back to article Apple launches incredible features everyone else had more than a year ago – this time for the 'smart home'

Apple has added facial recognition and new automation features to its smart home products, edging its HomeKit system forward while still playing catch-up in the market. At its WWDC virtual event this week, the tech titan offered a range of improvements to its various smart home and internet-of-things products, including a …

  1. Khaptain Silver badge

    What's the true cost ?

    Let's look at the situation from the opposite point of view : What do I lose by not having this tech at home ?

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: What's the true cost ?

      For me it’s useful to turn the tv’s and lights off when I come in and find no one else here and can’t find the remote and the tv is on pause and looks like it was paused hours ago.

      If I could have automation automatically do that for me I’d be happy, would be great to turn the heating off when the patio door is wide open too -obviously opened after I’ve been asked to turn said heating on.

      The automation tech is meant to be a fill in rather than a go to.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: What's the true cost ?

        I'm not convinced the expense and security is worth it. If you can open the door, or turn on things, it's only a short hack, or an off-by-one error in a customer database somewhere, away from that happening without your will/knowledge.

        You're burgled. You tell them the door is under cloud control. There's no other obvious sign of forced entry. (shrug) Uninsured. You have no idea what actually happened or didn't.

        And this stuff is going out to the cloud, or your phone wouldn't be working it. And likely even when you're only on local wifi. There was nothing wrong with a local X10 setup but now everything is configured or proxied via cloud-based apps. It just doesn't seem right. The surface area of attack just rose enormously because you have some crappy lightbulb on your 2.4GHz wifi, with all the keys etc. plugged in, and talking home to some random Chinese server to interface with Google Home or whatever.

        And though lights and things are fairly harmless, when you start putting heating and other stuff on, you get to the point where things can be extremely expensive and/or dangerous if people can switch them on and off.

        I'm a tech guy. If I want a light to go on and off, I'll fit a timer or a PIR that detects movement. If I want the heating to compensate for the patio door, there are literal thermostats that will detect such situations and alert you (even over text if you want). At no point do I need to involve my wifi network, Apple or Google to do such things.

        I'm not one of those paranoid "I won't use Chrome" people - I have to trust that Google treat my data in accordance with DPA, GDPR, etc. and anyone who can override that is breaking the law and/or is the law themselves. But the chain of dependency, and the unnecessary third-parties, I just find dodgy.

        Then you start adding in cameras, and before you know it, any one of several thousand employees at Google/Apple not only can see your front door and when you left for work, but they know where you hid the key, or have a button to open the door (or even the rear patio), and a mate who lives down the road who's short of money.

        Hell, I'm suspicious of airport parking - those people have my name, address, and know exactly when I'll be on holiday and when I'll return. I find that disconcerting. It's not that I don't trust Stansted, but that I have to trust *every* employee in the chain with access to that information, who may never get traced even if they discover they have a major breach of confidentiality on their hands.

        Now the guy at Stansted would have to go look at my house and figure out a way in and wouldn't know if I had an alarm, a neighbour staying there, or remote cameras or whatever, so they probably wouldn't take the risk and are no better off than any burglar. But the guy who's got a slog-job at Google or some contractor, has access to all that information and devices and is required to sit at a desk all day doing some boring analysis/customer support work and decides to go rogue? Him I worry about. And his mates.

        This stuff is fun and gimmicky. There are uses (don't doubt it - when I get old and infirm, I ain't getting up from the sofa to switch on the light! I've actually argued that all homes should have central-computer-controlled lights, heating, etc. rather than switches and cables pulled through every part of the wall). But the cloud-interjection and run of your local network is unnecessary.

        I'm actually more tempted to buy a bunch of dumb remote switches and sensors (433MHz or whatever) and a control module for a Pi and do the logic myself (even have voice control with certain built-for-home-automation distros).

        1. Wade Burchette Silver badge

          Re: What's the true cost ?

          Before Alexa there were systems that for physically handicap that controlled your lights, doors, etc. They did not Amazon or Google or any cloud service to do it, either. You just needed a computer in the home and it was done through the local network. If ever I get to the point where I am unable to walk 5 feet to flip a light switch, I will only get a system where it is limited to the local network and that would also be limited to approved devices only. No foreign MAC addresses allowed! I would never ever trust a for-profit business with the keys to my house.

        2. Piro

          Re: What's the true cost ?

          You're right of course. There are very useful scenarios for certain things (I'd never go back to lights I have to manually turn on in the morning.. having the house bright when I wake up at 6am in the dead of winter is something that basically necessary to even have a chance of getting my going), but there's never any good reason to have built in kit that is reliant on external connections.

          I'm not investing in kit that I'll build in to my home that will die and fall over if my internet connection is down - that's simply stupidity.

        3. Headley_Grange Silver badge

          Re: What's the true cost ?

          @Lee - I agree with you from a personal point of view and I've got no desire ever to be able to turn stuff on and off remotely because the convenience doesn't compensate for the risks it seems to hold. However, the security points you make could have been made about, say, air travel when it first started. Aircraft and air traffic management have hundreds, if not thousands, of potentially catastrophic and lethal failures modes. However, with standards, regulations, technology, training, certification, liability, etc. air travel turned out to be pretty safe. I appreciate that the analogy is lacking in some areas - miscreants aren't trying remotely to crash aircraft (or maybe the are) but in principle the same approach to standards, regulations, certification, etc. could deliver much safer IoT stuff - albeit at a cost. I guess it's a combination of the cost and the haste with which manufacturers are proceeding in fear of missing the boat that means it'll be the wild west for a long while yet.

