Apple’s TV+ may signal a new push to revive HomeKit

We covered Apple’s new services launch in last week’s edition, but Wireless Watch’s sister service, Faultline, has provided some additional analysis of the impact of the new TV+ on other areas of its platform, notably the smart home.

Apple’s HomeKit smart home platform has languished, poorly served by its own devices and stymied by arduous initial hardware security requirements that reduced third party interest. Apple’s TV boxes were always obvious smart home hub choices, but there was never a push to coalesce the rest of the smart home experience around these devices. With the launch of the new TV+ streaming service, we might now have an answer as to why the company has taken so long to bring HomeKit to the masses.

Of course, this discussion does somewhat hinge on Apple now taking the baton, and running with HomeKit. It does seem well positioned for this task, having dropped the onerous security requirements, and now sitting on an ecosystem that has enough devices to be properly useful to an ardent Apple customer.

What’s more, with the launch of the TV+ service, a News subscription service, and also the Apple Card credit card payments system, it is clear that Apple’s current focus lies away from stagnating iPhone sales. Apple wants to tie its customers into the ecosystem, creating a veritable tarpit that will trap a customer inside an incredibly sticky offering. That honeypot keeps the user inhouse, driving hardware and subscription sales, and as long as the customer can be kept sweet by the experience, this trap should ensure healthy profits.

As such, the smart home seems like the obvious evolution, as we know how sticky these offerings are among CSP customers. The smart home allows a CSP to slash churn, both because of the value-add of the service, but also because of the additional burden to churn that has been created. Cancelling a contract now entails returning not just the set top and WiFi router, but now the cameras, thermostat, window sensors, and even lights.

So a HomeKit environment based around the Apple TV set-top, fleshed out with a myriad of third-part equipment, sounds almost commonsensical. So then, why has Apple taken so long to get to this point? Based on the continual drip of rumors these past few years, it seems that Apple has wanted to launch such a TV service for some time. However, it seems to have been significantly delayed, and so, knowing that such a promotional push was on the horizons, the firm would have delayed the HomeKit offensive until the TV+ announcement. As the delays crept on, this would have meant the smart home blitz would have been punted down the road. However, this interpretation relies on Apple now picking up that ball and running with it.

Should it not begin such a push, and our interpretation this tie-in delay be on the money, then it seems that Apple will have to completely cede the smart home market to Amazon and Google. These two have taken the market by storm, and while Apple has a huge iPhone footprint to leverage, the longer it leaves things, the more chance there is of an iPhone owner picking up an Amazon Echo or a Google Home.

Once bought, there is an immediate sunk-cost fallacy to overcome in the mind of the consumer. If you want to switch to the Apple HomePod, well you’ve wasted however much you spent on the first device. That sunk-cost barrier grows exponentially with the more devices added to the smart home. Changing would require, at best, reconfiguring the entire installation, which might require dozens of different accounts and a weekend of time, or at worst, leave the customer with a pile of electronics that couldn’t work in the new Apple environment. The former is a significant barrier, but the latter seems like an insurmountable task for Apple to overcome.

As such, it needs to aggressively push HomeKit immediately, as every day it doesn’t represents another few thousand consumers that have begun that journey along sunk-cost. Apple’s other service offerings are not compelling enough to draw people away from their smart home ecosystem, and while HomeKit might be a lovely extension of the Apple services for someone that has signed up to TV+, it is not enough to turn the consumer smart home tide.

The latest update to iOS, v12.2, includes support for HomeKit on third party TVs, from LG, Samsung, and Sony, which could be an opening move to encourage a HomeKit ecosystem focused around the TV as a central unit. However, Samsung is a direct rival here thanks to SmartThings, and LG has been making some noise about its own smart home devices, but the update will let users ping these TVs with requests from Siri. The Control Center pane in iOS is also going to be getting a full-screen remote control function, for controlling the Apple TV, which could provide a far richer user interface for interacting with smart home devices.

While TV+ may have a knock-on effect on other Apple services, the main aim is to turn the company’s service into the de facto portal for all kinds of over-the-top video as well as the firm’s own original content agenda.

Apple has put all its eggs in two baskets with the Apple TV+ streaming app – betting on celebrities and reach. The latter is a no-brainer – Apple ships over 200m iPhones a year. But while A-list celebrities adorned the stage of the Steve Jobs Theater and the iPhone maker waxed lyrical about celebrated creative artists spearheading its original content roadmap, its technology roots were disappointingly sidelined.

Far from the lavish treatment of guests in Cupertino, Apple TV+ won’t be graced with a swanky new app but will instead reside inside Apple’s existing pre-installed TV app. This app is at least getting a revamp with more of an aggregator approach, collating shows, movies, sports, news and more in a single app across iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, smart TVs (from LG, Sony and Vizio via Airplay 2 later this year) and other streaming devices. Chromecast support wasn’t mentioned, but it would be restrictive of Apple not to add Chromecast compatibility in the future, while Apple has confirmed that support will arrive for Roku and Amazon Fire TV streaming devices.

Apple also describes “incredible picture quality and sound” but fails to elaborate in terms of support for 4K and HDR.

Apple couldn’t even manage to decide on a price prior to the event, meaning a waiting game until Apple TV+ officially fires into life at the start of May before we find out if the service will undercut Netflix or target the top end of the market. But when Apple Music launched in 2015, Apple originally wanted to launch at an aggressively low price point, eventually caving in under pressure from the music industry resulting in the current $9.99 a month subscription tag. With Apple TV+ being largely original content-focused, with a handful of third party options including HBO, Showtime and Starz, Apple can pull the strings this time around – although with its content budget set to soar well beyond the $1bn already spent, Apple will be stretched to commit to a monthly fee of anything below $9.99.

While Apple TV+ will combine content from the partners mentioned above with original Apple content, the umbrella Apple TV app gives access to a much wider world of content – offering suggestions from over 150 video streaming apps including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and DirecTV Now, alongside pay TV streaming services like Canal+, Charter Spectrum and soon to be Optimum and Suddenlink.

Technology talk was largely resigned to a backstage role, although there was one small cameo for personalization software, with Apple saying the “new” Apple TV app (not to be confused with the genuinely new Apple TV+ app within the Apple TV app) customizes content across existing apps and services, “while developing a secure and comprehensive understanding of users’ viewing interests.”

In itself this is nothing new as the Apple TV app already brings together content from multiple sources, although it implies Apple TV+ aims to plug directly into third party OTT video apps, be it Netflix, YouTube or social media platforms, from where Apple can collect vast amounts of data on viewing habits. It can then make content recommendations for Apple TV+ or push offers to entice new subscribers. Apple has not confirmed the logistics of its cross-platform personalization plan but Faultline Online Reporter has reached out to a contact there. It’s possible Apple TV+ may eventually usurp Apple TV as already there is some confusion.