​Apple HomeKit: Everything you need to know about living in an Apple Home

Your comprehensive guide to the Home app, best HomeKit tech, and more

Apple HomeKit explained
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HomeKit is Apple's smart home system, offering a platform for users of its iOS devices to take control of their connected home.

Run entirely through Apple's Home app, HomeKit doesn't require you have a central device or hub to run a smart home. All you need is an iPhone, iPad or Mac; although adding a hub like an Apple TV or HomePod will open up some great features.

Below we'll explain the nuts and bolts behind Apple HomeKit, how to get started with the system, and crucially, whether it’s the right platform for your smart home.


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What is Apple HomeKit?

Apple HomeKit is a platform baked into iOS for controlling your smart home. The idea is simple: Instead of having a tonne of different smart home apps on your phone that don’t speak to each other, HomeKit brings them all together, offering control front and centre on your devices, as well as via Siri on your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, HomePod, and Mac computer.

But that’s just half of the story. There are two elements to Apple HomeKit: HomeKit itself is a standard – a background software technology that devices need to comply with to get access to the club. Then Apple Home is its user-facing counterpart, an iOS app you'll find on iPhones, iPads and Mac computers.

We’re going to tackle all of this as we go along. From compatible devices to using the Apple TV as your HomeKit hub, we'll explain it all.

Apple HomeKit: Apple's smart home platform explained

How does HomeKit work?

To make an Apple HomeKit smart home you first need compatible devices. Bag a few of those, and you can start building your system.

In the early days, HomeKit devices were few and far between and quite fiddly to set up, but Apple has widened its scope and streamlined its on-boarding process and there are now hundreds of devices in almost every category.

That said, HomeKit is still one of the trickiest smart home ecosystems for manufacturers to get their tech working with, but a lot of that is down to Apple's super-high encryption and security standards.

Almost all HomeKit devices are added by using the Home app to scan a unique six-figure HomeKit code found on your compatible device or in its box or manual. It feels a little archaic compared to Amazon Alexa and Samsung's SmartThings, both of which just scans your network to find devices - but it's a small price to pay for strong security.

Once paired, devices appear in the Apple Home app and can be assigned to Rooms. You can also tag them as Favorites, which gives you quick access to them when you open the app, from the Control Center, and also on the lock screen if you wish.

What you can do with each device in the Home app depends on what category it is in. Sensors will offer a live reading (checking a door is closed, if motion is detected, what the temperature is) and you can turn on/off lights and plugs, lock/unlock doors straight from the Control Center.

Apple controls the capabilities of each device you add, so all your door locks, lights, and plugs will work in the same way in the app (even if they have different features in their own app).

There are some practical issues with the whole setup. The first is that you should really keep those HomeKit codes safe if you need to re-add devices later. In rare cases you can generate new codes for some devices from within their own apps, but it's a hassle and generally only applies to existing devices that have been upgraded to add HomeKit support, such as older Lifx smart bulbs.

Because of the requirements around security, many devices that add HomeKit require an upgraded hub, which caused headaches for early users of Philips Hue back in 2015, who needed to fork out £50 for a new hub to enjoy HomeKit integration.

But there is an upside. Because HomeKit manufacturers are required to sign up to its MFi program, security is pretty bulletproof, and those wanting to ensure their smart home is protected from intrusion should consider its merits.

tado and homekit

Best HomeKit-compatible devices

Thankfully, the tides are finally starting to turn for HomeKit and there are some fantastic options when it comes to picking top smart home devices to work within Apple's ecosystem.

We're now seeing a steady stream of new HomeKit compatible devices, bringing us closer to the point where you can fill most every smart home need with HomeKit.

Here are some of our favorite HomeKit compatible gadgets (for a deeper dive on these and some of our other favorite products check out our guide to the best HomeKit devices):

Philips Hue

Why would you want purple lighting in the bedroom and fuchsia in the living room? Because you can, of course. Colors and brightness can now be controlled within the Apple ecosystem through Siri and, if you're an existing Hue user, it's simple to port all the info needed from your old bridge.

Ecobee smart thermostats

The Ecobee3, Ecobee4 and the Ecobee SmartThermostat use HomeKit to the max, not only letting you control heating remotely, but also letting you take advantage of the platform's geofencing, triggers, scenes – and a whole gamut of HomeKit-based features. You can even use Ecobee's remote sensors as triggers for HomeKit automations.

Eve

Eve has dedicated itself to creating devices for Apple HomeKit and its app is a really great option to use instead of Apple's Home app, as it offers some more advanced features and lets you create more complicated automations.

