HomeOS : Apple’s smart home ecosystem

HomeOS will be a must-have product for Apple. From iOS to iPadOS and macOS to watchOS and tvOS, it can be said that the vast majority of Apple devices today have the most suitable operating system.

But why the vast majority of Apple devices?

Because of Apple’s now-discontinued HomePod and HomePod Mini, the audioOS on these devices are simply simplified versions of iOS. But the HomePod Mini may be getting its own operating system. On October 12, 2020, an Apple Music engineer job listing on Apple’s website described homeOS as a position to be based in San Diego, but Apple later removed the listing. However, before last June’s WWDC, developers noticed that Apple had twice mentioned another operating system, homeOS, in its signpost, and apple later changed the job description, replacing “homeOS” with “HomePod” and eventually removing the information entirely.

Apple’s original description of the job, which was assigned to the Apple Music team, said, “You’ll get to work with system engineers across Apple, learning the inner-workings of iOS, watchOS, tvOS and homeOS, and optimizing your code for performance in ways only Apple can. Come join our team and make a real difference for music lovers worldwide.

The Apple Music Frameworks team owns the technology stack that enables the system-integrated Apple Music experience on all of our mobile platforms: iOS, watchOS, and homeOS.”

HomeOS was rumored to be a no-show at WWDC last year and at subsequent launches. However, with the current macOS Monterey, it is clear that Apple is already trying to enhance interoperability across devices, and the interoperability requirements of the smart home ecosystem are arguably the highest, so designing a separate OPERATING system is also an obvious necessity.

Based on current speculation, homeOS could be a strategic operating system designed to unify Apple’s smart home. For now, Apple’s smart home has three parts: The HomePod Mini with audioOS, the Apple TV with tvOS, and HomeKit.

Why can’t iOS be central to Apple’s smart home? Why do Apple, Amazon, Google, and most of the other tech companies see smart speakers, not phones, as the masters of the smart home ecosystem? This is because the smart speaker compared to the touch control of the phone, the use of sound control of the smart speaker in the experience is more insensitive, direct use of sound to wake up the smart speaker to control, far more convenient than the need to use a mobile phone to operate.

In fact, the current audioOS don’t really fit the HomePod Mini. AudioOS is designed for iOS. IOS relies on devices with built-in batteries. This means that iOS power management is largely based on balanced power consumption, while HomePod Mini, which requires external power supply, does not need to reduce power consumption, but to maximize the performance of S5 chip.

In its HomePod Mini presentation, Apple not only brought better sound quality to consumers, but also took on the role of “control center” for the entire home ecosystem. With the broadcast function, it is easy to send messages to everyone in your home in real time and in any place. You can use one device to send voice messages to every room or even every device in your home for whole-device communication. This also shows us a scenario of smart home life in Apple’s imagination.

The problem is that Apple’s own research and development capabilities mean it won’t be able to do everything in a smart home, relying instead on support from other hardware vendors on the HomeKit platform. However, there are many brands that support HomeKit, but a wide variety of communication protocols can be adopted. Besides the mainstream Bluetooth protocols, there are also ZigBee, Bluetooth Mesh, and Wi-Fi, which are limited by the transmission distance and network topology of WiFi and Bluetooth. There are limits to how far the iPhone — and even HomePod — can connect to HomeKit devices.

Right now, full time connectivity across multiple devices is actually a weakness of HomePod, which I’m sure anyone who has owned HomePod has experienced. Once too many devices are connected to HomePod, there will be delays or failure to connect. In 2020, Apple introduced the HomePod Mini with support for Thread (IEEE 802.15.4), a low-power, ipv6-based network that doubled the connectivity of the HomePod Mini. It also maintains the characteristics of low latency and high response.

In mid-May, Apple, Amazon, and Google jointly launched “Matter,” a free smart home connectivity standard. It is understood that Matter protocol supports wired network, WiFi network, mobile network, Bluetooth low power network, Thread network, which can cover most of the current intelligent device networking.

Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung’s SmartThings, and Apple’s HomeKit platforms have all announced full compatibility with Matter devices. This means that as long as the device in the user’s hand carries the Matter logo, it can be connected through any smart home ecosystem and can be called through other smart home ecosystems that support Matter.

For Apple, the Matter alliance reduces its control over the HomeKit platform, but in return it provides agreement at the protocol level. So the absence of homeOS would mean that Apple’s control over the smart home ecosystem would be significantly weakened, which would be at odds with its longstanding walled garden strategy. Therefore, in the case of hardware level and communication protocol need to be connected with the outside world, Apple also needs homeOS from the software side as the last line of defense of the closed ecosystem.