In this, the age of automation and smart technology, home is no longer just where the heart is, but where the mind is too!
We can kit our living spaces out with all manner of nifty devices to give us supreme control of our environment from wherever we are within it (or sometimes outside of it!) — The future is now!!!
We can have smart lights twinkling away in custom sequences, open or shut smart blinds and doors without getting up off the couch, and even adjust ambient temperature without visiting the thermostat.
It’s all super convenient and oh-so cool, but there’s one slight problem preventing our smart homes from becoming full-blown GENIUS homes… a lack of cross-brand streamlining.
Unless, that is, you incorporate Apple HomeKit into your smart home network.
Even the smallest smart home gadget can be confusing if you’re a relative newcomer to the home tech world, meaning something as comprehensive as HomeKit can send you running for the hills in search of a simpler life, perhaps in a nice dark cave.
So, to save you from self-imposed devolution, I’m going to be breaking down the Apple HomeKit into easily digestible chunks, starting with what the heck it actually is.
Once you have a general understanding of the Apple HomeKit as a concept, we’ll move on to the juicy details, starting with HomeKit privacy.
We’ll then tackle the subject of smart hubs, followed by the various HomeKit accessories you can use to augment your existing smart array, and finally, we’ll bring things to a close with a brief guide to the Home app.
Sound good? Fantastic! Let’s get to it.
What Is HomeKit?
In short, the Apple HomeKit is a framework that gives you comprehensive control over all your smart gear.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… I already have control over my smart home. That’s kind of the point!
Well, you’re not wrong, but let me ask you this. How many separate apps do you use to stay in control of your various devices? 3? 5? 9? Possibly even more?… Yep, thought so.
Smart devices have given us a ridiculous amount of control over everything in our homes, but each device may well be produced by a different company, each with its own smart home companion app.
You might have some Philips Hue smart lights, some LIFX smart switches, a set of iblinds smart blinds, a Ring smart doorbell, a Sonos speaker, and an array of Wyze smart security cameras, and you’d have to use a separate app to control each device.
Before long, your phone screen is positively overrun with discrete apps with different interfaces, control protocols, passwords, and so on and so forth. It’s all a little bit, shall we say… cumbersome.
Don’t stress though, dear reader, for this is where Apple HomeKit swoops in and saves the day!
HomeKit allows us to control every smart device with one interface, thereby streamlining our entire smart home network and making life a lot easier.
Unlike competitors, when Apple uses the word “privacy”, they really mean privacy!
All your sensitive data regarding your smart devices and how you use them is stored locally on your phones and computers.
Apple doesn’t mine any of your personal information without your consent, meaning they can’t use it as a means of selling more products to you, and they can’t sell it off to 3rd party companies to make a quick buck — Hooray!
Even when you talk to Siri, your correspondence is linked to a random identifier rather than anything concrete about you such as your Apple ID, so even your identity remains secure at all times.
But Apple doesn’t just separate themselves from your data; as all data transactions are end-to-end encrypted on HomeKit, they give everyone else the boot too!
With zero reliance on the Cloud, there’s very little chance of cyber ne’er do wells getting their peepers on your personal information, which is essential when said info could give hackers control over key features of your smart home.
When you’re at home, you can control any HomeKit-compatible smart devices from your iPhone, but if you want comprehensive control over your smart devices from anywhere in the world, I’m afraid you’ll need to invest in a hub of some description.
For the uninitiated, a smart home hub is any interface that acts as a central communication module in your smart home, and besides enabling remote control, there is one overarching reason to pick one up… security.
A hub allows your remote requests to be fully encrypted, and as it’s only the hub that receives the request, there’s very little chance of it being intercepted.
The hub can then action your request in the closed-loop connection between it and all your smart devices.
For HomeKit, you can use one of three things:
- An Apple HomePod
- An Apple TV
- An iPad
If you’re looking to streamline your smart home system on a budget, the most affordable hub option is the Apple HomePod Mini.