The Eve range is one of the most complete on the HomeKit market, and includes motion sensors, security cameras, door/window sensors, temperature sensors, plugs, radiator valves, and light switches.

Nanoleaf Light Panels + Canvas

Nanoleaf Light Panels is a modular lighting system that you can stick to your walls and windows to make beautiful designs. It comes as a set of triangles which will glow and/or flash whatever colors you wish and, just to top it all off, it's entirely voice controlled.

What's more, Nanoleaf is one of the first brands to add Thread into the HomeKit mix - more on that in a bit.

Tado Smart Thermostat

Tado's Smart Thermostat, its wireless receiver and its Smart Radiator Thermostats all work with Apple HomeKit. The additional radiator valves mean you can set up zones around your house and Tado puts a big emphasis on geo-location so that as you get closer to home, its system starts to warm your home up so it's ready.

august wifi homekit lock

August Wifi Smart Lock

Despite its smaller size, the lock packs an extra feature - integrated WiFi, so there's no need for a bridge or smart home hub to control it when you're away from home. The WiFi feature is optional however, if you'd rather just stick to Bluetooth control when you're nearby.

You still get August's signature auto-unlock feature, where your door will automatically unlock itself as you approach, along with all the other features that make August the most fully-featured smart lock on the market, including auto-lock settings and DoorSens that tells you if your door is open or closed before you lock it.

arlo homekit

Arlo Ultra

With HomeKit integration, you'll be able to see your cameras and their live feeds in the Home app, as well as being able to set up rich notifications that can include video clips. It's not HomeKit Secure Video though.

Logitech Circle View

The Logitech Circle View comes with HomeKit Secure Video; the first Logitech camera to do so.

The encryption happens on the local device before being sent to the cloud, meaning Apple can't get into it even if it wanted to. The local device is your HomeKit hub, be it a HomePod, iPad or Apple TV. The other thing that happens to the footage, before the footage firing it into the big iCloud in the sky, is that it's analysed. This determines the difference between people, pets, or cars before encrypting and storing it.

lutron smart dimmer switch

Lutron Caseta Dimmer

This HomeKit-enabled Dimmer Kit lets you chat to Siri to control your smart bulbs, and we think it's one of the best dimmer switches out there. You will need the Caseta bridge to connect to HomeKit, but once you're hooked in you can create scenes and schedules, as well as geofencing when you leave and enter the house.

demo homekit smart plug

Wemo Mini Smart Plug

Wemo's Mini Smart Plug is one of the few devices to get updated with HomeKit support via software, and we couldn't be happier. The Smart Plug also works with Google Assistant and Alexa.

Naturally, you'll be able to control your device from anywhere, and even use your voice assistant should you not want to pull out that Home app. The best feature, however, may be how small it is.

onelink homekit smart smoke

First Alert Onelink Smoke & CO

The Safe & Sound is First Alert's fanciest smart smoke and CO detector, but we'd recommend the Smoke & CO version to save yourself a few bucks.

You also get remote phone notifications if the system detects something wrong in your home – which you won't actually get with the more premium model.

fibre homekit sensor

Fibaro Motion Sensor

Looking a lot like the Eye of Sauron, Fibaro's top motion sensor detects movement and also doubles up as temperature sensor – stick one by your bed and have your lights turn on when your feet hit the floor.

With HomeKit you can have alerts will pop up on your iPhone when motion is detected and you can also integrate motion detection into HomeKit automations.

MyQ Garage Door Controller

With the MyQ garage door controller plugged into your existing garage door opener you can say those six magic words and life will seem so much simpler.

Yes, you can use the remote control on your visor but this is just cooler, plus you can check on your door's status from anywhere, and even have HomeKit close the door automatically for you when you drive away.

abode security works with homekit

Abode Smart Security

If you’re looking for a DIY smart home security system your options have never been better. But if it’s the “smart” part of a smart home security system that’s important to you, then the Abode Smart Security system should be top of your list.

With HomeKit integration you can control your system entirely through the Home app, including setting up automations and geofencing to arm and disarm, and view video (no HomeKit Secure Video though). With HomeKit you essentially get all the benefits of the paid-for Abode features without having to pay.

Apple HomeKit secure video

HomeKit Secure Video security cameras

Smart security cameras used to be an area where Apple was miles behind its rivals but the amount of devices on offer within the platform has grown exponentially in the last 12 months and the advent of HomeKit Secure Video will only mean it will continue to grow into 2021.

The feature changes the way video cameras work with HomeKit, and, in time, will hopefully encourage more companies to make their smart security cameras compatible.

Secure Video is a way to store that footage on Apple's servers with the peace of mind that it won't be seen by prying eyes – not even Apple's. When footage is captured, it gets encrypted end-to-end and is then fired into the iCloud, where it will stay – securely. Once there, only you and anyone you invite to view will be able to see it.

