Apple launches voice-controlled home security


  • Tech News
  • Saturday, 18 Jul 2015

AGNOSTIC: Lutron's Caseta Wireless dimmers are compatible with the Apple HomeKit. – Apple Store/TNS

AGNOSTIC: Lutron's Caseta Wireless dimmers are compatible with the Apple HomeKit. – Apple Store/TNS

"Hey, Siri, will home automation and smart security play a big part in my future?" 

Pundits have been saying just that, predicting a multibillion-dollar business built on web-connected home-control devices you install yourself or pay others to connect and monitor. 

And if you ask the dear girl today on your Apple smartphone or tablet, Siri will answer in the affirmative. Ditto local interested parties at Lehigh Valley's Lutron Electronics and Malvern's Zonoff Inc. 

Recently, Siri's corporate parent, Apple Inc., unveiled the first wave of home automation products sporting a "Works with Apple HomeKit" logo. Among them are light dimmers from Lutron, Elgato air and security monitors, an Ecobee thermostat, iHome SmartPlugs, and an Insteon smart home hub. 

Apple HomeKit features product compatibility with a new Apple-tuned communications and control platform built on the iOS 8 operating system for tablets and phones, plus a special chip in each HomeKit-branded device. 

"But voice control is what really sets HomeKit apart," said Matt Swatsky, product development manager for Lutron, the global giant in lighting control based in Coopersburg, and a participant in the HomeKit product launch. 

"If you've activated the 'Hey, Siri' alert function on your Apple phone or tablet, you don't even have to press the home button on the device, let alone open an app. A phone sitting on your night table will wake up and react to your voice when you say 'Hey, Siri, turn off the downstairs lights.' " 

That feat is achievable with Lutron's "generation 2" Caseta Wireless dimmers, lamp dimmers and control bridge in Apple stores – Lutron's first products sold there. 

"And with third-party apps on the way, you'll be able to trigger several actions at once. Say, issue a 'go to sleep' command that also turns down a thermostat and makes sure all the doors and windows are closed," Swatsky said. 

During a recent HomeKit audition, the voice-activated Caseta light switching seemed instantaneous, even though the command "goes up to the cloud and back again," Swatsky said. 

"It's also possible to send HomeKit commands from a location out of the house, but to do so you'll need a third-generation Apple TV to receive, then relay the messages." 

Meanwhile, Malvern product developer Zonoff, the brains behind the Staples Connect-branded home-control system, was not a party to the Apple HomeKit launch. 

Still, Zonoff's chief marketing officer, Kevin Garton, thinks heightened consumer awareness that Apple and other big players are bringing will help even the rivals and especially Zonoff's "works with-almost-everybody" control system strategy. 

"Last week, Google announced Project Brillo, a light, Android-based control system that could be cost effective for installing in small appliances," Garton said. 

"Amazon and Microsoft will have announcements in the next few months. When large technology players get involved in a market, it's ready for mass adoption. They're not interested in a hundred million business. They're interested in a billion dollar business." 

As financial services firm Goldman Sachs estimated in a recent investor report, the so-called Internet of Things has the potential to digitally connect as many as 28 billion gizmos, from bracelets to cars, by 2020. 

For example, acting like the Switzerland of home automation, a US$79.99 (RM304) D-Link Staples Connect hub steering the Zonoff Connected Home Software Platform packs the chips, radios and software necessary to communicate in five rival signalling formats – ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, WiFi and Lutron Clear Connect – then trigger all the products that work with each. Plus numerous varieties of smart light bulbs, door locks, security cameras, and even to Bose's Internet-radio-streaming SoundTouch speakers. 

"So different stations could be programmed to play when you turn on the lights in the kitchen or the dining room," the Zonoff's Garton said. 

No monthly charges are attached to a Staples Connect rig, as there are with systems installed by Comcast/Xfinity, Verizon, ADT Pulse, and Alarm.com. And the Zonoff platform could be trained to work with HomeKit, if Apple decides to open its application programming interface, Garton said. 

Bolstered by a recent private equity investment of US$31.8mil (RM121.06mil) and total funding of US$35.6mil (RM135.53mil), Zonoff has been adding staff and space in Malvern, Pa., and looking to expand with retail partners and in new markets from home builders to health care monitoring to insurance companies. 

Example: Zonoff is "in trial" with a large insurer for a home system with flood detectors that could prevent "a disastrous situation in the home," Garton said. – The Philadelphia Inquirer/Tribune News Service