San Jose: KB Home rolls out Apple-compatible smart home features
Silicon Valley home buyers who want not only a new place but a smart one can now get a house that’s pre-configured to be controlled by their Apple devices.
KB Home on Friday announced that it’s offering a package of home automation features designed to be controlled by iPhones and iPads as an option on houses in two of its new neighborhoods, one in San Jose and the other in Fremont. The move marks the first time nationwide the home builder has offered buyers such an option.
Jacob Atalla, vice president of sustainability initiatives at KB, compared the home industry to the car business. In recent years, the number of advanced technological features included in cars — from large touch-screen displays to automatic braking — has rapidly increased. Consumers are starting to expect such advanced technological features in all the products they buy, Atalla said.
“We are focused on innovation,” he said. “It’s important to people’s lifestyles.”
The basic option package, which will cost around $4,000, includes an automatic door lock, a smart thermostat and lights and a fan that can be remote controlled. Users can add other devices to the system either when they design their homes or after moving in.
The package will also come with an iPad to control the home automation system inside the house and an Apple TV that will allow homeowners to interact with their smart home devices remotely. KB will offer complimentary concierge service to help homeowners set up their systems.
Jacob Atalla, vice president of sustainability initiatives at KB Home, views the “scenes” he can use inside Apple’s Home app to control the various smart home devices inside a model home in the company’s Promenade development on Communications Hill in San Jose. The company is now offering packages of smart home features that are designed to work with Apple iPhones and iPads for houses in that neighborhood and in a development in Fremont. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)
Atalla views the “scenes” he can use inside Apple’s Home app to control the various smart home devices inside the model home in the company’s Promenade development on Communications Hill.
Homeowners will interact with the smart home devices using the Home app, a new feature built into iOS 10, the latest version of the operating system underlying iPhones and iPads. The Home app not only allows users to control individual devices — dimming a particular light bulb or closing an automatic shade partway — it allows users to create “scenes” that can control multiple devices at once.
The Home app also enables users to control their smart home devices using Siri, Apple’s voice controlled intelligent assistant that’s built into iOS. For example, if a homeowner told Siri, “I’m home,” it might turn on the lights in the living room, open the shades and turn on the air conditioner all at once.
KB has been offering home automation products as an option in its houses for about 10 years, Atalla said. But it wasn’t an ideal situation, because homeowners typically had to use a different app for each one of the different smart home products in their houses.
What makes Apple’s Home app and HomeKit environment exciting to KB Home is that it allows consumers to access all those devices in one place and interact with many at one time, he said.
“This is what we were waiting for,” he said.
An Apple representative declined to comment.
In some respects, what KB Home’s doing makes sense, said Jonathan Gaw, a research manager who focuses on the consumer Internet of Things market for tech consulting firm IDC. It’s much easier and more efficient to have some smart home products like light switches installed by a home builder when a house is constructed, he said. Also, rolling the costs for those products into the home mortgage allows home buyers to more easily afford them upfront — and helps builders sell a higher priced home.
But the way KB Home is rolling this out looks a bit gimmicky, Gaw said. Home automation — at least for the mass market — is still a nascent industry. It’s not clear yet exactly what products consumers will really want or use or even what smart home product companies will be around in five or ten years, he said. Customers may find in six months or a couple years that they don’t use the products they have or that they’re defunct or no longer supported.
“There have already been instances of this,” Gaw noted, where consumers have bought a particular smart home product and then the company goes out of business. Instead of a cool home automation product, he added, “you have a doorstop or a paperweight.”
Given that, it would make a lot more sense for consumers if KB Home were offering its smart home options as an ongoing service, which offered ongoing support to customers and could allow them to easily change out outdated products, Gaw said.
“I’m skeptical of approaches to (Internet of Things) solutions that look at these things as devices or product and not as services or solutions,” he said.
KB is offering a service element with its smart home option in the form of the concierge service. Included with its Home-enabled home automation packages will be two hours of support that’s intended to help customers set up their systems and learn how to add additional devices or create new scenes in the future. But it’s unclear the degree to which KB will help customers install or configure new products in the future.
Many of the smart home products KB is offering as part of its options package are compatible with other home automation systems and devices, like Android smartphones and Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, Atalla said. But for now, KB is only offering to customize the smart home features for Apple devices.
KB will be offering the packages as options in its Promenade at Communications Hill development in San Jose and its Magnolia at Patterson Ranch neighborhood in Fremont. The company has set up a model home in its San Jose development to showcase the smart home features.