No one seemed to notice, but there's nothing new about Apple's HomeKit

By James Robinson , written on June 9, 2014

From The News Desk

There are some advantages to being Apple.

You throw a week long company conference and in the process receive a ton of free advertising. Announce a ‘new’ smart home product at said conference, and everyone is so out of breath taking it in to mention that another company beat you to the punch by two weeks.

But let's backtrack.

SmartThings is not Apple, but it is no also-ran. It's had a connected home hub and a series of sensors on the market for over a year now, essentially a home kit for IoT enthusiasts to connect up their lights, appliances and home security. The product was a Kickstarter-darling in 2012. In November 2013, Greylock Partners led its $12 million Series A round.

The company has seen some success. When I spoke to CEO Alex Hawkinson in the middle of May, he told me how in six months the average number of connected devices per user on its platform had doubled from five to ten.

On May 21, SmartThings announced its smart home platform. If you’ve followed the Apple smart home news, this is going to sound very similar. SmartThings announced that it was integrating its own platform of smart sensors and hubs with 100 connected devices: Sonos, Jawbone, Dropcam, August, Philips hue smart lights, and so on. Official partner devices would recieve SmartThings certification as a seal of approval.

In doing so, SmartThings would transform whatever device its app was installed on -- be it Android or iOS -- into the central remote control from the home.

The reaction? Articles like this: ‘SmartThings surges toward connected-home supremacy.’

People were impressed. Two weeks later, Apple announces HomeKit and it was like the SmartThings launch never happened.

There’s no difference between Apple’s HomeKit and the new SmartThings platform, right down to the irregular capitalization. But this isn’t Apple-bashing. The existence of the SmartThings iteration doesn’t make the HomeKit less worthwhile. There’s been an explosion of connected devices that have captured little market segments, and it makes powerful sense to work on bringing those devices together. In a race between SmartThings and Apple, you'd back Apple.

An Apple story is always going to be a bigger story. It’s granted a bias by proxy of its massive size and history. But given that it was largely the same set of publications reporting on both announcements, you’d think SmartThings’ announcement would get at least a contextual reference in reporting.


Slate talked about Apple offering a solution to smart device fragmentation like it was the only company to ever try. Mashable discussed how, with HomeKit, Apple had turned the smart home into a choice between Apple and Google, in spite of Google really only having Nest in its arsenal. TechCrunch praised Apple for creating a new smart home ecosystem. And so on. Scrolling through coverage, the only HomeKit article I could locate that mentioned SmartThings was a brief piece on NPR.

The WWDC is a woozy time for all tech enthusiasts, contemplating new Apple toys. But the reporting on HomeKit made no attempts to look backward, even a couple of weeks, and see what other products had been made that were like it.

We've all become a little Apple-smitten it seems, too ready to credit its every new product as peerless and original.

Or maybe two weeks is just too long for reporters to remember back.