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Amazon’s open Alexa takes on Apple’s closed HomeKit initiative

Why it matters to you

The home automation market is creating a choice between fewer but more-secure Apple HomeKit devices, and the more open Amazon Alexa.

Apple’s HomeKit serves as the foundation of its own unique approach to home automation technology. HomeKit is a set of software tools that developers and device manufacturers can use to build solutions tying together various smart devices like lighting, appliances, and home security systems.

HomeKit has been fairly successful, with a number of partners making a wide range of home automation products using Apple’s platform, and it benefits from being the first to have been built into a popular operating system in iOS 10. However, competition from competitors like Amazon’s Alexa and the brand-new Google Home has been fierce, and Apple’s usual strategy of maintaining firm control over the platform might be holding it back, as Reuters reports.

More: Apple enlists the help of home builders to preinstall its HomeKit in new homes

Whereas Amazon is relatively open in its approach to working with partners making solutions that tie into the Alexa platform, Apple requires more stringent certification requirements for companies that want to make products using HomeKit. One requirement is that only Apple-certified factories can make “special chips” that are required to integrate with it, along with particular Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networking components.

The required chips aren’t cheap, adding between 50 cents and $2 to the cost of a HomeKit-based device, with larger manufacturers getting the usual volume purchase discounts. All told, Apple’s restrictions can delay the development process and make resulting home automation products more expensive.

The net result is that while Apple’s strategy results in more tightly integrated solutions with greater privacy, security, and convenience for customers, it also means that Amazon’s Alexa has grown faster than HomeKit. Where there are currently around 100 Apple-certified products, Alexa enjoys over 250. And that delta could grow given how much easier it is to rapidly develop and roll out third-party apps and devices.

In the end, the question remains as to whether Apple’s strong smartphone presence will carry HomeKit along with it, or if Amazon will widen its lead sufficiently to become a more important standard. For customers, it’s a decision between greater ease-of-use, potentially better security, higher prices, and fewer choices in HomeKit solutions, and a wider choice of less expensive but potentially harder to use and less secure Alexa devices. Time will tell which approach will end up dominating the home automation market.