As intelligent speakers and voice assistants like the HomePod and Siri drive awareness of home automation, HomeKit has become a key part of Apple’s product ecosystem. Unless you know an enthusiast who has already made the investment in a full smart home, the best way to learn about HomeKit today is at Apple retail stores.
Since July 2017, Apple has been visibly showcasing HomeKit in stores across the world with accessory displays and a custom demo station to simulate the experience of the iOS Home app. The highly visible displays have been a valuable way to introduce store visitors to HomeKit, but the home automation space has only gotten more competitive since.
To persuade customers to choose HomeKit over Google Home or Amazon Alexa integration, Apple will need to go to great lengths to demonstrate that the HomeKit experience is superior. I think this can be best accomplished with more compelling retail displays.
Apple Stores currently offer two types of HomeKit displays. Classic store designs feature a simple graphic panel advertising HomeKit and an extremely small selection of products to try below. Currently shown are the Philips Hue Go light and the Logitech Circle 2 camera.
Modern store locations with Avenues — the name Apple uses to describe its contemporary displays — feature a much more comprehensive demo area with either 2 or 4 portrait-mounted TVs displaying scenes from a virtual home environment. As space allows, these TVs are connected to a variety of Apple products below — iPads, an iPhone, a HomePod, an Apple Watch, and an Apple TV.
Across numerous store visits in several locations, I’ve had the opportunity the extensively test each type of display and observe how others interact with HomeKit. The current layouts fall short in a few areas.
While classic stores offer a direct hands-on experience with the third-party accessories Apple sells, contemporary locations do not. Additionally, Avenues vary from full to half-width, meaning that while some stores can demonstrate HomeKit continuity across Apple’s full product lineup, others are limited to just a HomePod and two iPads.
Televisions running the interactive HomeKit demo feel canned, because the simulation lies at the intersection between a live experience and a pre-rendered animation. Accessories represented onscreen are sometimes subtle and hard to spot, and I’ve had to point out to others what is actually changing when I adjust an accessory. Connected devices used outside of the bedroom or living room aren’t represented in the demo at all.
While the imagery Apple uses to depict its idealized home is beautiful, the photography represents only one very specific lifestyle. It’s hard for me to project my own life onto an image that feels unfamiliar.
Today’s HomeKit Avenues are also a visual merchandising success story in many ways. The interactive TVs show accessory options that just can’t fit in the store. It would be unrealistic for Apple to stock HomeKit fans or window shades on store shelves. Bespoke experiences like the John Lewis interactive smart home or the “experience room” at Apple Champs-Élysées in Paris simply don’t scale to 500+ store locations. The current displays make great use of limited space.
Advertising continuity between the Home app on the iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch combined with Siri voice control through the HomePod is also a huge win. It shows customers that they’ll be able to control their accessories anywhere and at any time.
A New Avenue
What would a new and improved HomeKit Avenue look like? The most obvious place to start is an expansion of the accessory hands-on area from classic stores to all locations. Offering a larger variety of accessories to try in person is the most compelling way to attract interest to HomeKit. Products like the Eve Degree Weather Station or Philips Hue Tap Switch are compact and create self-explanatory demos.
By making every Avenue full width, Apple can also illustrate device continuity to everyone. This would be a challenge in stores where wall space is limited, but I believe HomeKit is important enough to command priority placement.
There is also an opportunity to make the current HomeKit TV demos more inviting, interactive, and familiar. My concept was inspired by the stunning animated Apple Music note at Apple Park Visitor Center and the current graphic panel illustration featured in classic stores. The illustration shows a stylized cross-section of a home filled with connected devices.
By abstracting the photorealistic image Apple presents today on its TV demos, it’s easier for me to project whatever lifestyle I wish onto the space. Breaking the rules of home layout in a creative way also enables the same display area to showcase the full range of rooms and accessories able to be controlled, and how HomeKit scenes can be highly customized to interact with multiple spaces. Animations can be embellished or exaggerated to call attention to which accessories are changing when you start a scene.
HomeKit is one of the few focuses in Apple retail that can’t be best demonstrated through a Today at Apple session or fully understood by traditional advertising alone. Successfully convincing customers of its value requires a compelling hands-on demo combined with the expertise of a team that can explain the products along the way.