So if you hate Apple, you’ve probably been rejoicing in the trickle of news stories in the last week about various slippages regarding Apple’s HomeKit initiative.
Not one of the HomeKit-compatible devices announced for “Spring” has come to market and the promised featured role for Home Automation at the developers conference in June appears to be shifting to a slide show backup as Beats takes center stage instead.
Retail-ready HomeKit is coming certainly–but August 2015 is starting to look like a risky bet, and my own wild guess of late Spring 2016 looks more plausible every day.
But setting aside brand beating for a moment, if you look at this from a brand agnostic perspective and you just really like cool devices, there’s an important lesson in what may have gone wrong for this first stage of device development.
My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it makes a lovely sight.
It often turns out to be simple: when battery-operated tiny devices get too smart, they die. I mean literally. Battery life starts to be counted in hours. Or a couple hundred minutes. Instead of the “6 months to a year minimum” most home automation trials have shown real people demand in their real homes.
HomeKit smarts reportedly required too much memory to be supported in the desired form factor. From door locks to contact sensors, it was an Edna St Vincent Millay spectacle of tiny candles burning brightly and dying quickly. Way too quickly for retail release.
Multiple device makers using multiple HomeKit chip sources all, according to rumor, with the same issue. Too much memory required for available battery size. So nothing came to market.
Meanwhile, zigbee and zwave devices chug along. They sleep a lot. They’re pretty stupid. Communication is asynchronous, and they know very little and usually say less. But they survive. For months, even for years. They guard the gates and light the lights and lock the doors and measure both heat and humidity.
So the next time you make a wish list of all the features you think a battery operated home automation device should provide, including more frequent reporting, and you plaintively ask the question, “how hard would it be to just…” think of all those tiny candles snuffing out, and know the engineering answer: “very hard.”
*Apple’s official position is that no announced dates were missed, which is true. Most dates were implied or rumored. But if we do get HA device releases in time for the June conference, look closely at the power sources. Are they battery-operated? Is there a second plug in piece handling security? Time will tell.