Eve Systems' Tim Both on the future of HomeKit and Thread

Eve is a HomeKit-only smart home manufacturer

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In a wide-ranging conversation, we spoke with Eve Systems Brand Manager Tim Both. During the interview we touched on Thread, developing for HomeKit, the amazing Eve app, and what we can expect in the future from the smart home company.

This interview is from the February 15 episode of HomeKit Insider, AppleInsider's weekly smart home podcast. Be sure to subscribe to hear more interviews, news, reviews, tips, and listener questions.

AppleInsider: How did you get involved in the smart home world and end up working at Eve?

Tim BothYeah, so so that's actually a pretty straightforward story for me because I started off at Elgato back in the day about ten years ago and that was a very very different company back then. It was still the glorious ITV times when I started and then we move to two different areas.

Basically, we created a pretty successful gaming branch moving from the TV business. And then we looked at the landscape and actually found out that the smartphone landscape was actually something that perfectly fits what we did every day.

So what we did was use hardware and software and the combination of those two to create something that makes sense and that works seamlessly together. And we saw a great opportunity here in the smart home space. And then Apple came along and announced HomeKit so that was pretty much a no brainer. For us, being very Apple-centric, and we were thrilled back in the day, just as we are today about that ecosystem.

And yeah, we're one of the first brands to have products on HomeKit back in the day and continue to lead that space.

AI: You guys are exclusively HomeKit, right? It's Apple, and that's it. Did you guys ever think about broadening that to support other ecosystems like Alexa or Google Home? Or is that pretty intentional?

Tim: That is absolutely intentional. We, back in the day, when we developed the whole smart home portfolio, we were really glad that Apple took on the role of providing a platform because one of the very early problems was, and continues to be, that for all of this to make sense to the average customer is it needs to work together, you can't be locked into one manufacturer's ecosystem.

So even though we were pretty sure we have an awesome lineup of products here, they are much, much better when they work together with products of other companies and HomeKit has pretty much shown that this is true. Back in the day, we had to convince people that HomeKit is a good thing, that this interoperability is something desirable. And now that's something you don't need to convince anybody anymore about that.

We will never do certain products, we will never develop self-opening and closing windows. There are a bunch of examples where it just makes sense to have a large platform provider with other companies joining the match.

And then, of course, HomeKit isn't the only platform. The values that HomeKit has and the overall system approach with privacy and system design is something we value a lot.

AI: So, we've already seen product updates from Eve, we've seen stuff from Nanoleaf, all starting to adopt Thread. And longtime listeners of the show (HomeKit Insider) know that we did we've done deep dives on Thread, at least to a degree, the intricacies of thread and why it's beneficial. You want to give us kind of a refresher for anyone who's new to the show or kind of what you think is most exciting about Thread and where we're leading with it?

Tim: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I can go on and on about this. So stop me if it's too much, but we're really thrilled about Thread and as I've said we've been on HomeKit since day one. And you guys have done a great job of also explaining the benefits of Thread and where we come from, so to speak. And where we come from is basically having a choice between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

And, you know from our perspective, everything else was never really an option. We didn't want to have a manufacturer-specific bridge or any technology that would do that. That would lock you in and create legacy problems and all of that.

So for us, it was really the decision between the two native technologies: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. And we have products on both connectivity standards. And we always carefully chose what technology would be best for the use case of the product.

For many, almost all of our products that was Bluetooth, because we have many battery-powered devices that kind of lead need this energy efficiency, Wi-Fi wasn't even an option. And even on some other products like our Eve Energy, our smart plug, we chose Bluetooth because we didn't want to have that that energy consumption that constant energy consumption in a home with smart plugs.

If you have ten Smart plugs that are supposed to save you energy, by turning devices off, why would they need to consume a significant of energy amount of energy themselves?

AI: Especially on the Eve Energy which actually does monitor your consumption at the same. So you'd be like shooting yourself in the foot, pointing out how much extra energy, you know, that Wi-Fi is, is using.

Tim: Exactly! It really depends, but it can be a tenfold energy consumption easily. And if you add that up with all the smart devices in your home, that's a lot of energy you're wasting. And Bluetooth, I know it has been perceived as being bad some of the times, but really, for a lot of use cases, it's awesome. If you only have one or two or three Bluetooth smart plugs, you don't have any issues with response times.

Any of that starts to increase once you add more devices, more Bluetooth devices, because Bluetooth has the limits on simultaneous connections. And then once you start growing your setup with these kinds of devices, you start to notice the shortcomings more.

But really, for many of our devices, that was the path we had to take to make products that make sense. And we've introduced devices such as Eve Extend for these more elaborate setups that solves these problems by bridging Bluetooth devices to one Wi-Fi connection. So having the best of both worlds.

Really, the ultimate solution here is Thread because Thread as a technology solves all of that. It was developed for the smart home.

The industry knows what currently happens. And they know about these problems users encounter. Nobody is blind here. That was just the status quo of technology. And that's what everybody used and it was great. And of course, it had some limitations. But with all of those limitations in mind, Thread was created to solve all of that.

And it has the best of everything. It is low latency, it's IP based, you can have simultaneous connections all you want, you can have a mesh network, it's super energy efficient. So it's a reality for everything except high bandwidth applications, which would be cameras, for example. Thread is a no brainer. It just works. And it works as intended and no other technology can keep up here.

AI: Just to get super nerdy for a second, what exactly is thread traveling on? Is it like a low megahertz frequency, is it some other kind of wireless technology, what is actually transferring the data.

Tim: As you might know, Thread is part of the ZigBee Alliance. And the reason behind it is that it's basically, very abstractly speaking here, basically a new version of what's already there.

