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Latest Apple TV update enables remote access relay for HomeKit connected accessories

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The center of a connected smart home could soon be the Apple TV, as Apple's latest beta software officially brings HomeKit support to its $99 streaming set-top box.

As first discovered by AppleInsider, Apple's own notes for Apple TV Software beta 2 released on Tuesday note that the pre-release build "includes support for Family Sharing and can be used for testing AirPlay and HomeKit with your iOS apps." Apple had acknowledged as much in one prerelease version of the Apple TV operating system, but appeared to remove the functionality when released last month.

In other previous beta releases, HomeKit support was included, but Apple did not acknowledge that support was baked in to the Apple TV operating system.

With HomeKit's public return to the Apple TV, one iOS developer on the internal Apple development forums has detailed how the system works. Logging into iCloud on an Apple TV will register the set-top box as a potential remote access peer for the HomeKit application programming interface.

Once the user accepts using their Apple TV as a remote access peer, information from their connected home will automatically be synced with the TV accessory. This is made possible because HomeKit uses CloudKit to store home and accessory info in the cloud, while Keychain is used to store paired keys, the developer said.

Serving as a remote access peer will enable the Apple TV to help control connected accessories when they are away from home. When a user is accessing their smart home remotely, Apple's system reportedly scans available remote access peers and searches for the one with the lowest latency.

HomeKit support in the Apple TV is yet another sign that the company's streaming set-top box is likely to become Apple's official hub for a connected home. AppleInsider first predicted in June that Apple wouldn't likely begin selling "iLight" or "iLock" products, instead leaving those efforts to third-party developers and hardware makers.

Of course, HomeKit support in the Apple TV paves the way for future models to expand further upon this functionality. For example, a new microphone-equipped Apple TV with always-on "Hey Siri" support could be used to turn off the lights downstairs and raise the temperature when you go to bed, playing nicely with a wide range of different smart-home accessory makers.

The Apple TV is long overdue for an update, last having seen a minor, silent hardware refresh in January of 2013 with a redesigned CPU. The hardware is essentially the same as the model released in March 2012.

Apple is expected to hold a media event next Thursday, Oct. 16 to unveil new hardware. While next-generation iPads with Touch ID and an iMac with Retina display are expected to appear, recent reports have suggested the Apple TV may not see an update until 2015. It's been said that Apple remains held up by talks with cable companies and content owners as it attempts to bring more media to the device.