Apple HomeKit: Everything you need to know

Apple’s HomeKit is at the forefront of the smart home revolution. Find out how you can use it in your home.

Siri User Guide
Siri User Guide

Films like Back To The Future led generations of kids to grow up imagining a world with hoverboards and flying cars. Unfortunately, neither of these became a reality unless you count Elon Musk strapping his car to the side of a rocket and firing it into outer space as a flying car of sorts.

Smart living is one of the most exciting new technological developments, and Apple's HomeKit is leading the way. While it won't fly you into space any time soon, it's a captivating technology that could quickly be in many homes.

To help bring new users onboard, Apple has made it incredibly easy to set up your HomeKit with minimal technical knowledge, and adding additional devices is a breeze.

There are two parts to Apple's smart home setups; the Home app that controls all the smart devices, and HomeKit, a range of Apple-compatible smart devices like voice-controlled dimmable light bulbs and smart cameras with built-in intruder alarms.

First, we're looking at the Home app, after which we look in detail Apple's HomeKit and the various smart setups you can build with it.

The Apple Home App

When Apple first launched the HomeKit, they elected not to build their own app, so third parties developed bespoke apps linked to compatible devices. There weren't many devices, and it wasn't a particularly user-friendly system as you needed different apps for different devices, so the HomeKit was initially a bit of a flop.

Apple soon rectified this mistake by launching the Home app in 2016, two years after the HomeKit launch in 2014.

The Home app consolidates control of all your smart devices to any Apple device. It's a user friendly, well-designed app that easily links all your smart devices together into one easy-to-use system.

Siri automatically links to the app so that you can control all your devices through voice commands. Voice commands are especially helpful if you have a few HomePod or HomePod Mini's dotted around the house as you can manage your thermostat, lights, TV, phone, and even your sprinklers from anywhere in the speaker's range.

Two of the Home app's standout features are 'scenes' and 'rooms'.

Scenes lets you trigger multiple devices at the same time at the touch of one button. You can group various devices then turn them all on or to specific settings at once. You can set up as many scenes as you want, each with different devices and settings.

For example, your morning scene could turn on the kitchen TV, set the thermostat, open all the blinds downstairs, and turn off the porch lights. Your evening scene could turn all the lights down, switch some calming music on, readjust the thermostat, close the blinds and turn on the porch lights.

Rooms lets you group smart devices by room when setting up the app, allowing you to turn them all on or off at the touch of a button or by issuing a voice command, which is much easier than selecting individual devices from a list.

Apple's HomeKit allows for simple setups or fully automated smart homes

The range of available smart devices and configurations spans from the simple to the startlingly complex.

Smart plugs, which plug into regular wall outlets, are the foundation of any smart setup.

You plug any device into the smart plug, then name the plug in the Home app. This way, regular devices like lamps or radios become part of the smart system, and you can activate them from the app and include them in your scenes.

To create a fully automated smart home, you need automations.

Automations lets you program the behavior of multiple devices dependent on factors like your location, the time of day, or whether a sensor or alarm goes off.

Set up Automations using the Home app, as shown on the iPad
Set up Automations using the Home app, as shown on the iPad

For example, you can program the app to trigger your 'arrival home' scene whenever you issue a voice command to open your garage door from your car. The scene could set the indoor lights to 50% brightness, turn the thermostat on, set your HomePod to play some uplifting music, and unlock the front door, all without touching a button.

Automations also let you set the Home app to turn on various devices in a smart device chain reaction, so you don't need to issue multiple consecutive voice commands.

For example, the Eve's Room Indoor Air Quality Monitor lets you monitor your home's humidity, temperature and air quality remotely. If you choose, it can automatically turn on your air conditioning, dehumidifier, or air purifier if the air quality falls below a certain level.

Devices like Eve Room can be used to monitor air quality
Devices like Eve Room can be used to monitor air quality

Similarly, the Aqua Smart Water Controller lets you control your lawn sprinklers remotely or set them to turn on if it gets too hot outside. In conjunction with the Netatmo Smart Rain Gauge, the sprinklers could turn on if it doesn't rain in a few days.

