New HomeKit authentication system could bring tons more accessories


An updated version of HomeKit HomeKit really improves the Wemo Mini Smart Plug.
An updated version of HomeKit HomeKit really improves the Wemo Mini Smart Plug.
Photo: Wemo

Accessories can now support Apple’s HomeKit without a special chip. The Wemo Mini Smart Plug is the first to use this new system of software authentication.

The Mini Smart Plug ($34.99) offers a single electrical socket that can be controlled by an iPhone though HomeKit. Anything plugged in can be turned on or off remotely, or on a schedule.

Previously, this home-automation accessory needed a Wemo Bridge to function because Apple required HomeKit accessories to authentically themselves with a dedicated MFi chip. Now that this requirement has been removed, the Mini Smart Plug can talk directly to the iPhone or iPad.

More HomeKit accessories ahead

Having the HomeKit authentication protocol replace the MFi chip means that accessories already in use can potentially be upgraded to support Apple’s home-automation system. This change could also lead to additional HomeKit accessories being released, now that companies don’t have to build a special chip into their products just for iOS users.

Apple’s system faces tough competition from Amazon. It’s Alexa system never required special hardware, and so is more broadly used.  Still, there are HomeKit-enabled light switches, sprinkler systems, and even air conditioners.

The release of Apple’s new authentication system was quietly made earlier this year. Buried in the description of iOS 11.3 was a note stating “HomeKit software authentication provides a great new way for developers to add HomeKit support to existing accessories while protecting privacy and security.”