For those who came in late, Apple does have a product to create “intelligent homes” called Homekit. It is just that no one has been buying it or even talking about it. Of course that has not stopped outfits like Reuters pretending that Apple invented the whole industry, but claims it had lost ground to Amazon.
It sulked that it had taken only a year for Amazon’s combination of the Echo speaker system and the Alexa voice-controlled digital assistant had taken over the market.
It insists that means that Amazon is “squaring up” for a battle with Apple, implying that Jobs’ Mob is actually the market leader when it is not.
The strategic importance of the “connected home” niche looms large: Amazon wants a way to own its customer interactions -mainly shopping online – without an phone or a Web browser as an intermediary.
Apple’s app is also a long way behind Google, which is investing in both intelligent assistant software and home-automation devices like the Nest thermostats and, more recently, the Google Home speaker.
Getting back to Apple, Reuters seems to think that it controlled the intelligent home market when the iPhone rolled out with voice activated controls.
However, with Amazon selling 10 million Alexa-enabled devices over the holiday season, Apple’s own involvement in the market is invisible.
Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said the company is leading the industry by being the first to integrate home automation into a major platform with iOS 10. “The number of HomeKit-compatible accessories continues to grow rapidly with many exciting solutions announced just this month,” she said.
But that is software and most intelligent home packages are already running much better software packages based around Android, Linux forks and even Windows. There are 250 devices that are certified to work with Alexa while Apple’s Homekit, by contrast, has about 100 certified devices.
Apple has tried its normal “control everything” games which means that to be Homekit-certified, gadget makers must include special chips to work with Apple’s system. Apple also requires developers to buy specific WiFi and Bluetooth networking chips that cost more than competitors.
These devices must be made in Apple approved factories. Only a few of these factories specialise in home automation products. The founder of one startup that considered pursuing HomeKit approval for a device that helps control home temperatures said the company picked a factory with 40,000 employees that was making well known “Star Wars” toys, but it couldn’t use that factory for HomeKit products.
This huge factory was black-listed because it was not Apple certified. Some developers can’t be bothered jumping through all the hoops when they can get a product out there which is much cheaper and runs on other software.
Alexa, by contrast, only requires smart home companies to write software code and submit it to Amazon for review. There are no special chips. To earn the “Works with Alexa” label -which isn’t required to function with Alexa but does help promote products on Amazon’s website – startups must have their products physically tested. Amazon does allow that to happen in a third-party lab, however.
Once those certifications are in hand, Amazon says it will decide whether or not a device gets the “Works with Alexa” label within 10 days.