These are just a few of the HomeKit smart devices to give you an idea of the kind of system you could build using Apple's HomeKit. The number of smart devices is growing all the time, so you can expect to see smarter and smarter homes in the next few years.

About Apple HomeKit

Apple HomeKit refers to the smart devices that work with the Home app. On Apple's online store, there is already an enormous selection of smart devices like smart light bulbs, smart home security systems, wireless sound systems, and smart thermostats, all of which you can control with voice commands using the app.

The HomePod and HomePod Mini are two essential devices that let you control smart devices through Siri's voice command feature. From anywhere within listening distance of the speakers, you can say, "Hey, Siri, switch to 'at home scene'", and all your devices will switch to that scene's settings.

You can also tell the speaker to play music, dim the lights, lock the doors or use any number of different commands to control your various HomeKit devices.

In the past five years, many businesses have started creating smart devices for Apple's HomeKit. Apple states on their site that HomeKit works with 'over 100 brands worldwide'. Some third-party devices require a bridge to work with the Home app, which is quick and painless to set up and available on the Apple store.

How to set up HomeKit on Apple devices

The first order of business is to set up a HomeKit hub. This is something that stays permanently in your home. It can be a HomePod, an iPad, iPhone, or even an Apple TV that connects to the network and acts as the base for all your smart devices.

Once you've chosen which Apple device to use as your hub, open up Settings, click on the Home app, then check the 'Use this device as a Home Hub' slider, so it shows green.

Once you've done this, you are ready to set up your Home app. Don't forget to activate Siri to issue voice commands.

Some devices require a little more work than others to install. If smart lights are on your agenda, it's worth installing smart light switches before installing smart bulbs because if you leave the regular switches in, they have to stay on all the time. If someone turns a switch off at the wall, the lightbulb won't connect to the app.

On the other hand, some devices like smart plugs and wireless speakers are pretty much ready to go as soon as they're plugged in and linked to the Home app.

HomeKit Security

Extra home security isn't what draws most people to smart home technology, but it is a valuable additional feature.

One burglary happens every 30 seconds in the US, and there were 402,000 burglaries between April 2019 and March 2020 in the UK. Despite global lockdowns keeping most people inside, burglars and thieves are still active.

A HomeKit can strengthen your security more affordably than traditional home security systems such as CCTV and burglar alarms.

The Home app integrates with smart security cameras to detect threats by analyzing if movement seen on the cameras is people, pets, or cars. If the cameras detect a person standing on your doorstep, the app sends you a notification and a short clip viewable from the iPhone lock screen.

Apple now lets you securely store all security footage in your iCloud account for free - it doesn't count toward your storage limit.

Summary

Now that HomeKit has been going for a while, early adopters have built some impressively complex smart homes. Several YouTubers have entire channels dedicated to smart living, and some of their setups are well ahead of the times.

You don't have to set up anything too complicated if you don't want to. You might just want to set the app to turn off all the lights when you leave the house, saving a bit of money on your electricity bills! There are no hard and fast rules about what a smart home has to include.

One of the biggest draws to Apple's HomeKit is its flexibility; users can easily add and remove smart devices without requiring technical assistance, other than maybe a five-minute online tutorial.

Overall, Apple's HomeKit is a hugely fun and futuristic technology that has improved enormously in a short space of time.

Apple has deliberately designed the Home app and HomeKit to be easy to set up and use regardless of technical knowledge, setting it apart from its competitors.

In particular, the scenes function combined with rooms, automation, and Siri's voice commands make smart living an easy, effortless reality.

Want to discover more about using Siri, Apple’s popular virtual assistant? We’ve written a helpful collection of tutorials full of techniques for using apps, dictation, using Siri Shortcuts, and a comprehensive beginner’s guide to activating and using Siri.

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