        4. HildyJ Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: What's the true cost ?

          As an old user of X10, I agree with you. I found it to be basically a fun toy that I didn't particularly need. Now the most intelligent thing in my house (possibly including me) is my programmable thermostat which only talks to the furnace and air conditioner and doesn't know the cloud exists.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: What's the true cost ?

      > What do I lose by not having this tech at home ?

      If you're able-bodied, you might be missing nothing by having no IoT tech. However, with a little imagination it is not hard to see some use-cases that greatly benefit some people.

      One would hope that the market matures so that the security, privacy, ease of use, reliability and interoperability are such that those people who might greatly benefit from home automation can easily make use of it without worry.

    3. Spanners Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: What's the true cost ?

      I do not have the whole set of IOT but my Ring Doorbell does talk to Alexa.

      This has the interesting benefit of when someone from Just Eat comes round and very quietly taps on my door but does not bother to ring the bell, Alexa tells me that there's someone at the door.

      I was curious why some of them could not understand about the doorbell but apparently some of them are scared of technology...

      1. TheProf Silver badge

        Re: What's the true cost ?

        "someone from Just Eat comes round and very quietly taps on my door"

        Quietly taps? I know when a house down the road is getting a delivery. They must employ gorillas at my local office.

        1. Spanners Silver badge

          Re: What's the true cost ?

          I think we've for Marmosets or something then.

  2. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Yeah, Apple appear to be playing catch-up in the home automation game, but I have sympathy for their original approach of requiring Home Kit stuff to contain an Apple chip. True, the chip added expense, Apple's certification of 3rd party kit took a long time, most 3rd party vendors didn't bother, and ultimately Home Kit didn't take off, but at least Apple didn't get associated with the insecure junk or blatant data siphoning. Such negsruve connotations would have had an impact on Apple's wider business. So, they didn't win, but they didn't lose, either.

    If many consumers chose to buy insecure, privacy inclvading kit because it was cheap and easy... then that's on them, and Apple's approach can't really be labelled 'stupid'.

    Context: I have no IoT kit. If and when it is secure, reliable and straight forward, and offered tangible benefits (energy saving, for example) I might consider it. Given the aging population in developed countries, there will be a role for home automation to make life easier for less abled people and ease the burden on home care.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love Apple.

    1. circusmole

      Thank you...

      ...for this thoughtful, expansive and deeply considered contribution to this thread.

    2. Anonymous Coward
    3. HildyJ Silver badge
      Devil

      Stain

      I like blueberry more. It may stain my teeth but it doesn't stain my wallet.

    4. O RLY

      I'm a big fan of Raspberries. There are about seven in my gaff running a variety of things, including an outdoor weather station (currently down for upgrades), a controller for my 3D printer, and a media player.

  4. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    What happens when some privacy-invading cloud providers get together and make a standard?

    The “Connected Home over IP” will be an IP-based protocol so it can connect directly to the network and internet rather than require a hub

    They say a hub not necessary, your lightbulbs, switches, blinds, thermostats, cameras, etc... must connect directly to the Internet and give them that data. Those open source hub solutions looked like they were in danger of getting somewhere.

  5. iron Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Soon I won't be willing to vist anyone's home until they provide me with a signed statement that they do not own any constantly listening spy devices or facial recognition cameras.

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Alien

      "a signed statement"

      Just wear a surgical mask and don't pose for any selfies in it.

  6. PhilipN

    Got it all

    Lighting remote control : called a Wall Switch

    Etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Got it all

      That's a lighting control unit

      The remote control is a long stick.

  7. MJBadagliacco

    Right...

    Problem is, nobody cared for the past year until now when Apple released its version! LOL

  8. jvf

    I'm out

    Oh Boy! More farcial recognition. I'm going to cut off my head.

  9. Ribfeast

    We have a couple of Efergy EGO smart wifi switches. Can turn them on and off remotely, and they also meter power, can see live power stats in the app, can set timers etc.

    We use one for the stable lights, so they come off and on at a certain time. More reliable than the mechanical timer switches, as they don't have the time go out of whack when there is a power outage.

    The other is hooked up to our electric fence energizer, so when I'm out in a paddock I can turn the fence off remotely and fix sections.

    1. KevSilk

      We have a similar use case

      i have a couple of wifi smart plugs - i've flashed them to tasmota so no talking to the cloud, they only talk to homeassistant on a raspberrypi. 1 turns on some leds outside on the deck when the sun goes down and off at 11pm. the other connects to a separate router for the kids ipads that sits in the roof above their bedrooms. The plug turns on the power at 8am and off at 6pm. I could setup something similar on the main router if i paid to upgrade it. This solution cost me AU$9 and about 30 minutes of my time.

  10. one crazy media

    Yep, they had the feature! Didn't work reliably for me. Maybe, Apple added reliability into the feature.

    Most vendors push out products w/o adequately testing for reliable and consistent operation to advertise a feature to sell more products. Apple on the other hand only releases features after thoroughly testing.

    Makes a big difference to me.

  11. Charles2

    It does work locally

    “It remains to be seen if it can make a facial-recognition system using video work locally reliably. It’s much harder than just using a snapshot of people faces to open an iPhone, for example.“

    Netatmo Welcome homekit cameras had this feature working locally for years, both for the training of the neural network and its use. The face recognition feature UI was by the app, not by homekit obviously. One needs to manually tag the faces to persons, but after a month of tagging, the recognition is accurate enough.

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