Industry Opinion: How Should Systems Integrators Respond to Apple's HomeKit?

By Yasmin Hashmi, HiddenWires. According to Apple, "HomeKit delivers a common protocol, secure pairing and the ability to easily control individual or groups of devices throughout the house, including integration with Siri. For example, you can tell Siri you are "going to bed" and it could dim the lights, lock your doors, close the garage door and set the thermostat." Apple has disrupted this industry before, and with this announcement, looks set to do so again. We asked a number of leading lights how systems integrators should respond to developments such as HomeKit. Here are their replies:
Joe Lautner, Control Category Director, Core Brands HomeKit provides more awareness for the category and will help drive the home control business. I see two opportunities for integrators. One, integrators will have to wait and see how the mid- to high-end system providers integrate or can integrate HomeKit. Right now we are investigating what we can and cannot do within the HomeKit environment. The second opportunity is to see what opportunities there are to help homeowners with taking advantage of the mainstream products that will be developed for this platform. This is a tricky opportunity for many integrators. Ten years ago many thought IP-based solutions were a fad. I believe there is opportunity for dealers who can organise around high-volume lower-cost installs. Regardless of how easy anything is to install, configure etc, there will always be a part of the market that will not want to install a lightswitch or thermostat, wire an IP camera, modify a garage door, mess with their irrigation system, etc. This presents an opportunity to those who can provide services to these folks. The challenge is, as the cost of the gear comes down, the value that the integrator delivers is more service-related and less margin-related. I think of it more as an electrician installing a $5 dimmer. Anyone can go to Home Depot and buy the dimmer - some will install it themselves, many will call a professional. Who wants to be that professional? System providers like us need to figure out how to help integrators provide added value over the standalone solutions and determine if we can take our solutions downmarket. We have been moving in both of these directions and are currently launching products that take our solutions upmarket and downmarket. Over all, I'm excited that Google and Apple are entering the space - it makes it real and adds excitement.
Phillip Pini, Residential Development, Crestron Integrators have been working with control systems for many years and understand their limitations and work-arounds to achieve integration. Companies such as Crestron, that have a great deal of experience in this market, offer true integration and have formed partnerships with leading companies in several industries in order to provide the best user experience and most robust, flexible and reliable technology solutions. These partners make quality products designed to operate seamlessly with our control technologies. The developments in technology only seek to push the limits of what is possible, and that in turn means pushing the integrators to understand and deliver more demanding systems.
Martin Plaehn, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Control4 We believe Apple's recent HomeKit and developer program announcements will result in raised consumer awareness of home automation, creating more opportunity for systems integrators. Some consumers will certainly want to automate a few individual devices that they may install themselves, and Apple's HomeKit should be a terrific initial path for them. We also believe that there is, and will be, a significant and growing opportunity for systems integrators serving the needs of home and business owners who are looking for the benefits and conveniences delivered by orchestrating more than a few disparate DIY devices, such as high-fidelity home theatres, distributed multiroom audio systems, window shades, heating and cooling systems, and sophisticated interior and exterior lighting. Control4 dealers worldwide are trained professionals who can work with the growing number of home and business owners to deliver premium automation solutions that are personalised for each customer's needs and lifestyle. Apple's recent announcements and expected follow-through should help raise awareness for all emerging segments and solutions for the connected home.
Richard Hayward, Lead Marketing Manager, Building Automation Systems, Legrand UK The evolution of smart homes is moving into a very exciting period. Companies such as Apple who are embracing this technology for their applications, will deliver consumer acceptance and expectation beyond what even the most optimistic in our industry could have predicted. The opportunities for electrical infrastructure manufacturers and installers to offer professional solutions will grow in line with the solutions provided by new channels of retail and e-commerce. The system integrator, and we as manufacturers, should embrace this opportunity!
Pete Baker, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, RTI For integrators, the response to the proliferation of mass-market automation providers and the ubiquitous app solutions being offered from cable and utility companies, and now Apple, is a positive trend. They are creating a great deal of consumer excitement and interest in all things related to integration, namely A/V, energy management, security, lighting, and control over all of these elements. Ultimately, this may lead to greater standardisation of control interfaces and make the job of the integrator easier. However, keep in mind that one of the underlying issues with these mass-market systems is that no two installations are alike. It is extremely difficult to take a cookie-cutter approach when the equipment, environment, and end-user requirements change dramatically from installation to installation. In addition, in order for these systems to be installed successfully, there is a requirement that the end-user is both willing and tech-savvy enough to learn how all of these systems integrate, and navigate the multiple apps and controls required for each aspect of the environment. Ultimately, it takes the expertise of a professional integrator to take a variety of components from different manufacturers (both new and legacy) and successfully blend them all into one user interface, that is intuitive and simple enough for anyone to use. With a professionally-installed control system, the integrator has the flexibility to offer full, custom control using products such as our RTiPanel App and even voice control via our Tenflare Voice Viper system. These are simply value-added benefits to a complete control solution which also incorporates the convenience and redundancy of dedicated wireless and wired interfaces, and which continue to work if something happens to the smartphone, tablet, or Wi-Fi. Additionally, it is the experienced integrator who has the ability to offer the troubleshooting and resolution of issues that may arise with any one of the many components in today's complex landscape of A/V, environmental, and networking systems.
