS 9. They had little or nothing to do with Apple TV.
But when you think of the actual use cases, HomeKit will need to be presented on the TV in the living room.
In other hubs I’ve seen, the user can easily see the various states of devices and scenes throughout the home on the TV screen. They can graphically set groups of devices to act according to instructions in a “scene.”
In Apple TV’s case, all this stuff would be displayed on the TV screen and controlled with Siri, or some function of the remote control.
But so far, Apple has focused on the phone as the major control device for HomeKit.
Apple identifies the lifestyle states in which it expects HomeKit will be used: Get Up, Leave, Return, and Go to Bed. These states represent the times when users are most likely to need to change the state of their lights, doors, appliances, or home electronics devices. And yes, it’s likely that an iPhone would be present during any of those times.
A couple of the scenario definitions could include the TV. Many people will have a TV in the bedroom for Get Up and Go to Bed.
But Apple should have included one other major lifestyle state — Watching Living Room TV. If Apple didn’t know how much time people spend in this state, it wouldn’t be making such a fuss about establishing its beachhead there. That is what Apple TV is all about.
People are going to want to be able to change the room temperature, or turn the lights off in the kitchen, or check the front door cam while they’re sitting on the couch. They’re not going to want to search around for a phone. Even if they have their iPhone right there, the TV will be a much better screen for controlling home devices. Aside from the fact that there’s more room to present an attractive and functional HomeKit interface on the TV, some functions — like that front door cam example — will just be best viewed or monitored on the big screen.
This idea is nothing new. Companies that have been doing home automation control for far longer than Apple — like AT&T and Comcast — have made full use of the living room TV to control the connected home.
With its 7.0 update for the latest (2012) version of Apple TV, Apple made the device ready to act as a wireless bridge for the HomeKit app. In other words you can control HomeKit devices in the home only when your phone is on the home Wi-Fi network, unless you have an Apple TV. Then, the phone, in effect, can call into the Apple TV via a cellular connection, and the Apple TV box authenticates and relays the HomeKit command to the appropriate appliances.
But acting as a real, honest-to-goodness HomeKit hub is a whole other beast.
I’m hoping that Apple has been spending its time developing Apple TV as the hub for HomeKit. If they have, I hope we see it next Wednesday at Apple’s big fall event.