Apple's tvOS: Can connected-home apps be far behind?

The Apple TV could be an obvious place for apps that use the HomeKit IoT framework

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Credit: Christopher Phin

The next model of the Apple TV could play a big role in Apple's connected-home strategy, even though the company said nothing about it on Wednesday.

With the upcoming version, the Apple TV will change from an overwhelmingly entertainment-oriented device into a platform with its own app store and a Siri voice-based interface for a variety of purposes. For example, consumers in the middle of watching a movie will be able to ask Siri for a current sports score and get a pop-up display of that score overlaying the movie.

Along with the new, more powerful hardware, Apple TV will get its own operating system, called tvOS, built on the same foundation as iOS. Apple says the new Apple TV is coming in late October.

But throughout the lengthy Apple TV section of its two-hour event on Wednesday, Apple never addressed what might be the most natural use of all for a TV with apps: the connected home. 

Apple will have a hook into numerous home Internet of Things devices through its HomeKit software framework, which is just beginning to appear in products. HomeKit lets home equipment makers put controls for their products deeper into iOS devices so consumers don't have to open up a separate app for everything. It provides secure pairing between iOS devices and connected-home gear and lets consumers control a whole set of components, such as all the lights in a room. HomeKit can use Siri for voice control of things around the home.

This year's CES trade show featured door locks, lighting systems, temperature sensors and other devices equipped with HomeKit. 

The TV being the traditional hub of activity in many homes, Apple's new, more powerful TV box is a natural place for home equipment controls. It will come with a Bluetooth remote that has a touch interface as well as Siri capability. 

"Integrating HomeKit into Siri on the Apple TV would make a tremendous amount of sense," said analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis. 

Apple TV might be a good place to tap into an app that controls lights or shows the feed from a home security camera, said Jimmy Busby, CEO of CentraLite Systems, which makes connected-home gear sold under home-improvement store brands. 

However, Apple may have had its hands full just creating all the Apple TV features it announced on Wednesday. 

"It looks like they've deliberately scaled back Siri capability on Apple TV so they can get a polished product out," Greengart said. For example, you can ask Siri to tell you the weather, but not a joke, he said.

In that context, HomeKit may have taken a back seat. But it's such an obvious match that it's probably just a matter of time.

"Even if it hasn't been turned on in this version, wait a year," Greengart said.