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June 15, 2017

Apple HomeKit and Home app: What are they and how do they work?

by John_A

Apple is trying to streamline home automation.

In other words: Apple wants to make it easier for smart accessories – like Philips Hue lights, Wink lights, and other smart speakers, thermostats, detectors, plugs, blinds, locks, sensors, etc – to communicate, and for you to connect and manage all the smart accessories in your home, even if they’re from various manufacturers. HomeKit is basically Apple’s framework for home automation.

Any manufacturer can implement HomeKit technology into their smart accessories. It was first announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2014. The name is a combination of “home” for home automation and “kit” for software developer kit. HomeKit-enabled smart accessories are secure, easy to use, and work with iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and HomePod.

You can use the new Home app for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch to set up all your HomeKit-enabled smart accessories, and then you can use Siri to ultimately control them via voice commands. If you’d like to know more about HomeKit and the Home app, Pocket-lint has explained everything you need to know, including what they are, how to get started with them, and how they work together.

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Apple

What is HomeKit and how does it work?

So, you’re probably wondering to yourself: I’ve long owned smart lights and controlled them with their own separate iOS apps, so why is HomeKit necessary now? Well, imagine that you also own smart blinds. Without HomeKit, your smart lights can’t communicate with your smart blinds, meaning you can’t hook them up together, control them with a single interface, or set them to perform actions together.

Imagine being able to make your lights automatically to turn off while simultaneously making your window blinds close at 9 pm EST every night. Until HomeKit and the Home app, you had to manually control each accessory with their own separate apps, and you’d have to set every one to do a specific task at a certain time in order to give the appearance that they worked together. That’s all rather tedious, right?

HomeKit-enabled smart accessories, however, can speak to each other, and best of all, you can control them using voice commands through Siri. You can use Siri on your iPhone (say things like, “Turn on the lights in the garage” or “Good morning”) to trigger a bunch of actions. You can make your smart accessories turn on and do their thing. For instance, maybe your coffee can brew while your doors unlock.

Every HomeKit-enabled smart accessory automatically works with Siri once you set it up through its HomeKit-enabled app. Siri is just the unified interface you use to bark voice commands to the smart accessories. You still need to use their separate apps, which every smart accessory has, to gain full access to settings, touch controls, and more. So, HomeKit is not completely streamlined yet.

Now, the last thing you need to know about HomeKit is that it can enforce end-to-end encryption between all smart accessories and your Apple devices. That means hackers can’t steal your data, work their way into your communications, or take control of your home.

Apple

Is HomeKit available yet?

Manufacturers can already add support for HomeKit into their smart accessories, but they need to get their smart accessories approved by Apple in order to make them “HomeKit-enabled” and compatible with Siri. We’re just waiting on more HomeKit-enabled accessories to hit store shelves. HomeKit-enabled smart accessories are marked with a “Works with Apple HomeKit” badge on their product packaging.

Any manufacturer that wants to develop HomeKit-enabled accessories has to not only add support for HomeKit into their accessories and companion apps but also join Apple’s Made for iPhone (MFI) certification program. Manufacturers keen to bring their creations to market will still not only need to sign up for MFi license, but also go through certification and satisfy all of the HomeKit requirements.

At that point, Apple will either approve or deny the smart accessory. If approved, it will get the “Works with Apple HomeKit” badge. Apple also provides MFI logos on any certified device’s packaging, which tells you the smart accessory is both secure and compatible with Apple devices such as the iPhone. The first HomeKit-enabled smart accessories, like Elgato Eve sensors, burst onto the market in 2015.

If you own an older smart accessory, it won’t work with HomeKit. You need to buy the newer version of that smart accessory, and it must be HomeKit-enabled, of course. However, there is a workaround for old smart accessories: you could get the Insteon Hub or iHome SmartPlug, both of which are HomeKit-enabled and let you leverage Siri in order to voice control anything connected to them.

Apple

Which Apple devices work with HomeKit?

The following Apple devices work with HomeKit:

  • Apple iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch (running run iOS 10 or later)
  • Apple Watch (running WatchOS 3 or later)
  • Apple TV (fourth generation)
  • Apple HomePod

Apple

What is the Home app and how does it work?