If you know ZigBee, it has many of the same characteristics. The range would be about the same and it's using the same radio technology. It's just the protocol on top of it. All of that has been improved and revamped and actually has incredible industry support here.

So unlike ZigBee, which was supposed to be open and of course is open and has implementations where you can mix and match different manufacturers stuff, at the end of the day, what happened here is every manufacturer has a custom proprietary bridge and you just can't add stuff from one manufacturer to another bridge and expected it to work in HomeKit, for example, and all of that doesn't happen with Thread.

AI: Do you know of any upcoming Thread devices? If you want to talk about new devices? That would be incredible. But any other devices that you know that are exciting, or you think that people should get their hands on to introduce them to Thread?

Tim: That's a trick question there. Of course I know about a bunch of upcoming devices! But as you might have guessed, I can't really talk about all of that.

What I can say and what we have already said when we launched the firmware updates for existing devices back in December is that we are fully committed to shipping updates for all of our products to enable Thread on those. For some of them, they already have the hardware necessary because you need hardware support to get on Thread.

And, we've planned well ahead. So there are devices such as Eve Aqua, for example, that launched, I think in June of last year that already have the hardware necessary to support Thread.

So that is just everybody who bought an Aqua, after last June will at some point get a firmware update to enable Thread on that. And then, of course, we have a bunch of devices that don't yet have that hardware. But those will get updates. And we'll announce those when they are ready. But the path forward and our commitment is super clear here. And we are fully on board with Thread.

AI: One more thing, just to make it crystal clear. Right now I have an Eve Extend go to my Eve Aqua. And I also have a HomePod Mini in the same room as the Eve Extend is.

So once Thread comes to that Eve Aqua, I should be able to disconnect the Eve Extend in that same room. And then my Eve Aqua will be connected via Thread. Is that right?

Tim: Absolutely. Yes. That's right.

AI: Let's talk about the Eve app. You guys have done a bunch of updates recently. One of them is that it's now available on the Mac. Well, I guess with an asterisk there because we have it on the M1 Macs, I guess before we even get to the new thread network stuff. Why is the eve app only available on like the apple silicon max versus any Intel Macs that are also running Big Sur,

Tim: Actually, because that was the most straightforward path here and investing in the future. There is a clear path of having iPad apps run on Mac, Apple Silicon Macs. And a lot of companies just don't tick that box, because you have to put work into it to optimize the app so it works well on a Mac, you know, with a mouse and keyboard and all of that and different frameworks, you have to put a little bit of effort into making a nice Mac App.

And that was a very, very clear path for Apple silicon. Completely backporting the Mac app to older Intel Macs is certainly possible. But [it is] incredibly more work from a development resource standpoint. And also, it's not the future.

I think we've all seen from the perception of the new M1 Macs everybody can't wait for more Apple Silicon computers to be available. And that will be a very, very quick transition going forward. So we decided we spent our time and our resources into the future here. And that was the M1 Macs and we were happy to ship that.

But really like all the effort of porting it to the Mac is just this just for older machines, not not the future.

AI: As a person who is using an Intel Mac Pro that won't support the app, and who does not want to buy a new M1 Mac in the short term, you should hire an intern to work on an Intel port as I would love to be able to run the app on my daily driver.

Tim: I definitely feel you I'm on an Intel MacBook as well. So I feel your pain. I think time is going to solve that. And it will be really, really beautiful. And if one intern can actually do that I would hire that intern in a heartbeat because it really is an incredible amount of work.

AI: The Eve app was recently updated with this cool area where you could see the Thread network in your home. Can you explain a little bit to us what users will see in that Thread Network panel?

Tim: Yeah, I'll be happy to. As you mentioned there has just been another update that improves this a little more. This is something we don't usually do. This is a look at our engineers working here at the end of the day. It's really close to our development and usually, when we ship something and release something, we make sure that it's polished and finished and has all the details right. Here, we thought we wanted to give everyone access to these tools that we have and to the development we make here.

In the past year and more while working with Thread, we have gathered a lot of insights and knowledge around this. And we kind of want to give everyone access to this. And there really isn't any other way to look at your Thread network other than the Eve app right now.

So that's why you see maybe a couple of rough edges here. But at the end of the day, it's already a great tool to kind of gather understanding about your Thread network.

And we actually will release a blog update this week. A blog post that really goes into detail about what the terminology means here to everyone who wants to understand what is happening. It should have the tools and the knowledge and we will try to communicate a lot around this and kind of share, share what we've learned along the way. So that is all basically a work in progress. But already a great look behind the magic that Thread is at the end of the day.

It's supposed to be, and it's good that it's a black box, you kind of don't see your network configuring itself and doing stuff. If you install a firmware update for a current accessory, it's just on Thread after that, and you don't know what it's doing and why it's doing that. It just works. And that's beautiful. But I think there are some among us who kind of want to dig in and understand how it works. So that's why we have that feature in the iOS app.

AI: I think that's good, because I know we got a lot of questions after Thread was rolling out between the HomePod mini and the Nanoleaf devices in the announcements and people were asking us how they knew if their devices were on Thread. As you said, it should just be that you do the update and now it's on Thread. And you should just trust that.

But even just from a high-level point of view of being able to see your Thread network and seeing, in fact, that these listed devices are communicating on Thread, I think it's beneficial.

The Thread network view, by the way, for anyone who wasn't sure where this is inside of the eve app, assuming you're upgraded to one of the most recent versions, tap on that settings gear icon in the lower right-hand corner, and just there in your list on the top is the Thread network and your devices.

Be sure to listen to the full interview on the latest episode of HomeKit Insider