Apple needed to make a standalone HomeKit app

None of the smart device makers were doing a good job designing software.

HomeKit, Apple's platform for the Internet of Things, was introduced in 2014. Last year, hardware makers finally started selling devices with companion apps that supported the architecture. But the one thing missing from that platform was an accompanying app built by Apple. Instead, the company decided to let developers take care of that. Apple set up the framework and third parties were supposed to build a beautiful front end around it. But it didn't quite happen that way.

The newly announced Home app, which was previewed yesterday at WWDC, is a big deal for Apple and all the hardware makers that make use of HomeKit. The app has a customizable home screen with quick access to all your devices and "scenes" (think: how you want your smart home set up when you go to bed at night). You can control the brightness of a light with a tap, hold and slide. There are no sub-menus to navigate through and if you're not into launching an app, you can use Siri or swipe up from the lockscreen to access these features from the Control Center.

When it launches this fall alongside iOS 10, it'll have a level of integration you won't find from third parties. It's a sign that Apple is going all in on the connected home. This also frees up the companies building those devices to do what they do best: making tiny modules that let you remotely turn on your lights.

Until now, users have interacted with HomeKit-enabled products via Siri (good) or third-party apps (not so good). Sure, the software offerings from companies like Insteon, Lutron, iDevices and others work, but they don't feel particularly polished or intuitive. In some instances you even have to navigate in and out of sub-menus to do simple things like turn on a light. It all feels very... un-Apple.

Indeed, Apple's usual tack is to focus on making its products intuitive. From operating systems to apps, the company works hard to make sure you can accomplish your goal in a quick and easy fashion. For the most part (with iTunes being a notable exception), it's been successful.

That's why the release of HomeKit without a companion app from Apple was confusing. Friends and colleagues asked me what the HomeKit app was like. I had to explain that there wasn't one and that third parties would be building apps that used the platform. By the time I got to "platform" their eyes would glaze over.

Initially, even I thought there would be an app. It's what you expect from Apple. After all, they have apps for nearly everything else. They even have apps you don't want like Stock and Tips on the iPhone. (Fortunately, you'll soon be able to delete these.)

From the looks of the app shown on stage at WWDC, Apple finally built the app that we not only wanted, but needed. Like it or not, the Internet of Things will creep into our homes. Apple doesn't want to be left behind simply because it's waiting for hardware developers. Sometimes when you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

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