Chiu Lu Yung, Director, Cytech Technology The HomeKit is likely to have a significant impact on the home automation market. It is good to see that Apple is not planning to make its own home automation products, but appears to be trying to make it easier to control products from other manufacturers in a standardised way. This would require manufacturers to build MFI (Manufactured for iPhone/iPad ) -certified devices which can be part of this ecosystem. However an MFI-certified product would be like an iPhone accessory (for example a wireless headphone) - only able to talk to iPhones and iPads. Such a development would not be good for the home automation market, considering that Google may also come up with its own 'GoogleKit' equivalent, and products have to either be iOS- or Google-certified and not able to work with each other or with non-Apple controllers. While this would make it easier for systems integrators to sell home automation, the real benefit of a smart home is not just that you can control things using a specific brand of phone or tablet by pressing some buttons. More important is what happens when the phone is put away. A true smart home should have the intelligence to act without intervention to bring about comfort, energy savings and convenience in the home by the use of sensors, time programs and logic.
Stephen Payne, KNX UK Sales Manager, Theben Although totally committed to KNX home and building control, I recognise that KNX is best suited for major refurbishment and new-build property. Systems such as Apple HomeKit offer basic home automation as a retrofittable package and there is a need for quality systems like this to bring automation to homes where there is no automation installed. In the UK, home automation has to grow, and there must be choice in order to meet differing requirements, but essentially, homeowners want and need good, flexible controls in order to save energy. There is a lot of talk about 'smart metering', but this is of little practical use unless there is some kind of home automation to actually save energy from being wasted. Heating is still one of the biggest energy costs in homes today, yet there are over a million homes in the UK with no kind of thermostat control, and countless more with old or inadequate heating control. So the HomeKit is one answer to improving home automation control in many homes, simply and quickly.
Andy Moss, Managing Director, Moss Technical, Niko Partner It is no surprise that everyone, including Apple, is getting on board with a retrofit plug-and-play means of controlling the home, but consumers will need to decide on which are gimmicks and which offer genuine benefits. Systems integrators will know that providing a bespoke modern wiring installation to consumers requires many years of specialist training, and the 'bespoke' bit means that each and every customer's fit is different. Unfortunately, as we all know, Apple has the financial backing to provide simple, innovative and beautiful solutions that have the ability to catch the eye of even the most discerning customers. What integrators must consider is the angle in which they market their systems. Apple products are constantly being updated and that's how they make their millions, but as a consumer, that can be frustrating. If you have just renovated your home and installed Apple's HomeKit, then the likelihood is that within a year, you will either need an upgrade to the software or to the whole kit. This constant need for improvement is where existing integrators need to focus their attention. As a consumer of Apple products, there is nothing worse than getting the newest and coolest product only to find that in as little as six months, it isn't the coolest or most impressive anymore! So, the decider will be whether consumers want a retrofit gimmick that someone like Apple makes obsolete after six months because it has brought out a newer, better model (although you are tied into a gazillion per month contract!) or, do you choose a modern wiring method from the off, that is future proof, flexible, robust and offers added safety, security, comfort, energy saving and ultimately control. When it comes to electrics, I'd choose the latter any day!
Andrew Taylor, Technical Sales, JUNG UK Change is inevitable and in our young industry, we are going to see a lot of change over the coming years. Apple's announcement on HomeKit is not something we should fear. Our industry encompasses engineering, networking and software development which is a natural progression in terms of system optimisation and creating an end-user experience. As custom installers/systems integrators, we will always need to understand the fundamentals and not just one element. Having a company such as Apple (which has a proven track record in optimising the user experience) join the party, will allow us to use its knowledge and research to offer better user solutions. The only point of contention I would have is Apple's chosen base control protocols. Experienced integrators will understand the importance of decentralised control, and addressing the fundamental control of a property if/when the server/network goes down. Solutions such as HomeKit will not put us out of a job, but it may make products in some manufacturers' solutions irrelevant. We can look forward to many further shifts in our industry over the coming years.
Michael Heiss, US Correspondent, HiddenWires It isn't Apple we have to fear in the custom community, rather the number of Kickstarter- and INdieGogo-funded projects around the home systems and automation world that will be designed from the start to operate under HomeKit. Those will be products outside of the channels from which a custom firm normally buys products. The 'Internet Direct' sales for most of these will democratise things, but will undercut and perhaps over-innovate some of the unique vendors we deal with. We can and will survive, but this simply underscores the need for our community to constantly promote our unique value proposition by assessing needs, installing kit and software, and making it all work together without the need for the client to do much more than pay the bill. Those who see the sky is falling deserve to fail. Those who devise a plan to, if you'll pardon the pun, 'rise about the cloud' will succeed and grow.
Yasmin Hashmi is the Editor of HiddenWires, EMEA's leading English-language publication for the home control trade. You are welcome to add to this discussion by commenting below or through the HiddenWires group on LinkedIn. You are welcome to comment on this discussion. See below.

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