HomePods are automatically set to act as a HomeKit hub by default, whereas with an Apple TV or iPad, you’ll have to do some menu diving to turn this function on.
A hub must be linked to your home network at all times, meaning if you choose an iPad as your hub, you mustn’t take it out of the house with you. If you do, you’ll lose remote control of your smart devices.
Types Of HomeKit Devices
While not every single smart device is compatible with Apple HomeKit, an impressive amount do fall into the HomeKit ecosystem, meaning there’s a good chance that it will slide seamlessly into existing smart home networks, as well as give you plenty of options for expansion in the future.
The way I see it, all HomeKit-compatible devices fall into one of the four following categories:
- Bridging Devices
- Bluetooth Devices
- Wi-Fi Devices
- Thread Devices
Bridge devices are exactly what they sound like — Rather than link up directly to your HomeKit hub, they require an intermediary, or “bridge”, module to facilitate hub-to-device communication.
Orders from your HomeKit hub will go through these intermediaries before being forwarded to the child devices they control.
Typically, they link up via your router that in turn links up to the HomeKit hub of your choosing, usually via an Ethernet cable, but there are a few Wi-Fi-enabled options out there.
While having to fork out and find space for additional units to serve as bridge modules is a little irritating, there are some benefits to incorporating bridge devices in your smart home network…
- Low Latency — While you’d expect an extra point of communication to slow operations down, I find the opposite to be true. High quality bridge devices are all very responsive.
- Reliability — Sharing the burden of control between two managerial devices – one of which is built from the ground up to support the child devices – makes operation pretty seamless.
- Easy Troubleshooting — When you have multiple identical or similar smart devices operating together, as is often the case with Philips Hue bulbs, troubleshooting can be a nightmare, but with a bridging module, you can solve the issue in no time.
Much like a pair of Bluetooth headphones will link up directly to your smartphone or computer, a smart Bluetooth device will forge a direct connection with your HomeKit hub — No bridging module necessary!
As it’s a discrete wireless protocol that operates without the help of Wi-Fi, comparatively speaking, it’s quite secure, and if the Wi-Fi goes down (as it’s one to do from time to time), you can still control your Bluetooth smart devices.
Furthermore, Bluetooth range is capped at roughly 30 feet and can experience interference from things such as microwaves and baby monitors.
This means that you have to be pretty discerning when positioning your Bluetooth devices.
They need to be in close proximity to your HomeKit hub to function properly, which can be an issue if you’re trying to give a rather large property the smart home makeover.
Much like Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi devices link up directly to your HomeKit hub, meaning they don’t need a bridging module, but unlike Bluetooth devices, they have an impressive 150-foot range, so you can spread them throughout your property.
One of the downsides is that these devices are completely at the whim of your Wi-Fi connection.
Should your network connection go down, you’ll lose control of these devices, so before you flesh out your smart home network with a bunch of these gadgets, it’s important to establish a strong Wi-Fi connection throughout your property.
Signal clutter is another potential drawback to Wi-Fi devices — Use too many of them, and it can place a heavy burden on your router, which can slow operations down dramatically.
In addition, Wi-Fi isn’t quite as secure as other wireless protocols such as Bluetooth or ZigBee, so there is a very slight increase in risk factor when you choose these devices.
A little disclaimer before we discuss this last device format… Thread is a brand-new technology, and at this moment in time, is only supported by the Apple HomePod Mini.
If you’re using an Apple TV or iPad as your HomeKit hub, you won’t be able to use these devices.
Okay, so with that out the way, let’s explain what the term “thread devices” actually means. The simplest way I can think to describe them is that they’re essentially just bridge devices that need no bridge module.
Instead, they connect up to one another forming a sequence of threads that eventually lead to the HomePod Mini.
Thread devices are super fast, super reliable, and again, they don’t require additional modules, meaning they’re both wallet- and space-friendly.
