Apple’s HomeKit vs. Comcast’s Xfinity Home

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 11:40am
Mike Robuck

While Apple was busy trumpeting its new home automation software platform yesterday, which is called HomeKit, Comcast provided an update on new features for its Xfinity Home service.

At the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple announced that HomeKit would give users the ability to adjust their thermostats, lock doors, control and dim lights, among other home automated features, by using the new iOS 8 on their iPads or iPhones.

In order to provision a home automation service, Apple needs to partner with other vendors, such as light bulb vendor Philips and “smart” door lock manufacturer August.  

While cable operators such as Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable have been offering home automation and security services for a while now, Apple’s entry seems to be more about managing home devices with iPads and iPhones instead of the touchscreens that cable operators have been using. And cable operators have already enabled some of their home automation and security features to work on iOS devices.

Comcast launched Xfinity Home in 2012 and rolled it out across its entire footprint the same year. Since that launch, Comcast has been continually upgrading and tweaking the service including last year’s launch of Xfinity Home Control, which allows subscribers to remotely adjust thermostats or lighting without the professional security monitoring that was split off into Xfinity Home Secure. Also last year, Comcast announced a partnership EcoSaver, which is a cloud-based offering that can help customers reduce their energy use and save money on their utility bills year-round

Not content to let Apple steal the home automation limelight, Comcast’s Dennis Mathew, vice president of Xfinity Home, said there were several new features in the offing this year for its service.

“We have a bunch of new things coming out later this year that we’re really excited about,” Mathew said. “We’ve got door lock capability coming near the end of this year that we’re excited about. That’s the ability to put door locks on all of your doors and you can manage them from your iPhone, Android smartphone and tablet, your PC, all of those types of things. If someone is at your home and you want to let them in you can do that from your phone or your computer.”

Also by the fourth quarter of this year, Comcast will add HD security cameras from Zicom, which provides the current SD models, into the mix. Via a new app, the HD cameras will work with Comcast’s X1 set-top boxes, which allow users to see who is at their front door on their TVs in full HD glory.

“That’s going to be a really great feature beause we’re also creating an app that will be intergrated on many of our set-top boxes,” Mathew said. “You’ll be able to go on your TV, pull up Xfinity Home and you’ll be able to do a bunch of things on your system like turn lights on and off, change the temparature, and see what is on your video cameras.

“You can be sitting on your couch or upstairs and when somebody rings your doorbell you can pull up the app on your TV and you can see who is at your front door, and then you can unlock the door from your phone or from the app itself and let that person in.”

Mathew said Comcast was also working on the ability to see how much energy usage appliances and lighting modules use.

“That is on the roadmap for later this year, to be able to actually start to track some of those things. I’m in a test evniroment so I was able to test some of that over Christmas,” Mathew said. “For example, I could see how much energy my Christmas lights were taking up so that made me adjust how long I had those lights on. It’s more data that we’re making available to customers just like we’re doing with EcoSaver where now people can see how long their HVAC system is running.”

The home automation and security field is chock full of companies that offer services, including incumbents such as ADT and Trane, and even an offering from Lowe’s. Apple will certainly carry name cachet into the sector, along with the iPads and iPhones that consumers are already using.

As for cable operators, its hard to say if the home automation and security services are game changers or incremental revenue opportunities today since they don’t say how many subscribers use the services or what the revenues are.

Internet of Things

Home automation is the precursor, or building block, to the Internet of Things, which will connect various IP devices, services and systems within a home. Apple’s HomeKit will help push the Internet of Things ball forward, but like video, Apple has to rely more on partnerships while cable operators can build and deliver services over their own pipes that go into consumers’ homes.

“We are working on making our platform as robust and as seamless as possible to enable that Internet of Things concept,” Mathew said. “When we talk about the Internet of Things, I think one key element is making it simple for customers to use, making it easy to add new devices onto that platform and really making it robust in terms of the use case that customers can apply in their day to day lives versus something that is very complicated and very difficult to code.

“There are a lot of these types of solutions out there today, but they’re niche solutions that are very hard to work together in terms of a door lock solution versus a thermostat solution versus a video camera solution. There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen to bring it all together. We’re building a platform where we can bring all of those things together and make it easy for the customer to actually set up rules and set up use cases around what they do day to day.”



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