Home Automation Controller: Is the Apple Watch the New Frontier?


With the Apple Watch slated to hit stores in April, and commercials for the hot new wearable from Cupertino airing during the NCAA basketball tournament, you are probably wondering whether or not this smartwatch makes sense for you? If you’ve already made an investment in building a digital smart home at your residence, the Apple Watch might end up being a great Home Automation controller.

Most, if not all, HA systems now on the market offer some form of device control using a smartphone or tablet, so it is reasonable to expect Home Automation system developers to provide similar functionality using the Apple Watch or some other wearable device. If you are interested in what the Apple Watch might bring to the Home Automation scene, then read further.

The Apple Watch is a Natural Fit with Apple’s HomeKit

Apple first announced HomeKit, their foray into the Home Automation sector, last June as part of their iOS 8 mobile operating system keynote. Since then, information about this new feature remains somewhat limited, although there were some product announcements at this year’s CES show in January. When HomeKit actually enters the mainstream, it stands to reason that the Apple Watch, as well as the iPad and iPhone, will all offer Home Automation controller functionality.

Apple products tend to foster a “walled-garden” scenario where they function better in concert with other Apple devices. One rumor out of CES 2015 stated that you could use Siri to remotely control your HomeKit HA system with your iPhone — and potentially the Apple Watch — but only if you already owned an Apple TV box. Considering that a policy like that might force consumers into a non-Apple solution for their own smart home, hopefully that is a rumor that won’t come to fruition.

Still, existing home automation systems already offer iOS device control without using HomeKit, so similar functionality is probably already in the works from HA system programmers developing the apps that run on the Apple Watch. The bottom line is that HomeKit isn’t a requirement for controlling Home Automation and Home Security systems today using iOS, and hopefully Apple keeps that same policy.

From a device manufacturer standpoint, it makes no sense for companies like SmartThings to produce “Apple HomeKit only” versions of their products since their customers are already able to use an iOS device for system control. The fact that HomeKit is still in a pre-release mode almost a year after its first announcement hints at Apple still refining their policies while focused on ensuring the Apple Watch successfully makes it to market.

Actionable Home Automation Notifications Make the Most Sense for the Apple Watch

The most obvious scenario for using an Apple Watch to control your Home Automation system is based around the actionable notifications used today with smartphones and tablets. The Apple Watch must be tethered to an iPhone, so if that iPhone receives a notification from one of the devices in your system, it can easily be displayed on the Watch. Additionally, this use-case allows you to react to that message by turning an alarm off or changing the temperature on a smart thermostat all using the Apple Watch, while the iPhone stays in your pocket or purse.

Apple’s most recent keynote presentation on the Apple Watch earlier in March spent some time demoing this exact functionality where a user successfully opened a door while watching from a live video feed using their Cupertino smartwach. The demo used third-party apps developed by the Home Automation company, Alarm.com. Another HA veteran, Lutron, is slated to have an Apple Watch app available at the smartwatch’s launch that allows easy control of your smart home’s lighting.

Ultimately, if you are already a big Apple fan, rest assured that the Apple Watch will soon be an option for controlling your Home Automation system — whether or not you invest in HomeKit branded devices. As previously noted, third-party systems already allow iOS device control without HomeKit, and Apple would be doing their customers a disservice by retroactively restricting functionality. If Cupertino does in fact restrict things, expect an Android smartwatch to fill the void, provided Home Automation continues on its upward market trend.

Photo Credit: Martin Hajek