At Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference, the company announced—among a great many other things—HomeKit, a suite of tools for controlling such devices in your home as thermostats, furnaces and air conditioners, smart appliances, lights, cameras, garage-door openers, and security systems. Apple will provide a platform that these devices will be asked to conform to. Do so, and you can control them all from your iOS device.
And it sounds great. Imagine your garage door automatically swinging open and your back door unlocking as your car approaches, or a fireplace fwooming into action and lights dimming as you near the front door with your date.
But imagine this as well: You’re halfway across the country on a business trip and your kid calls and asks if you can flip on the lights downstairs because he’s afraid of the dark. Or a massive heat wave hits at the same time and you want to crank up the air conditioning to preserve the Old Master hanging over a piano sensitive to humidity. Or—anticipating that hot date—you’d like to crank up the fridge to chill the champagne just a bit more before you get home in an hour. How are you going to communicate with all the devices in your home from such remote locations?
If you’re accustomed to using devices such as the Nest Learning Thermostat you already know the answer. You set up an account with Nest and then download its app. Now think about doing that with a dozen or more other smart appliances that you’ll acquire in the coming months and years. Not only would it be a bother to dash from app to app to control your home remotely, but do you really want to provide access to your home network—and the devices on it—to dozens of companies?
It’s for these reasons that I have to think (or, at least, hope) that Apple has another shoe to drop in regard to remote access via HomeKit. Clean as control of your home may be when you’re standing in it, it makes little sense for the process to get ugly simply because you’re not within range of its Wi-Fi network or iBeacon signal.
And therefore you need something that will arbitrate between you, your remote location, and the devices in your home.
“I know, I know!” you shout, “My Mac can easily do it!”
Possibly. But now you’ve shut out the vast majority of potential users who don’t have a Mac or don’t relish leaving their computer running at all hours just so you can switch off the lights necessary to pay for the power your Mac needs to allow such an action.
Wouldn’t it be better if each home had a small, power-efficient, always-on, platform-agnostic, Wi-Fi-enabled computer that could talk to your devices both remotely and over a local network?
If you haven’t yet glanced over at your Apple TV, now’s the time. Beneath its rounded-rectangular shell is a computer running a form of iOS. One of the beauties of iOS (and its sibling OS X) is that it’s modular. If you need it to take on a different kind of chore, just add a new software component.
While the current crop of Apple TVs may have processors too puny to handle control of your home (and storage too limited to perform this and other miracles), you’re undoubtedly aware that the processors shipping in today’s best iPads and iPhones are nearly desktop-class. Throw an A7 processor and some more flash storage into a next-generation Apple TV and you’re talking about a hefty hunk of hardware—one that could not only manage your home but also accommodate third-party apps for really opening up the device to media and games.
The benefits should be clear. Here’s the gatekeeper for your home’s gear—appliances as well as traditional computing devices. Imagine a Back to My Mac feature that can control everything on the network (and, unlike Back to My Mac, actually works all the time).
But it can also provide a needed security layer. Rather than each device sending the intimate details of your home to Nest, Honeywell, GE, and—perhaps more importantly—Google and Facebook, how about if all this information is stored on the Apple TV and hashed for security. When you need to make adjustments or receive reports, data is transmitted via the Apple TV. Your smart appliances remain dumb to any interaction other than what’s been carried on with Apple’s home hub. The devices’ original manufacturer is none the wiser to what you’re doing with them.
I’ve been wanting a more flexible Apple TV for quite awhile. With the introduction of HomeKit that desire has become a raging passion.
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Chris has covered technology and media since the latter days of the Reagan Administration. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, he's a professional musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.