The only issue is that, as a new technology, thread products are a little light on their feet at the moment; however, considering the benefits thread technology brings to the table, there are sure to be loads more in the near future.
Using The Home App
Okay, so we’ve established that the Apple HomeKit is all about simplifying control of your smart home, but how do you control the HomeKit itself? The answer?… The Home app.
Adding A New Accessory
To get started building your streamlined smart array, you’ll need to register each device on the Home app.
To do so, open the app, tap on the + icon in the top right-hand corner of the display, tap “Add Accessory”, then scan the dedicated HomeKit code on the device you’re trying to pair.
Once connected, you’ll have remote control of the device in question via your smartphone, and if you like, you can get into the nitty-gritty, i.e. selecting a room for your device and setting up automations.
The Home & Rooms Tabs
You can think of the home tab as the primary interface of the Home app.
I find the most helpful section of the home tab is the status reel at the top of the display, as you can customize it in a bunch of cool ways to make your house safer and more efficient.
For instance, you can set up alerts that tell you when a light has been left on or if a door is unlocked.
The lower sections of the home tab keep track of your favorite accessories and scenes for quick, easy access.
As for the rooms tab, it permits you to set up numerous categories that represent the rooms in your house.
You can then split your devices into their corresponding room categories, creating a more organized ecosystem and allowing you to control your devices by room rather than individually.
The rooms tab also permits you to create larger, zone categories for even more control.
For example, you could create separate upstairs and downstairs categories, so if you went straight to bed without turning anything off, you could cut all the power downstairs from your bed with a single tap on the Home app.
Create A Scene
Scenes take customizability to the next level! What are they?
Well, they’re essentially discrete categories that allow you to set up power up/down protocols that disregard your room or zone categories mentioned above.
In other words, you can add any accessories to a scene regardless of their location so you can control them simultaneously.
Let’s say you wanted a nighttime scene.
You could set your front and back doors to lock, your porch lights to switch on, your bedside lamp to turn on, and your kitchen and living room lights to turn off, all with one tap!
To create a scene…
- Tap the + icon
- Select “Add Scene”
- Tap “Custom”
- Give the scene a title, i.e. Bedtime
- Tap “Add Accessories”
- Select the accessories you want control of in your scene then tap “Done”
- Choose the preferred action for each accessory in the scene, i.e. front door locks rather than opens, and the kitchen lights turn off rather than on.
Create An Automation
Automations are where HomeKit really comes into its own.
Using this tab, you can fine-tune every last detail of your smart home to run without any human intervention whatsoever. There are five automation triggers to choose from:
- People Arrive — You can even pick and choose which people the automation applies to.
- People Leave — Same goes here!
- Time of Day
- An accessory Is Controlled
- Sensor Detection
Let’s walk through a rudimentary automation to give you a taste of the potential here.
If we say that you have a sensor on a closet door, and you want it to trigger the light within the closet when it detects the door opening, the process would look a little something like this…
- Head to the automation tab
- Tap the + icon
- Select the “A Sensor Detects Something” trigger
- Select the sensor from the device list and tap “Next”
- Select an action, which in this case would be the door “Opens”
- Tap the “Time” and “People” submenus to add further instructions if you like then tap “Next”
- Select the closet light from the devices list then tap “Next”
- Set the action as the light turning on then tap “Done”
To finish the automation, you’ll simply need to add another automation that tells the light to turn off when the sensor detects the closet door closing.
Bear in mind, this is about as basic as automation gets. You can do so, so much more with the automations tab — Let your imagination run wild!
The Power Of HomeKit
The Apple HomeKit is an incredibly powerful mainframe for your smart home, but the thing that really impresses me is just how easy it is to use.
Granted, you have this guide to help you along when you get started, but it’s such an intuitive interface, you’d figure it out yourself in no time at all.
It makes for a fantastic smart home hub no matter which ecosystem you already subscribe to, but if you’re already neck deep in Apple products, it’s a no-brainer!