Read our HomeKit Secure Video guide to find out more.

Apple HomeKit: Apple's smart home platform explained

Using the Apple Home app

When HomeKit first launched there was no app, instead you used third party manufacturer's apps to set up each device. Apple soon saw the folly of its ways however, and launched one app to control them all.

The Home app has three ways to interact with your devices. There's 'Home', which shows all your favorite devices and your favorite 'Scenes'; 'Rooms', which groups devices based on which room they're in; and 'Automation,' which allows you to automate how your smart home reacts to things. For instance you can have the lights turn off when you leave home, or set the front door to lock at night.

In the app you can also turn on notifications for any doors, locks, and sensors in your HomeKit home, a sort of de facto security system. The app is also where you go to add any accessory and to set up scenes and automations (more on that below).

If you aren't a fan of the Home app, interestingly you can use third-party apps instead. Eve's is very good, Fibaro also has one, and there are a number of paid options in the app store. The advantage of these is you can get a bit more control over some of your Home devices - but they are also more complicated than the Home app.


Creating scenes & automations

One of the best features of the Apple Home app is the ability to create 'Scenes,' essentially groupings of devices, which can be controlled in one fell swoop (think "bed time" or "movie mode"). Scenes can be controlled by voice with Siri, by touch in the app on your phone or watch, or by activating another device - like a smart home button.

Press the plus symbol in the top-right and choose Add Scene. Choose devices you want to control by tapping Add Accessories and then name the Scene before pressing Done.

Along the same lines, "Automations" allow you to automate the behavior of a bunch of connected devices dependent on factors such as the time of day, or your location (based on your iPhone's home / away status), when a sensor detects something (motion or smoke), and/or when another device is controlled (such as a door locked). The different between Scenes and Automations is that Scenes require you to trigger them by voice or touch; Automations happen automatically.

The one exception is that Automations can also trigger Scenes. So you can set an Automation that triggers your 'Good Night' scene to turn off the smart lights, turn down the heat, and lock the doors at 10:30 pm every night.

For a deeper dive on HomeKit Scenes and Automations read our guide on how to set up these super useful smart home helpers.


Best Siri HomeKit commands

Controlling elements of your home by voice is a really natural interface. What’s the point of a smart bulb if you can only turn it on with your phone?

Apple's smart home runs on Siri (no Alexa or Google Assistant here). The voice assistant is built into the iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and the HomePod, which means a Siri device is likely never far away.

Command all of your smart home devices with your voice and have them execute both simple and more complicated tasks. Here's some of the best uses for Siri in your smart home (all of which start with a, "Hey, Siri...").

“Turn on the lights” or “Turn off the lights.”

“Dim the lights” or “Set the brightness to 50%.”

“Set the temperature to 68 degrees.”

“Turn on the coffee maker.”

“Turn on the upstairs lights.”

“Dim the lights in the dining room to 50%.”

“Make the living room lights the brightest.”

“Set the thermostat downstairs to 70.”

“Set my bedtime scene.”

"Open the garage door."

"Lock the front door."

"Is the bedroom window open?"


Share your HomeKit Home

Once your HomeKit home is set up, you might want to afford other people control of your devices. Apple makes it easy to share your set-up with anyone - so your spouse, child, roommate, or babysitter can turn on the lights and set the heating to their preferred temperature.

Tap the house icon in the top left-hand corner of the Apple Home app, and choose Invite under People. Select a contact from the list and then press Send Invite. They will have to have an iCloud account. When they accept, their Apple Home app will be populated with all your devices.

You can have more than one home in the Home app, so if they have their own they can switch between the two (or, usefully, let Apple do it for them based on geolocation).

Apple HomeKit: Apple's smart home platform explained

How to set up a HomeKit hub

If you're at home on your iPhone, your HomeKit-enabled kit will work without a hub, but for any remote access or control, you will need an ever-present, Wi-Fi enabled, device in your house. The good news is Apple's smart home setup cleverly leverages an Apple TV, HomePod, or iPad as a secret smart home hub, so there's no need for yet another plastic box.

Read this: How to use Siri with the Apple TV

You will have to have a HomeKit hub if you want to use Automations or view live camera streams in the Home app, because the hub does all the processing for these systems locally on the device (it doesn't use the cloud).

Finally, you may want more than one hub. There's no harm in enabling all the compatible devices you have as HomeKit hubs. With multiple hubs set up, the primary home hub will show as connected and the other home hubs will show Standby as their status. They will take over remote access if the main home hub is disconnected, plus they will act as a bluetooth extender for devices further away from the main hub. (very useful in larger homes).

