Apple’s annual worldwide developer conference (WWDC2019) is underway in San Jose, California this week. Thousands of software developers are following along in person and remotely to learn the new operating system features to harness for future app development. Yesterday, CEO Tim Cook gave a keynote address that illuminated the upcoming software updates for phones, watches, computers, tablets and even HomeKit, Apple’s smart home ecosystem.
When you think of a smart home, you likely think of a Google hub or an Amazon Alexa device before you think of Apple. For one, the Apple HomePod smart speaker, which anchors the system, starts at $299, a considerably higher entry level price point than its competitors. Google and Amazon offer more affordable devices and a larger selection of them. And while Siri blazed a trail for other artificially intelligent voice assistants, many gearheads report that Siri has been surpassed by the capabilities of Google Assistant and Alexa. Nevertheless, Apple is holding the smart home course and it announced a few key updates and features to the HomeKit environment.
HomeKit Ecosystem & Privacy Updates
If you have a security camera that stores data on the cloud, you’re right to be concerned about privacy and hackability. Most security experts caution you to always weigh the potential benefits over the risks before adding any type of connected device to your home. Apple seeks to lower some of the risks associated with smart homes and connected wireless security cameras by changing the way its HomeKit ecosystem handles data.
HomeKit Secure Video is a software feature that will allow home security camera footage to be analyzed and encrypted on a local device before it is stored on the iCloud. Normally, software processes like motion detection and facial recognition actually happen after the footage is sent to the cloud. This change makes it harder for anyone with malicious intent to access your video footage. HomeKit-ready cameras from security leaders like Arlo and Logitech have already integrated this technology and more manufacturers are expected to follow suit.
HomeKit-enabled routers will also have improved security options, which will allow you to put up a firewall between your smart home devices and the rest of your Wi-Fi network, which can be a very effective anti-hacking measure. This feature isn’t entirely unique to HomeKit, but the integration should make it easier to set up with your Apple products. Routers from Linksys, Eero and Spectrum are some of the early adopters.
Improvements to Apple HomePod
Beyond security improvements to the HomeKit environment, the HomePod hub is also receiving a few upgrades. First, we can expect Siri to sound a little less robotic soon. Until this point, her voice has been made of extensively manipulated previously recorded audio clips. With this software update, her voice will become entirely generated by a neural text-to-speech program, which should result in a more natural-sounding (through entirely artificial) speech.
There will also be better multi-user support within HomePod, as well as improved abilities to share music between iPhone, HomePod and AirPod accessories.
When Will These Updates Come To My Smart Home?
Apple announces these software updates ahead of their official release so that developers and manufacturers have time to incorporate them into their consumer-facing technology. Apple hasn’t set an official date yet, but we can expect these software changes to go live sometime in September 2019.