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Manufacturers Remain Confident in Apple’s Ability to Lead the Smart Home Industry

When talking about the futuristic smart home industry, one is unlikely to leave out Apple, the big name that really made the first smart device – the smartphone, which is both user-friendly and appealing to the general public.
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Nowadays as iOS and Android devices alike have become more universal, many have begun to ponder the potential of broader smart technology applications. The name of the game being referred to as Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT) or smart home. Despite Apple’s market leader position in the smartphone sector, it has yet to cement a similar role in the IoT or smart home industry.
Apple, Google and Amazon have all introduced smart home platforms which hardware manufacturers comply to when creating their own products. Due to Apple’s stringent requirements, there have been relatively few products compatible to its HomeKit platform.
Google and Amazon, which opt for establishing a more open development environment for manufacturers, appear to have gotten the upper hand in the smart home market. Just a few weeks ago, Amazon announced a new milestone – 10,000 skills working with its Alexa platform were created by third-party developers, a testament to the wide range of devices and appliances that are compatible with Alexa.
The market has seen much fewer products compatible with Apple HomeKit. However, despite its slow development, manufacturers working with Apple still plan to launch new HomeKit products in 2017, according to a study conducted by SMAhome.
CviLux Group, a Taiwan-based original design manufacturer/original equipment manufacturer that makes HomeKit parts, components and finished products, said that it plans to launch a new power outlet in March and a new light bulb in April under the Opro brand name.
CviLux’s Opro iU9 Smart Power Outlet is already listed in Apple’s official webpage of HomeKit accessories. The device lets users control, monitor and schedule lights and appliances remotely and by voice control. Home electronics and appliances can be scheduled to turn on or off automatically based on users’ preferred routines.
U.S.-based semiconductor company Silicon Labs, which focuses on developing IoT solutions, also said it expects at least two HomeKit software releases during 2017.
Silicon Labs’ primary HomeKit products are Blue Gecko Bluetooth SoCs, wireless modules and Bluetooth software. These products help developers create home accessories such as smart locks, thermostats and weather stations.
Shenzhen Opso Technology, a China-based startup with Apple’s MFi certification, said in a recent interview that it will launch sensor or security products like cameras, doorbells and alarms in 2017.
The company’s OPSO Smart Outlet HK-OU1, an Apple-certified HomeKit accessory, supports home management like switch scheduling, power use monitoring and Siri voice control. The outlet has multiple use case setting to meet the demand from different users.
China-based lighting solution and IoT manufacturer Leedarson also intends to launch lighting products compatible with the HomeKit later this year.
Leedarson also develops smart products based on platforms other than Apple’s HomeKit. Products that are compatible with Amazon’s Alexa are still more popular among distributors, Leedarson’s Product Manager Justin Zhang said.
“Changes have been made by Apple to facilitate product development, for example, by hastening the verification process. The long verification process is actually a challenge in developing HomeKit products,” Zhang said.
Jerry Chen, CEO of Dexatek Technology, a Taiwan-based company that specializes in HomeKit product development, offers a clear explanation to this level of difficulty. Apple changes its specifications constantly and to ensure quality, its people actually pay visits to check on manufacturing plants.
Apple’s verification processes span from hardware, software to app development, Chen said. Amazon and Google have less complex verification procedures. Alexa developers may simply use an API and passing the verification is easier.
Opso’s General Manager Wang Yifu said Apple employs a stricter standard, which increases the difficulty to develop new products. Taking the Opso smart plug for example, while connecting to Wi-Fi is easy, meeting all the technical requirements specified by Apple is difficult. Testing has to be conducted in-house before the product can be sent to Apple for testing, Wang said.
Despite the high technical requirement dictated by Apple, many of its manufacturer partners still have very nice thing to say about the company while expressing confidence in Apple’s potential in the smart home venture.
Mikko Savolainen, Senior Marketing Manager of Silicon Labs, said the biggest challenge in making smart home products is the complexity of ecosystems in this industry. Smart home accessory vendors need to think about building accessories, smart phone applications, gateways and possibly also cloud applications, and then making all of them interoperable and secure.
“Apple has actually solved many of these challenges, and they provide end users with iPhones, iPads, Apple Home iOS applications and Siri voice control to interact with the accessories. Apple also allows iPads and Apple TVs to be used as gateways to connect the accessories securely to Apple iCloud,” Savolainen said.
Opso’s Wang says Apple’s competency lies in hardware development, which Google and Amazon may not be very good at. “The MFi verification mechanism has created a robust and comprehensive hardware supply chain. In fact, Apple establishes stable and long-term cooperative relations with its manufacturer partners,” Wang said.
This is why some believe Apple is more prepared and has a better chance of making it in the smart home industry. Amazon’s partnership with manufacturers, on the other hand, is more like one-time cooperative relationship, Wang said, adding that the “iOS also has better security standards, which is critical in smart home implementation.”
Asked about Apple’s competition with Amazon and Google, Dexatek Technology’s Chen said, “I still believe HomeKit is better at this stage. Although development is more difficult, it provides a unified user experience, and the installation is unified. It offers better security.”
Other platforms do not necessarily provide this kind of uniformity, Chen said. Take Alexa for example, there are many compatible products, but “their ease of use is uncertain,” Chen said. Also, Apple offers a high level of platform interoperability. A HomeKit-compatible plug will connect with a compatible light without problems. In addition, Apple’s standard HOME app provides better user experience and more unified brand interoperability.
Brand loyalty among Apple fans also gives the company more clout, Chen said. “We believe when Apple starts to take the lead, the smart home sector will have a better chance to take off, bringing non-Apple platforms like Alexa onto the bandwagon.”


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