Is Apple going ease off its HomeKit chokehold? Sure looks like it...

Decision to join Google-y Internet-of-Things-ish Thread Group intrigues


Analysis Apple may have finally concluded that its attempt to force people to use only its technology to control their smart-home automation equipment is doomed to failure.

This week, the computing giant popped up as a member of the Google-led Thread Group, sparking speculation over whether Apple's HomeKit will support the low-power mesh networking protocol.

Up until now, Apple has adopted its typical my-way-or-the-highway approach to smart home technology, even ending up in the ludicrous position where it forced device manufacturers to add a special Apple-specified microcontroller and firmware to their products if they wanted their kit to work with Apple's iThings via HomeKit.

In other words, if you made smart-home stuff, and you want it to be controlled from iOS or macOS, you needed to place Apple-picked electronics in your system. These extra components would perform the cryptography and other operations needed to secure the connection between a person's iPhone, iPad or Mac, and the smart-home equipment. Not a bad way to enforce security, yet not a great way to make friends in the consumer hardware world: virtually no manufacturer was interested.

Apple pulls massive HomeKit chip U-turn to keep up with Amazon Echo and Google Home

READ MORE

Apple eventually backtracked on that decision, and implemented authentication through software after the broader smart-home market decided not to bother with what it saw as Cupertino control freakery.

HomeKit still only works over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and adoption has been painfully slow. With the smart home market finally showing signs of taking off, it appears Apple has reappraised the situation again, and decided that it needs to be able to work with others' products – or, at least, not force manufacturers to produce special Apple-only versions of their products.

Apple has joined the Thread Group at the highest level – giving it a seat on the board – so it appears to be a serious strategic shift by Silicon Valley's idiot-tax operation rather than just a way to keep tabs on its competitors. We would not be at all surprised to see the Biz finally give HomeKit a proper launch at its annual September product hype-festival.

Adoption rates

Apple has started investing heavily in the smart-home-related products – chasing Amazon and Google's digital assistants with its own HomePod – and, amazingly, it may not be too late to the party given the slow take-up of smart-home gadgetry.

On a bigger scale, the decision may point to the tech industry finally rallying around a single standard for the smart home, rather the painful collection of incompatible protocols that have done as much to stifle consumer demand as fears over security.

Amazon has gone all-in on smart-home tech thanks to the unexpected success of its Alexa voice-guided digital assistant, buying smart-home outfit Ring for a billion dollars earlier this year. Although it doesn't support Thread in its products, Amazon's research group Lab126 is a member of the Thread Group, again suggesting that it is seriously considering adding the protocol to its products.

And, of course, Google – which started the Thread Group along with chip designer Arm in 2014 before opening it up in 2016 – uses the protocol, pushing it into its Nest gizmos.

As such, the stage is set for all the big tech players to agree on a standard that will help everyone in the market interoperate. A critical shift may have been the decision by specialist IoT protocol Zigbee to collaborate with the Thread Group, making them compatible and opening up new possibilities.

Nice threads

Thread is an IP-based networking protocol that creates a low-power wireless mesh. That is critical for two reasons: smart-home devices cannot use a lot of power, and the mesh aspect means that you don't need a special hub to get different products communicating with one another. Hundreds of devices can talk to one another via this approach.

At one point, the majority of smart-home products required their own hub, leading to the ridiculous situation where you would have to plug in and connect multiple different machines to get each system working – none of which would communicate with the others. It was the antithesis of what a smart home is supposed to be.

There are other advantages to Thread: it uses IPv6 – which means it will be forward-compatible as the networking world slowly shifts to the new protocol – and it offers high-level encryption at low power. It also runs over existing IEEE 802.15.4 radio networks.

Apple's decision to join The Thread Group, therefore, is a big plus for pretty much everyone: it means that users of Android or iPhones, owners of Nest or Alexa, and manufacturers of the full range of smart home technology from smart locks to sockets to lights to thermostats, should be able to implement a single solution and communicating with whatever else is already in someone's home.

We have asked Apple for an explanation of its decision, and any information on possible future products. We've even asked – yet again – to attend its September launch event where we guess it will announce a new HomeKit approach. We will let you know if the frosty folks at Cupertino thaw out enough to talk to us. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Everything you wanted to know about modern network congestion control but were perhaps too afraid to ask

    In which a little unfairness can be quite beneficial

    Systems Approach It’s hard not to be amazed by the amount of active research on congestion control over the past 30-plus years. From theory to practice, and with more than its fair share of flame wars, the question of how to manage congestion in the network is a technical challenge that resists an optimal solution while offering countless options for incremental improvement.

    This seems like a good time to take stock of where we are, and ask ourselves what might happen next.

    Congestion control is fundamentally an issue of resource allocation — trying to meet the competing demands that applications have for resources (in a network, these are primarily link bandwidth and router buffers), which ultimately reduces to deciding when to say no and to whom. The best framing of the problem I know traces back to a paper [PDF] by Frank Kelly in 1997, when he characterized congestion control as “a distributed algorithm to share network resources among competing sources, where the goal is to choose source rate so as to maximize aggregate source utility subject to capacity constraints.”

