Apple Unveils New HomeKit Features, Smart Home Alliance Alongside tvOS 14

HomeKit 2 Credit: Apple
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During today’s WWDC 2020 presentation, Apple announced several upcoming HomeKit features along with the release of tvOS 14, effectively combining the set-top box software update into a broader “Home” category of announcements.

Apple’s tvOS updates typically haven’t introduced nearly as many new features as the company’s actual mobile OS updates, which probably isn’t surprising as there’s only so much for Apple to do with its set-top box right now. While a new Apple TV is still rumoured to be in the works, Apple had nothing to say about that today, and the updates to tvOS itself received only passing mention as part of several new home features that are essentially being baked into Apple’s entire lineup of software updates.

Common Home Standard

Late last year we heard about a new smart home alliance that promised to finally bring together the confusing mish-mash of home automation standards into a single unified, open system, ending the siloed nature of smart home ecosystems and promoting interoperability between accessories from different brands and vendors.

While Apple didn’t go into a lot of detail today, it did announce that it’s open-sourcing HomeKit and confirmed that it’s now working with Amazon, Google, and a list of other industry leaders to create this common standard, which will hopefully bring a huge list of other compatible accessories into the HomeKit ecosystem.

Improved Setup Process

Perhaps as part of this new alliance, it also looks like Apple will be making it easier to set up new accessories in HomeKit, with a simpler tap or scan system that moves away from the older numeric codes.

In addition, adding a new accessory will automatically suggest useful automations to help users get started, or simply add new accessories where they’re most appropriate. For example, pairing a new light will automatically suggest adding it to the “Good Night” scene to turn it off at bedtime.

The Home app in iOS 14 is also gaining a new section at the top that will prioritize accessories that are important or need attention. For example, showing you when your doors are unlocked, or when lights are left on at times that that shouldn’t normally be left on.

Adaptive Lighting

We heard rumours about this one earlier this year, dubbed HomeKit Night Shift, and it basically looks like HomeKit will now allow more intelligent and automated lighting schedules that can vary the color temperatures of smart lights for different times of the day.

For example, you could shift lighting away from the blue end of the spectrum at night for a more relaxing bedtime scene, while going with brighter and whiter lighting during the mornings.

Activity Zones and Facial Recognition

Last year Apple introduced HomeKit Secure Video, offering much tighter integration with cameras than it previously offered, and it’s expanding that this year with a couple of very useful new features.

Activity Zones will allow users to specify the areas where a HomeKit camera will sense motion and send alerts and notifications. This can be useful for things like doorbell cameras that may point at a busy street; you don’t want to get notifications every time a pedestrian or a car passes by, but you do want to know when somebody walks up to your front porch.

In addition, Apple is also adding Face Recognition so it can automatically tell you who is at your front door, or even when a family member enters a certain room. This will apparently use the facial recognition data from your Photos library so that it can automatically recognize all of your friends and family by name.

Doorbell Notifications

Further, HomePod will apparently gain the ability with iOS 14 to actually announce who is at the door when your doorbell rings. While Apple didn’t have much else to say about HomePod, this will be the first time that Apple has added any proactive notifications to the smart speaker, which piques our interest as to what other things could be coming other than just doorbell notifications.

Along the same lines, tvOS 14 will also offer up a live view of your front door when somebody rings the bell, which looks like it will appear as a picture-in-picture overlay over whatever you’re already watching. You’ll also be able to call up your HomeKit cameras via Siri or a new Home View that will be available in the tvOS 14 Control Center.

New Game Controllers

Last year Apple added support for PS4 and Xbox controllers to the Apple TV, and this year its expanding that into Xbox Elite 2 and Xbox Adaptive controllers.

Apple has even gone so far as to sell Xbox controllers in the Apple Store, so it seems like we can expect it to soon include these additional models as well, at least until it develops its own game controller, if the rumours are true.

Picture in Picture Improvements

Along with the picture in picture improvements coming to iOS 14, it looks like tvOS 14 is gaining more comprehensive support for the feature as well, with Apple noting that it will now work “across the entire Apple TV experience.”

This includes letting AirPlay videos from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac show up in a picture-in-picture window, as well as likely enabling more tvOS apps to take advantage of the feature, rather than just Apple’s own TV app.

Apple also noted that it will also now be possible to stream 4K video to the Apple TV via AirPlay, which was previously limited to 1080p video. It seems likely that this will also require iOS 14, iPadOS 14, or macOS Big Sur on the transmitting end.

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