On HomeKit vs. Alexa

Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge:

Apple never shows up to CES, but the last couple years, it’s still managed to have a quiet presence through HomeKit. That’s true this year, too, but it’s been really quiet, failing to drum up anywhere near the excitement of something like Amazon’s Alexa.


CES is where that tends to change, as companies building HomeKit gadgets turn up to show off their newest products. This year, there are more than a dozen companies presenting HomeKit devices — but, for better or worse, they’re all pretty boring.

I’ve been very impressed with Alexa. We’ve had an Echo in our kitchen for months, and I recently picked up an Echo Dot to put in my studio.

It’s an open platform, meaning developers can write applications — dubbed Skills — that users can enable with just a tap in the Alexa mobile app.

I’ve added a bunch of Skills to our account. We can listen to Spotify, control our Hue lights, change our Nest thermostat, ask a Magic 8 ball questions, add stuff to Todoist and more.

HomeKit, on the other hand, is a closed system. Apple has a rigorous approval process before allowing a device or service to be listed as a supported partner. From a security standpoint, this is a big win.

For example, before Nest had an official Skill, there were a handful of third-party ones that claimed to offer control of Nest hardware via Alexa. I steered clear of those, as I didn’t want a third-party developer I didn’t know in between me and thermostat or security cameras.1

The downside is exactly what The Verge points out. When compared directly, it’s hard to argue that HomeKit is as exciting as Alexa.

However, I think that’s unfair to both systems. With Alexa, Amazon is building a voice-driven ecosystem to rival Google Assistant or Siri. Controlling home automation devices is a vitally important part of that ecosystem, but it’s not the whole pie.

  1. A side effect of using both Apple and Amazon’s systems is realizing just how much stuff works with both. Nest — founded and formerly run by “Father of the iPod” Tony Fadell — is an exception, with no HomeKit support in site.