Given the past few years of history, I wasn’t expecting to hear much about HomeKit this week from Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference. And yet Apple proved me wrong, announcing HomeKit in routers and more secure video from HomeKit-enabled webcams. Oh, and that video ties directly into Apple’s iCloud plans, which could generate more revenue for the company as well.
IoT devices on home networks have long been a concern of many homeowners and for good reason: It seems like once a month we hear about some security issue with certain IoT devices that could allow a nefarious third-party to access your home’s data or remotely control something in your home. Apparently, Apple decided to address this valid concern through the home router. Or more specifically, a home router from specific companies that are willing to work with Apple.
The details are murky but from what I can tell, a HomeKit router will firewall off your IoT devices from accessing the rest of your home network. Clearly, as a smart home owner, you’d have to be able to connect to these devices for information, notifications, and automations from your network. So my educated guess is that HomeKit device applications can push through the firewall to make such requests, but the devices themselves can’t view or request data on your side of the network.
We’ll have to hear more from Apple on the implementation to better understand the security aspect of course. And HomeKit devices themselves are generally considered very secure due to the hardware and software protections built in. So a router with this HomeKit security could be the last piece to the puzzle of smart home security for the Apple users out there. Linksys, Eero, and cable company Spectrum are the first router providers that will bring this to market later this year.
Network security is one thing but home privacy is another considering how many webcams are in people’s houses these days. HomeKit has a place here as well, according to Apple, which introduced its new HomeKit Secure Video API this week. Frankly, I’m more intrigued by this than I am by the router developments.
With most webcams today, video is captured locally, sent to the cloud for analysis and a related webcam app may then take action based on the data. Notifications that someone is at your front door, for example, or an unrecognized person is in your home are two possible use cases.
Being more privacy-centric, Apple says that when HomeKit Secure Video API is used with a compatible webcam, all of the data analysis is performed locally on a HomeKit hub. And by HomeKit Hub, I mean an iPad, HomePod or AppleTV device. This reduces any risk of the video data sent to the webcam manufacturer’s servers.
What about saved video clips, you might be wondering. After all, most webcam providers store these in the cloud for you, often for a monthly fee. Apple is cutting these companies – think Ring, Nest, Netgear, Wyze, and others – out of the loop here, both with your video clips and that monthly revenue.
Instead, HomeKit-enabled webcams send the video files to iCloud for up to 10 days so you can review them if you need to. Those files get encrypted before being uploaded and not even Apple can see the contents of them on the iCloud servers. The icing on the cake is that video files won’t count against existing iCloud storage depending on your iCloud plan and the number of cameras you have. Video storage for a single camera will be free with the 200GB iCloud plan while subscribers with a 2TB plan won’t pay to store video for up to five cameras.
Will hardware companies actually enable the HomeKit Secure Video API in their webcams, knowing that their service revenues will take a hit? I think so because if they don’t, they run the risk of competing companies earning more hardware sales from privacy-centric HomeKit users.
So in one fell swoop with this new API, Apple has cut out security concerns of unencrypted, very personal video data going to third-parties, potentially removed some monthly fees from customers who pay to store that data and may even add some extra iCloud revenues to its coffers. Apple says forthcoming cameras from Logitech, Eufy, and Netatmo will be the first to use the new HomeKit Secure Video API.
On a lesser but still important note, Apple is making life a little easier in the HomeKit home too with its Siri Shortcuts app being pre-installed on iOS devices with iOS 13 this fall. This app will make it easier to set up HomeKit automations through a dedicated tab in the app.
And here I thought HomeKit wasn’t that exciting of late. Well played, Apple. Well played.