    Continue reading
  • How business makes streaming faster and cheaper with CDN and HESP support

    Ensure a high video streaming transmission rate

    Paid Post Here is everything about how the HESP integration helps CDN and the streaming platform by G-Core Labs ensure a high video streaming transmission rate for e-sports and gaming, efficient scalability for e-learning and telemedicine and high quality and minimum latencies for online streams, media and TV broadcasters.

    HESP (High Efficiency Stream Protocol) is a brand new adaptive video streaming protocol. It allows delivery of content with latencies of up to 2 seconds without compromising video quality and broadcasting stability. Unlike comparable solutions, this protocol requires less bandwidth for streaming, which allows businesses to save a lot of money on delivery of content to a large audience.

    Since HESP is based on HTTP, it is suitable for video transmission over CDNs. G-Core Labs was among the world’s first companies to have embedded this protocol in its CDN. With 120 points of presence across 5 continents and over 6,000 peer-to-peer partners, this allows a service provider to deliver videos to millions of viewers, to any devices, anywhere in the world without compromising even 8K video quality. And all this comes at a minimum streaming cost.

    Continue reading
  • Cisco deprecates Microsoft management integrations for UCS servers

    Working on Azure integration – but not there yet

    Cisco has deprecated support for some third-party management integrations for its UCS servers, and emerged unable to play nice with Microsoft's most recent offerings.

    Late last week the server contender slipped out an end-of-life notice [PDF] for integrations with Microsoft System Center's Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, and Virtual Machine Manager. Support for plugins to VMware vCenter Orchestrator and vRealize Orchestrator have also been taken out behind an empty rack with a shotgun.

    The Register inquired about the deprecations, and has good news and bad news.

    Continue reading
  • Protonmail celebrates Swiss court victory exempting it from telco data retention laws

    Doesn't stop local courts' surveillance orders, though

    Encrypted email provider Protonmail has hailed a recent Swiss legal ruling as a "victory for privacy," after winning a lawsuit that sees it exempted from data retention laws in the mountainous realm.

    Referring to a previous ruling that exempted instant messaging services from data capture and storage laws, the Protonmail team said this week: "Together, these two rulings are a victory for privacy in Switzerland as many Swiss companies are now exempted from handing over certain user information in response to Swiss legal orders."

    Switzerland's Federal Administrative Court ruled on October 22 that email providers in Switzerland are not considered telecommunications providers under Swiss law, thereby removing them from the scope of data retention requirements imposed on telcos.

    Continue reading
  • Japan picks AWS and Google for first gov cloud push

    Local players passed over for Digital Agency’s first project

    Japan's Digital Agency has picked Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud for its first big reform push.

    The Agency started operations in September 2021, years after efforts like the UK's Government Digital Service (GDS) or Australia's Digital Transformation Agency (DTA). The body was a signature reform initiated by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who spent his year-long stint in the top job trying to curb Japan's reliance on paper documents, manual processes, and faxes. Japan's many government agencies also operated their websites independently of each other, most with their own design and interface.

    The new Agency therefore has a remit to "cut across all ministries" and "provide services that are driven not toward ministries, agency, laws, or systems, but toward users and to improve user-experience".

    Continue reading
  • Singaporean minister touts internet 'kill switch' that finds kids reading net nasties and cuts 'em off ASAP

    Fancies a real-time crowdsourced content rating scheme too

    A Minister in the Singapore government has suggested the creation of an internet kill switch that would prevent minors from reading questionable material online – perhaps using ratings of content created in real time by crowdsourced contributors.

    "The post-COVID world will bring new challenges globally, including to us in the security arena," said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at a Tuesday ceremony to award the city-state's 2021 Defense Technology Prize.

    "For operations, the SAF (Singapore Armed Force) has to expand its capabilities in the digital domain. Whether for administrative or operational purposes, I think that we will need to leverage technology to the maximum," he declared.

    Continue reading
  • China Telecom booted out of USA as Feds worry it could disrupt or spy on local networks

    FCC urges more action against Huawei and DJI, too

    The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has terminated China Telecom's authority to provide communications services in the USA.

    In its announcement of the termination, the government agency explained the decision is necessary because the national security environment has changed in the years since 2002. That was when China Telecom was first allowed to operate in the USA.

    The FCC now believes – partly based on classified advice from national security agencies – that China Telecom can "access, store, disrupt, and/or misroute US communications, which in turn allow them to engage in espionage and other harmful activities against the United States." And because China Telecom is state-controlled, China's government can compel the carrier to act as it sees fit, without judicial review or oversight.

    Continue reading
  • Qualcomm gets news of modest Snapdragons out of the way before next month's big chip launch

    A little more oomph coming for cheaper smartphones

    Budget smartphones these days do OK with 5G though lack performance in other areas, and so Qualcomm has promised some system-on-chips to give these modest devices some more oomph.

    The processors, announced on Tuesday for entry and mid-range 5G smartphones, also clears the deck for big chip announcements Qualcomm is expected to make at its Snapdragon Tech Summit starting at the end of next month.

    The 6nm Snapdragon 695 5G, unveiled this week, is a successor to the 8nm 690 5G used in the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, which is priced under $300, and various other handhelds.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021