Why Home Automation in the Apple Ecosystem?

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A couple of friends have asked, “Why is Operation Gadget’s subtitle ‘Home Automation in the Apple Ecosystem’?”

I guess they’re asking, why not cover all aspects of home automation?

Or perhaps they mean, why not pick Amazon.com’s ecosystem, based on the Alexa voice assistant and Ring security products?

Or even Google’s ecosystem, with the Google Assistant and many products from the Google Home and Nest product lines?

HomePod mini plugged in to a standard U.S. wall power outlet
One of the easiest ways to start adding HomeKit to your house is to install a HomePod mini.

My Family Uses Apple Devices, and A Lot of Them

My family of four currently owns and uses:

  • an iPhone Xs
  • an iPhone 8
  • two second-generation iPhone SEs
  • two AppleTV 4K units, connected to TCL 4K LCD televisions
  • three Apple Watch SEs
  • an Apple Watch Series 4
  • a 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • an 11-inch iPad Pro
  • two recent 10-inch iPads
  • three Mac minis
  • six HomePod minis

I guess you could say that we use what we recommend. Also, we don’t feel the need to run the latest and greatest versions of everything Apple makes. Lots of the tech we use every day has miles on it, but it still works really well.

But, Why Apple HomeKit and Not Some Other Platform with– More Options?

I can only answer for me and my family. But we try to focus on getting the most productivity we can out of our technology with the least possible confusion and pain.

{Part of me can’t wait to hear the feedback on that statement.}

So when we need new gear, we try to pick from what’s available from Apple, and we pick accessories that integrate as simply as possible with that gear.

This lead us to HomeKit accessories when we started automating our new home in November 2020.

OK, so are there any other reasons?

And why, you ask, am I recommending the Apple Ecosystem and HomeKit for you and your family?

Operation Gadget and I are not here to convince you to use an iPhone, iPad, or Mac if you are a committed user of an Android phone or a Windows PC. So I am primarily addressing the points I am about to make to people who already made a major investment in one or more Apple devices that they carry in their pocket or have on their desk.

I believe that anybody who uses an iPhone extensively should avoid Home Automation solutions based on Amazon Alexa or Google Home because it’s a waste of time for most people to learn how to interact with smart devices in their lives in two different and somewhat incompatible ways.

This says nothing about the checkered history that both Amazon and Google have with obtaining personal information from their customers, sometimes under false pretenses, repackaging that information as customer intelligence, and reselling it to their customers.

But let me write first of the value of Apple platforms as an ecosystem. A series of different products that exist together and benefit from each other. If you own one or more of these products, you should see increasing returns in terms of personal productivity and joy in their uses.

Here are a few arguments in favor of the Apple ecosystem.

Continuity, With a Small “C”

It’s been clear for a number of years that Apple designs its devices to work together. You see this if you have more than one modern Apple device that supports Continuity features.

You can easily do things like:

  • answer phone calls coming in on your iPhone from your iPad, Mac, or Apple Watch.
  • handoff a FaceTime call from your iPhone to a Mac or iPad, so it’s easier to see or easier for other people to participate.
  • copy text that you see in Safari on your iPad and paste that text into an email you are composing on your iPhone.
  • AirPlay video you are looking at on your iPhone to an AppleTV in your living room, so others in your family can see it.
Discussion of new Continuity Features in MacOS from the Apple World Wide Developer Conference 2022

Apple keeps building these features into each of their operating systems. In some respects, it’s difficult to keep up with them all, which might be why you look at sites like Operation Gadget in the first place. But the point is, the operating systems make these features available on Apple devices you probably already own, you just need to know those features exist and know how to access them.

If you generally understand the features of Apple operating systems that are collectively called Continuity, you can pretty easily understand the idea I am about to put forward.

HomeKit enforces continuity on Home Automation products and services

This may seem like a bit of a stretch when you read that statement out of context, but consider that Apple’s design of HomeKit is inherently conservative.

HomeKit provides a large but limited number of device types that can be placed under management:

  • Air Conditioners
  • Air Purifiers
  • Bridges (to help communicate with devices not directly supported under HomeKit)
  • Cameras
  • Doorbells
  • Fans
  • Faucets
  • Garage Doors
  • Humidifiers
  • Lights
  • Locks
  • Outlets
  • (Audio Programming) Receivers
  • Routers
  • Security Devices
  • Sensors
  • Speakers
  • Sprinklers
  • Switches
  • Thermostats
  • Televisions
  • Windows

Device manufacturers who want their products to leverage the HomeKit framework must find a way to fit their devices into one or more of these categories. Then they must make those devices respond to a limited number of commands and share back through the HomeKit framework the result of those commands. Plus any stream of data that device type can provide through the HomeKit framework, of course.

All of this structure makes Home Automation within the Apple Ecosystem easier for non-programmers and Home Automation novices to understand.

