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HomeKit news in iOS 11 at a glance

HomeKit news in iOS 11 at a glance

In iOS 11 Apple significantly extends the HomeKit Smart Home platform.

Among the best news: The removal of the strict necessity for the Apple Authentication Coprocessor notably reduces the entry barrier and enables manufacturers to get devices already in customers’ hands HomeKit-enabled solely via a firmware update.

As one of Europe’s biggest integrators specialized in HomeKit Accessories, grandcentrix informs concisely on the most relevant extensions and new features in iOS 11 regarding HomeKit.

Authentication Coprocessor no longer mandatory

One of the entry barriers for manufacturers of HomeKit accessories used to be the strict necessity for integrating Apple’s Authentication Coprocessor. Devices which had already been produced or even shipped could not be retrofitted to support HomeKit since this required changes to actual hardware. Manufacturers who wanted to populate the MFi chip needed an MFi Manufacturing License which in turn required an audit by Apple.
With iOS 11 Apple introduces Software-based Authentication and thereby removes the necessity for including the additional Authentication Coprocessor.

In reply to an inquiry by grandcentrix, Cupertino confirmed in writing that the MFi Chip will no longer be required for newly introduced HomeKit Accessories (“commercial use”). Trade press sources are still cautiously ambiguous regarding this aspect.

So far unreleased are the implementation details of the new Software-based Authentication. Apple suggest that it could be easier for manufacturers to keep including the chip. This might indicate that the solution involves complex cryptographics processes or that device-individual digital signatures will be necessary.
Also still unclear is whether mass producing HomeKit Accessories using Software-based Authentication will further on mandate a Licensed MFi Manufacturing partner. grandcentrix supposes that this will be the case.

In summary this steps opens the door for retrofitting devices with HomeKit which were not initially developed to support it and have already been shipped – purely via a software update.

Important: The partial removal of the MFi chip does by no means involve a reduction of the high requirements for encryption. The chip itself is not related to this part of the HomeKit Accessory Protocol Specification.

Enhancements in Setup and Pairing

HomeKit QR Setup CodeOne of the most prominent benefits of HomeKit is the seamless process of introducing new devices into a HomeKit household.

With iOS 11 Apple further improves this aspect:

  • Setup Codes can now also be printed as a standard QR code, thereby enabling a more compact format down to 10 by 10 millimeters.
  • Printing the Setup Code is now not necessary at all when the Accessory comes with an NFC interface. The authentication can then be completed via near field communication and further facilitates the process for the user. Apple call this “Tap to pair”.
  • Another improvement is that iOS now supports scanning Setup Codes for HomeKit Accessories which are powered off. The pairing process continues automatically in the background as soon as the Accessory is switched on for the first time. This drastically simplifies the installation in hard-to-reach areas or when the Setup Code is not directly accessible when the device is fully mounted.

Free access to the HomeKit Accessory Protocol

While it was one of Apple’s well-kept secrets so far, Apple has now started rescinding the restriction on access the HomeKit Accessory Protocol (HAP). From now on not only MFi Licencees can view the documentation, an easily acquired Apple Developer Membership is all that is required. This enables even single-person DIY projects to officially include their self-made devices into a HomeKit setup. Only commercial use and mass production mandate full MFi licensing and certfication.

Drastically reduced latency for status reports from Bluetooth LE Accessories

Eine A notable improvement of the specification regarding HomeKit Accessories based on Bluetooth Low Energy allows for response times below one second for iOS notifications on status changes. Apple calls this feature Secure-broadcast Notifications.
In order to benefit from this innovation your Accessory requires a firmware update.

New categories

The list of officially supported Accessory types will be extended by: Water valves, Irrigation systems (lawn sprinkler) and AirPlay 2 speakers.

Widely extended Home Automation

While it is a great tool to remotely control a Smart Home on the go, HomeKit so far lacked in Automation capabilities. With iOS 11 Apple notably extends functionality for events and triggers:

  • Trigger based on presence information: HomeKit will in the future be able to determine whether a user or even the last user enters or leaves a home. These Presence Events enable automatically changing the target state of climate controls, for example.
  • Automatic triggers by schedule: With iOS 11 HomeKit Scenes can be automatically activated depending on the time of day and day of the week. Example use case for these End Events: Opening an exterior door after sunset automatically switches on an outdoor lamp. After 15 minutes the lamp is being switched off again.
  • Repeating processes: Going forward Scenes can be executed for recurring days of the week (“every Tuesday”). These Recurrence Events were previously not available.
  • Nonrecurring Events: HomeKit now allows for activating a scene exactly once. This category is called Mutable Events.
  • Further developments have been made regarding the conditional activation of a scene. Relative points in time such as sunrise and sunset can now be set as triggers. Thresholds for different sensor values such as temperature can also be configured. These user scenarios as well as time-based activation previously required additional third-party solutions.

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