iOS 13 is finally here, and with it comes an update to the Apple Home app and some changes to how HomeKit works.
A lot of the changes are minor, but they iron out some of our biggest bugbears with the app and finesse the overall experience. It also brings other accessories like AirPlay 2 speakers more tightly into HomeKit.
Read this: The best Apple HomeKit devices
We've been playing around with the new HomeKit since the iOS 13 beta, but now that the public version is live we've got a better idea of what's new. Here's what's changed, what we're liking so far, and what's still to come (hint: mostly HomePod features).
New looks, better animations
The Home app in iOS 13 comes with a few more backgrounds to pick from ‚Äď some defocused colored clouds instead of the older gradients ‚Äď but you'll still be able to use your own photos.
Even better, there are now more specific icons for certain devices like humidity sensors, leak alarms and smoke detectors. You'll new see sensors for things like chandeliers, air quality monitors, and even different types of sensors. Previously all sensors bar temperature sensors all showed as one icon, but now you'll see leak sensors, motion sensors etc. with specific icons.
Some icons even animate in the app when you activate/deactivate devices.
Speaking of which, more devices are now unified in the layout, sensors in particular. For example, whereas before our iDevices smart plug, which has two outlets, showed as two separate accessories in the Home app, it's now just one. But tap it and we can see and switch both outlets in the same window (as shown above). It's much more sensible.
However, as users are already discovering, there are some instances where this doesn't work well. If you have gang switches, for example, the app will place them into one tile, which you'll have to tap to access the individual switches ‚Äď rather than being able to see their individual status and adjust them separately from the main screen.
It's the same for accessories with multiple sensors, which means you can no longer simply glance and see the status of each from the main icon list.
One more thing we like: third-party bridges, such as the Philips Hue Bridge, no longer show as separate devices in the rooms they're located. Instead you'll now find them by heading into the Settings, where all bridges are listed together.
iOS 13 brings the HomePod further into HomeKit with the playback widget, usually found in the Control Center, now appearing in the Home app. However, this is still really buggy (as it was in the beta) with the playback controls not working properly, and sometimes not showing at all. Hopefully one that will be fixed in iOS 13.1.
Also, any AirPlay 2 speakers can be integrated into Scenes and Automations in iOS 13, so you can have music start playing when you come home or have it stop when you leave the house. Handily, this includes setting a custom volume.
Better controls for lighting and thermostats
With iOS 13, when you select a light in HomeKit, you'll get a brightness adjuster and a panel of shortcuts to your favorite colors. Thermostats have also had an overhaul, bringing all the controls (humidity, mode etc.) into one screen.
Also, when viewing a camera feed in Home you can now quickly access any other camera in the same room, using a new icon that appears at the bottom of the screen.
Apple TV multi-user support
We haven't been able to try this one out yet as it also requires tvOS 13, which isn't available as a public beta. But when it rolls out, multi-user support will be available, so different household menus can have their own interface, recommendations and playlists.
Read this: How to set up an Apple HomeKit hub
And like the HomePod, the Apple TV can be added into Scenes and Automations in iOS 13, but only for playing music, or playing/pausing video that's playing. However, you can use a Siri Shortcut to have the Apple TV turn on and, say, open the Hulu app.
tvOS is expected later in September, possibly 24 September to coincide with the expedited arrival of iOS 13.1.
Features still to come
Automations and Siri Shortcuts
The Automations list in iOS 13 is cleaner and tidier, but functionally better too. That's largely thanks to Siri Shortcuts, which mean you can bring other apps and devices into HomeKit in interesting ways. For example, you could have an Automation triggered by an alarm, or when the weather app shows it's dropped between a set temperature.
Siri Shortcut Automations are expected in iOS 13.1, and we'll have a full guide on getting them working when they arrive.
HomeKit Secure Video
We've already done an explainer on how this will work, but in short, Secure Video will give users the option of storing camera footage in Apple's iCloud. Footage is encrypted locally on your HomeKit hub before it's sent to Apple's servers.
Secure Video won't count towards your iCloud plan limit, but you'll need more than the free 5GB plan in order to use the feature. The 200GB tier will support just one camera, while the 2TB plan will support up to five.
Apple says this feature is coming "later this fall".
HomePod multi-user support
Sadly however, despite being promised multi-user support for HomePod with iOS 13, the feature has also been pushed back to "later this fall". Also delayed is the handoff feature, which will let you hand off music from your phone to the HomePod.