Privacy and Data Security, on the Scale Customers Expect from Apple

As part of Apple’s commitment to customer privacy, the company publishes clear explanations of when information is collected about customer use of Siri and dictation. These are important security concerns because access to Siri dialogs and text entered into apps via dictation reveal a great deal of personal information to an observer.

However speech recognition privacy is just the tip of the iceberg. I argue that a great deal of attention needs to be paid to the customer privacy in first party and third party apps. This is a situation where Apple also shines, as you can see on this page about privacy in its products and features.

The Home app is near the bottom of the page, but what Apple says about it is revealing

Encryption: “Data related to your home is encrypted and stored in the iCloud Keychain of your device. It’s also encrypted in transit between your Apple device and the devices you’re controlling in your home, even when you control your accessories from a remote location. Recordings from security cameras that use HomeKit Secure Video are analyzed privately on your Apple devices at home and then sent securely to iCloud through end-to-end encryption.”

App Protections: “Apps that use HomeKit are restricted by our developer guidelines to using data solely for home configuration or automation services.”

HomeKit Secure Video: “In iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 or later, HomeKit Secure Video ensures that activity detected by your security cameras is analyzed and encrypted by your Apple devices at home before being securely stored in iCloud.”

{Note: iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 were the current operating systems about three years ago.}

Amazon has not always been committed to privacy

In a groundbreaking article published in April 2019, Matt Day, Giles Turner, and Natalie Drozdiak from Bloomberg reported that Amazon employees had access to audio clips that were recorded on Amazon Echo devices including, access to customer’s first names, account numbers, and serial numbers of the smart devices where these audio clips were recorded. These audio clips were routed to Amazon employees and contractors to “help the voice-activated assistant respond to commands”.

However another account of Amazon’s 2019 voice recognition training process said, “Some employees admitted to sharing amusing recordings with other employees via an internal chat room. Others said they had heard potentially disturbing conversations between people in their homes.”

No products found.

If you read Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone, you may conclude that Amazon built the Alexa business unit so rapidly that any controls on usage of audio clips coming from Echo devices were inadequate.

But similar concerns exist around Amazon’s Ring Home Security Business Unit, that it acquired in 2018. Zach Whittaker at TechCrunch reported in 2021 that Ring received over 1,900 legal demands for access to video from customer’s installed doorbells and security cameras.

Ring is ostensibly a security camera company that makes devices you can put on your own homes, but it is increasingly also a tool of the state to conduct criminal investigations and surveillance.

–Matthew Guariglia, policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Ring refuses to say how many users had video footage obtained by police, TechCrunch, June 8, 2021

Comparing “Apples” and oranges?

If you argue that I’m comparing Apple’s privacy policies and features with those of Amazon Alexa and Ring from 2019 and 2021, please note that Ring did not implement end-to-end video encryption in its products until January 2021. And End to End Encryption (E2EE) is an option, rather than the default video security method.

Apple had HomeKit Secure Video in place at the release of iOS and iPadOS 13 in mid-September 2019.

Google Home Might Be Great, But It’s Got Some of the Same Security Questions Around It

Nearly everyone I talk to says that the Google Assistant you invoke by saying “OK Google” or “Hey Google” does really well with certain aspects of conversation, and it gets more answers correct to basic fact questions than Siri.

The Nest Mini and Nest Audio speakers look OK, albeit very similar to the HomePods.

The Google Home Automation Platform is not for us at our house, because:

  • I’ve never trusted Google with providing “free” services to me, since I realized that they extract personal information from me and my family, and sell it to other companies. This is not the way they treat all information, but they certainly treat some of my personal information that way.
  • I don’t want there to be significant differences between the questions the voice assistant in my car (Siri, because I use an iPhone with a CarPlay-compatible head unit), on my phone, on my watch, and on my smart speakers, can answer.

Most People Should Choose One User Experience, Not Two or Three

No matter how good Google’s answers to fact questions are versus those of Siri, it’s a waste of time for most people to interact with the smart devices in their lives in two different and somewhat incompatible ways. If you bought an iPhone and you love it, then I would argue, you should want more dimensions of the iPhone user experience in your life, rather than less.

And, if that’s the case, you should be trying to use HomeKit, not Google Home for your Home Automation needs.

OK, But What About Matter?

Matter is a cross-platform Home Automation standard that is supposed to make HomeKit, Google Home, and the Amazon Alexa ecosystems interoperate. In January 2023 there are not yet many Matter-compatible devices on the market.

When they become available, Matter-compatible devices should make buying new pieces of Home Automation for your house easier. But apps like Apple Home and customization solutions like Shortcuts will stay with us.

We may not talk about HomeKit as much in the future. But I don’t expect the HomeKit Frameworks that are built into iOS, iPadOS, WatchOS, MacOS, and iCloud to go away.


This article explains Operation Gadget‘s perspective on Home Automation.

If you are interested in “Home Automation in the Apple ecosystem,” I’m sure you will find future articles shorter and more interesting.