Apple launched its Home app with iOS 10 and watchOS 3 in 2016. It serves as a centralised hub for managing Apple HomeKit-enabled smart accessories. These are devices that have been specifically certified by Apple. Many HomeKit-enabled smart accessories have their own separate apps, but the advantage of using the Home app is that you can access and control all of them from one centralised location.

With the new Home app in iOS 10, it’s easy to set up and manage all your HomeKit-enabled smart accessories. The app features integration with Control Center, 3D Touch quick actions, and of course, support for Siri. The app’s settings are also synced through Apple’s iCloud storage service, so any iCloud-enabled Apple device – whether that be an iPhone or iPad – can be used to control your Home.

Getting started

To use the Home app, you need at least one iOS device with the Home app installed. The Home app comes pre-installed on any Apple device running iOS 10, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system for iPhone or iPad. You can go here to learn more about iOS 10 and how it works. You also need at least one home, one room, and one HomeKit-enabled smart accessory.

Buy a smart accessory

You’ll need at least one HomeKit-enabled product to get started, such as the $69.99 Philips Hue Starter kit. It comes with a Hue bridge and two white bulbs. Philips currently dominates the connected home device space and sells many lighting-related products. We’ve listed a few other beginner smart accessories below. You can also go here to see a full list of options, or you can shop from here.

Apple

Launch the Home app

There is a pecking order when it comes to using the Home app, which is essential to understanding how the app functions: Home > Rooms > Accessories > (Groups, Scenes, and Automation). That last bit – groups, scenes, and automation – is optional, but we’ll get into that later. Once you launch the Home app, and you’ll be greeted with a “Welcome Home” screen that explains the Home app.

Tap the Get Started button to proceed. The initial smart accessory setup process in the Home app is easy to follow. In iOS 10, by default, you’ll see a new “My Home” screen, which allows you to start adding locks, lights, thermostats, etc. You can change the name of your Home, change the background wallpaper, and more. Also, notice that the Home app has three main tabs: Home, Rooms, and Automation.

But before we get into all that, add your first accessory.

Add an accessory in Home app

Tap the Add Accessory button. The Home app will then scan your Home network to find any HomeKit-enabled smart accessory. For this step to work, both your Apple device and your HomeKit-enabled device need to be connected to the same local network (like your home Wi-Fi). If you have the Philips Hue Starter kit, you will see the Philips Hue bridge appear under the list of available accessories.

Tap the accessory, and then you’ll be asked to enter an 8-digit setup code that’s either on the accessory or its packaging. The Home app will show a camera frame so that you can capture the HomeKit code without having to manually enter in the code. Once done, the Home app will pair with the HomeKit-enabled smart accessory and reroute you to the Add Accessory screen to complete the pairing process.

Now, some smart accessories are simple to pair to the Home app, but because the Philips Hue Starter kit includes the Hue bridge as well as two lights, it has an extra step: on the Add Accessory screen, tap the Identify Accessory button. This will cause the Hue bridge’s push-link button to flash. Other HomeKit-enabled smart accessories may have different ways to go about identification, but you get the point.

To rename your accessories, tap in the name box and adjust it. You can set a location for the accessory; Bedroom, Dining Room, and Living Room, are provided by default. To create your own location, tap the Create New button. You can also use the Include in Favourites option at the bottom of the Add Accessory screen to pin your accessory to the Control Center in iOS 10 and Home tab in the Home app.

Using an accessory’s separate app

It’s important to note that some smart accessories need you to use their own separate apps for initial setup, software updates, etc. Philips Hue Starter kit is one of those accessories. So, after connecting to the bridge, launch the Philips Hue app to pair the lights with the bridge. In this instance, the Hue app searches for the new bridge. You have to tap the Set up button to proceed with setup.

Then, press the push-link button on the Hue bridge to connect and tap the Accept button to finish the bridge setup with the Hue app. Next up, pair the lights on the Light setup screen. Tap the + button to add a new light and then tap the Search button to look for them. The lights must be connected to a lamp and powered on. These separate apps often have additional settings and customisation options.