Set up Apple TV as a home hub

An Apple TV 4K is a great solution for a hub because it's always plugged in and it's a superb video streaming device, plus its remote control has Siri built in so you can ask it to operate your home devices without having to reach for your phone. Strangely though, there's no Home app on the Apple TV.

For setup, Apple and iCloud help with most of the heavy lifting here, but here's how to add an Apple TV to your HomeKit home.

1. On your iOS device enable two-factor authentication for your Apple ID. Head to the iCloud settings and make sure keychain access is enabled. It should be.

2. You'll need to be signed into the same iCloud account on the Apple TV (Settings > Accounts to check).

3. iCloud should do the rest but you can go to Settings > Accounts > iCloud to check if HomeKit is connected. You can also check the status of home hubs (Apple TV or an iPad) by tapping in the right-hand corner of the Apple Home app screen and looking under Home Hubs.

Set up iPad as a home hub

First make sure you're signed into your iPad using the same iCloud account as the rest of your iOS devices.

Next, go to Settings > Home and turn on 'Use this iPad as a Home Hub'.

Open the Home app and tap in the upper-left corner. Then look under Home Hubs to see if your home hub is connected. To work as a HomeKit hub your iPad needs to be powered on all the time and remain in the home.

homepod & homepod mini

Set up HomePod as a home hub

Apple's smart speakers, HomePod and HomePod Mini, can also both act as your HomeKit hub and, like the Apple TV option, makes a lot of sense to use as it's likely to be static in your home, and powered on all of the time.

Like Apple TV, HomeKit hub setup on the HomePod is an automatic affair - just make sure you've enabled two-factor authentication for your Apple ID, approved keychain access and signed into the same iCloud account.

You'll see your Apple HomeKit hubs listed in the Home app, and the app will also tell you which one it's using.

The HomePod Mini is actually the best Home Hub as it packs in a Thread radio - a protocol that is going to play a big part in the future of the smart-home.


Is HomeKit right for you?

Obviously, HomeKit is only right for you if you use an iPhone (it won't work with Android phones), and in some ways it lags behind the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant, mainly in terms of compatible devices and Siri's own smarts as an assistant.

However, thanks to Apple making a key change in allowing manufacturers to make their devices HomeKit-friendly with a software change rather than a chip, we're starting to see more HomeKit-friendly gadgets hit the market. That said, Apple still has more stringent security requirements than Alexa and Google Assistant, and that will continue to slow the pace of growth.

Usability has vastly improved over time, and the Home app is a very powerful smart home manager, giving you a lot more options for control and automation than Alexa does. Overall, HomeKit is more on par with a smart home system like SmartThings or Wink, although it still needs work.

However, HomeKit is very secure and once set up is a pretty bulletproof platform that - thanks to being locally-controlled and not cloud dependent - rarely suffers from dropped connections or temperamental hardware.

Siri control is the icing on the cake. As long as you have an iPhone, Apple Watch or HomePod to hand, you always have instant control over your scenes and devices.

Apple HomeKit: Everything you need to know about living in an Apple Home

Apple HomeKit: More tips and tricks

Put HomePod and Apple TV to work

Thanks to a recent update you can now add both HomePod and Apple TV to automations and scenes, so you can have music start playing when you open the front door or have the Apple TV fire up Netflix as part of your Netflix and Chill scene.

Use Spotify on HomePod

Finally – you can now take advantage of Spotify via your HomePod as an AirPlay 2 speaker, and even use multi-room audio. Check out our guide to find out how.

Use the Home app for MacOS

Apple's Home app for MacOS lets you catch up with what's happening in your home and control essential devices straight from your desktop.

Shortcuts bring more fun

Also in iOS 13, HomeKit has integrated with Apple's Shortcuts app so you can tie in features of your phone to your home. For example you can have the lights turn on when you turn your alarm off, or integrate Apple's CarPlay into your home automations.

Make your smart TV smarter

Select smart TV models from LG, Vizio, and others are now HomeKit compatible. This means the TV shows up in your Home app as a device and can be controlled from there: turn it on or off, control the volume, and switch HDMI inputs. You can also use Siri to control the TV, plus add it into Scenes and Automations, as well as use your iPhone's control center as a TV remote.

Add HomePod to Sonos

Sonos and HomePod finally work together, so you can take advantage of multi-room without investing in a whole new set up. Check out our guide to get it working.

Control your HomePod with your iPhone

HomePod is mainly controlled via Siri, but for those awkward moments your iPhone can also play a crucial role to stop, start, pause, and control the volume.

TAGGED    apple home    smart home

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