Well, that was exciting.

WWDC 2017 wound down last week. It’s been a firehose of information, mostly delightful, a little disappointing and largely overwhelming. I wasn’t a lottery winner this year, so I’m observing from the other coast and I’ve still got about a bajillion hours of video queued up to watch. It’s going to be a fun summer! But the first session I was sure to watch was the venerable “What’s New in HomeKit” to learn the fate of my Hopes and Dreams.

The news is mostly good. Here’s a quick rundown of my wishlist and whether Santa delivered this DubMas.

  • Better automation rules
    • Offset from sunset
      • 🚀 Yes! Now you can create triggers for “significant events” with an offset, so you can turn on lights 45 minutes before sunset. “Significant events” seems to mostly be sunrise and sunset in the current release.
    • Follow up events
      • 🚀 Yes! HomeKit now includes “duration events” which can act as bookends on something like a motion trigger. When there’s motion in the hallway, turn on the hall light and turn it off in five minutes. I’m not clear if you can make this a little more sophisticated and turn the light off if there is no motion for five minutes or if you’re limited to a fixed interval. But even so, definitely an improvement.
    • Limit rules to time ranges or scenes engaged
      • 🚀 Yes! The specific example from the presentation restricts a scene triggered from a motion sensor to only fire after sunset and before sunrise. You can connect these time limits to either “significant events” (with offset) or to specific times. I believe you can also gate them based on an active scene, but my notes are slightly sketchy on that point.
  • Beyond devices
    • Interaction with iOS apps, devices
      • 🚫 Nope. There was no mention of triggering apps or controlling your AppleTV from Siri on your phone. But all is not lost! More on that later.
    • Workflow integration
      • 🚫 Nope. No mention of Workflow at all. I’m still optimistic about Workflow. They could easily integrate HomeKit support in an upcoming release which wouldn’t rate a pre-announcement at DubDub.

Other HomeKit Improvements

There were lots of tantalizing tidbits included in the presentation, all of which bode well for the future of HomeKit. In a lot of ways, they’ve been building a foundation for several years and we’re finally getting to the point of critical mass where we can go beyond a fancier X10 system).

Highlights of the other announcements:

  • Other new events
    • 🏡 Presence based events
      • First person comes home
      • Last person leaves home
      • House is occupied or unoccupied
    • 🌡 Threshold range events
      • Temperature is above 80 degrees
      • Temperature is below 60 degrees
      • Temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees
    • 📅 Events which recur on a schedule
      • Execute “Good Morning” scene at 7 am, but only on weekdays.
  • Protocol enhancement for bluetooth accessories which improve latency from several seconds to sub-seconds
    • A bluetooth motion sensor used to take three seconds to turn on a light. Now it can do it in less than a second.
    • Should be available as a software upgrade to existing devices — no new hardware needed.
  • Enhanced setup
    • If you’re scanning (or typing) the string of numbers printed on the device, you can do so now before plugging in the device. Personally, I’m not limber enough for the gymnastics required to scan the smart plug after it’s plugged in and powered up.
    • New devices can use QR codes instead of printed numbers. The big benefit of QR codes is that they can be physically much smaller, as small as 10mm x 10mm.
    • And the pièce de résistance — setup via NFC tags. Yup, finally. Tap the device and that’s it. I honestly don’t know why any new device wouldn’t use NFC “tap to configure”.
  • New categories
    • ⛲️Sprinklers! I’m surprised sprinklers are just now getting to the party. They’ve been low hanging fruit for automation geeks for 20 years.
    • 🚰 Faucets! A quick confab at the office and everyone agrees on the killer use case — cooking chicken. Nobody want to smear salmonella all over the sink.
  • Authentication / Certification
    • Software authentication. Previously, all HomeKit devices needed hardware authentication which meant older devices couldn’t be upgraded and new devices had to include an extra chip, adding cost and complexity. For example, I suspect Wemo bailed on HomeKit support because of the hardware authentication requirement. A few weeks ago, they were back on board. Coincidence?
    • Non-commercial products can be certified for free! Hobbyists, students and the like can now access the technical documents and tools to build HomeKit controllable devices for free. Now (in my copious free time), I can build a garage door monitor out of a Raspberry Pi and control it with Siri! This is super exciting because it lowers the bar significantly for building and testing prototypes before taking it to market. I expect this to feed a niche corner of KickStarter very, very soon.

Was there anything on the wish list that we didn’t get? Yes, HomeKit for the Mac. All the discussions were aimed at watchOS, tvOS and iOS, but the Macintosh is left out in the cold. It’s probably a question of resource management. Mac users already mostly have an iPhone in their pocket or a watch strapped to their wrist, so it’s not a desperately necessary feature. And soon, they’ll be a Siri Speaker listening for any request in the house too.

That brings us to the Siri Speaker, now with it’s official given name — HomePod. (I actually love HomePod, but it seems a little more “space cadet” than I’d expect out of Apple Marketing.) The intro at DubDub very much focused on it as a spiritual successor to the iPod HiFi, although they didn’t call that ghost by name. This week, at least, they’re positioning HomePod firmly as a music device that you can talk to. As an aside almost, they confirmed that it would act as a gateway to HomeKit too. HomePod does usher in the next wave of AirPlay — AirPlay 2 — which supports whole home audio streamed from any device to HomePods and/or AppleTVs.

AppleTV and tvOS didn’t get much attention during the keynote, only that Amazon Video is coming this summer (finally). But among the other WWDC technology announcements, Apple signaled a major change from h.264 to h.265 (AKA HEVC) which includes better support for 4K video, a feature currently missing from my beloved AppleTV. In the fall, we’ll see a hardware update for AppleTV taking it into the world of 4K video, along with a 4K upgrade iTunes Store video content. I think we’ll see tighter integration at that point between the AppleTV and HomePod, which only seems natural. (Just watch the demo of Google Home and ChromeCast from I/O this year.) If HomePod can control the AppleTV, this will be the big reveal moment.

Overall, I’m really happy with the HomeKit announcements at WWDC. Apple is pushing forward and seems committed to the platform across (almost) all the platforms. The rules/triggers/scenes system has become more sophisticated and shouldn’t feel like a hindrance in iOS 11. We’ll have to wait another six months for HomePod to land, but at least we know it’s coming. I’m cautiously optimistic that a solid AppleTV update before the holiday shopping season will reinforce that appeal of the whole ecosystem. In the meantime, I guess I’ll start saving up for HomePods. Maybe they’ll come in a six pack.

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