Home tab in the Home app

Once you’re done in accessory’s separate app, you can launch the Home app. You should see your pair accessories listed on the Home tab. From here, you can also customise the Home tab. Just tap the Compass button in the corner, and then you can rename your home, see available Home Hubs, invite others to control your accessories, change home wallpaper, add notes for shared users, and so much more.

This is the screen you should go to when you want to edit anything related to each Home you have configured. You can additional homes by tapping the Add Home button in the corner. To add a new accessory to a home, tap the ‘+’ button in the corner while on the Home tab, and then tap Add Accessory. Of course, when adding a new accessory, you’ll be thrown back into the initial setup process we covered.

Rooms tab in the Home app

Once you’ve added and configured an accessory, the Home app adds a room by default. The Rooms tab can be adjusted to include multiple rooms. We recommend using rooms that reflect the actual rooms in your home. So, if you have a Philips Hue light in your living room, create a room called Living Room. Just tap the List button in the corner to edit the room, change its name or room wallpaper, etc.

You can take a picture of the room, for instance, and add it as your room wallpaper. Now, to add an additional room, tap the Add Room button in the corner of the Rooms tab. Once you’ve added all your rooms, you can swipe between them on the Rooms tab. To add a new accessory to a room, tap the + button in the corner, then tap Add Accessory, and you’ll be thrown into that initial setup process again.

Automation tab in the Home app

Th Automation tab allows you to automate accessory actions based on triggers like location or time. However, it requires a fourth-generation Apple TV an iPad running iOS 10, or a HomePod. When away from home, either of these can provide remote access and let you take advantage of the Home app’s Automation feature, which automates accessories based on the following triggers:

  • My location changes
  • A time of day occurs
  • An accessory is controlled
  • A sensor detects something

To create a new Automated task, tap the Automation tab in the corner of the Home app, then tap Create new Automation, and select one of the four automation triggers on the New Automation screen. Once you select a trigger, you can select the scenes and accessories to automate. You can play around with scenes to build a truly custom automated task, then tap the Done, and your automated task will be saved.

An example of an automated task would be having your living room lights turn on at sunset. You could have them turn on at a specific brightness level or colour even. The granular controls available to you of course depend on your smart accessory.

Customise and group accessories

Now that you’ve created rooms for each room in your home that contains a HomeKit-enabled smart accessory, you’ll also want to give your accessory a name to make it easier for you to access it. Just long-press on an accessory tile in the Home app, then tap the Details button at the bottom, and from the accessory customisation screen, you can rename it, set its location, include it in favourites, etc.

On this accessory customisation screen, you can also group an accessory with other HomeKit-enabled smart devices. This will make all the devices work together as a singular device. That also means you can control all your grouped smart accessories at once. This is the basics of home automation. However, accessories can be controlled in many different ways, which we explain in more detail below.

Create accessory scenes

But, first: scenes. These are actions that involve two or more accessories. You can create a scene called “Good Morning” that turns on all the lights in a room in the morning. Scenes are different from groups because each can still be controlled individually. You can invoke different actions for each device, so maybe one light will turn on and another will turn off. It all just depends on you and your preferences.

On the Home or Rooms tab, tap the + button in the corner, followed by Add Scene. You’ll then see a New Scene screen. Apple includes four suggested scenes to start with: Arrive Home, Good Morning, Good Night, Leave Home. You can of course create a custom scene, with a custom icon and name. Just tap Custom at the bottom of the New Scene page. You can also customise Apple’s suggested scenes.

Shortcuts to scenes will be available in the Control Center on your iOS device. You can also choose it to Show in Favourites, which is enabled by default. Scenes added to favourites will appear on the Home tab in the Home app and have 3D Touch quick action options.

Apple

Control your accessories

You can control a smart accessory through the Home app. So, if you want to turn your Philips Hue light on or off, simply tap on the accessory tile. Or, you can long-press on the tile will reveal additional options, such as a dimmer interface or maybe a colour-changing slider. This of course is different for every accessory, so it’s important to play around a bit to discover the type of granular controls available.

You can also control accessories through the Apple Watch. The Home app comes with an Apple Watch complication, which is a shortcut to the Home app. You can also add the Home app to your Dock in the Apple Watch. And in iOS 10 on iPhone or iPad, the Home app has its own spot in the Control Center. Just swipe up from your Home Screen to access the Control Center and then swipe all the way to the right.

You will then see all of your favourite HomeKit accessories and can tap on an accessory tile to toggle it on or off without having to launch the Home app. Once again, a long-press on an accessory tile in the Control Center will serve up more options. The Home section of Control Center also lets you select favourite scenes. Just tap the Scenes/Accessories button in the corner of the Home section.

Next, if you have a 3D Touch-enabled device, such as an iPhone 7, you can use 3D Touch quick action shortcuts on the Home app icon to quickly access favourite scenes. And, finally, you can control HomeKit accessories with Siri voice commands. Siri control works on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple Watch, fourth-generation Apple TV and Siri Remote, and the new HomePod speaker.

Siri control is probably the easiest method. Just say something like “Turn on kitchen light” or “Turn my bedroom light purple” or to “Turn my office light brightness up to 90 per cent.” Siri is smart enough to recognise all your accessories, rooms, and scenes. Just keep in mind you can only control HomeKit devices on your home Wi-Fi network, unless you have a hub like an Apple TV or iPad.

To use off-network remote access, make sure your devices are logged into the same iCloud account. You can see a list of your Home Hubs by opening the Home app, tapping the Home tab, and tapping the Compass button in the corner.

Invite others to control your home

You can share access to your automated home and its accessories with anyone who has an iOS 10 device with an iCloud account. To invite people to control your home, tap the Compass button in the corner of the Home app’s Home tab. The,n under the People heading, tap the Invite button to open the Add People screen. You can find people in your contacts or by using the “To:” field at the top of the screen.

Be sure to tap the Send Invite button to send the invitation. Invited users will receive a push notification about the invitation. They will need to accept the invitation to gain access to the accessories your home Home. Just tap on any invited person’s avatar to manage their permissions. You can also revoke invites by tapping the Remove Person button at the bottom of a person’s screen. Easy.

What about iOS 11?

Everything above explains how the Home app works in iOS 10. With iOS 11, which is set to release this autumn, there are some minor differences. For instance, there won’t be a Home app section in the Control Center for scenes. It will be a 3D Touch quick action from the Home icon on the single swipe-up Control Center panel. We will update this post with the changes when they’re available. 

Apple

Which smart accessories are out now?

When Apple first showed off HomeKit in 2014, it announced several HomeKit partnerships with various manufacturers, including iHome, Haier, Withings, Philips, iDevices, Belkin, Honeywell, and Kwikset. You can go here to see a full list of HomeKit-enable smart accessories. You can also shop from here. For now, however, here is a list of the first HomeKit-enabled smart accessories to become available:

  • Elgato: Elgato and it’s Eve sensors went on sale in the Apple Online Store in July 2015. The first four sensors are the Eve Room (£69.95), Eve Weather (£44.95), Eve Door & Window (£34.95), and Eve Energy (£44.95). Additional Eve products are coming. The Eve app is now out as a free download from the App Store.
  • Ecobee: Ecobee in the US is offering an intelligent thermostat with HomeKit integration. It launched in June 2015 and costs $249 (£163).
  • Lutron: If you’re looking to control your lights Lutron will be releasing the Caseta Wireless system that allows you to bark orders like “lights off”. The Caséta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit, with HomeKit-enabled Smart Bridge, is available for $229.95 at Apple Stores. The kit includes one Caséta Wireless Smart Bridge, two Caséta Wireless dimmers (compatible with dimmable LED, halogen, and incandescent bulbs), two remotes and two pedestals. To add more lights, you can purchase the Caséta Wireless dimmer/remote kits, also available at Apple Stores, for $59.95.
  • iHome: The iHome iSP5 Smartplug fits into your standard wall sockets and will mean you can turn off connected devices via Siri.
  • Insteon: The Insteon Hub will let you control a whole manner of things like cameras, switches, sensors and more either via an app, Siri, or schedules like configuring a single device to turn on and off at dusk and dawn or create customized groups of devices that turn on and off at various times throughout the day.

Want to know more?

Check out Apple’s HomeKit support page for more details.

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