Apple’s home automation capabilities are rooted in the tech giants HomeKit technology. Apple’s HomeKit is by no means one of the most popular smart home systems. This is especially true when compared to the key players (ie Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant). However, there are a number of benefits, specifically when it comes to HomeKit’s deep integration with the Apple ecosystem.

Even if you favor Alexa or Google Assistant, you can still benefit from Apple’s HomeKit. There are a plethora of smart home devices that exclusively support Alexa or Google Assistant. Odds are that if your light bulb, outlet, or smart fan supports HomeKit, it will work with another service. There are no penalties for using accessories with multiple services. That being said, you can configure products with multiple services, say Alexa and Apple’s HomeKit for instance. This allows you to benefit from the best of both ecosystems.

Here’s how to get the most out of your Apple HomeKit equipment.

Apple Home Automation Hardware

Apple is well known for requiring users to have Apple hardware in order to use Apple software. The same stands true for Apple HomeKit and their home automation ecosystem. You will need either an iPhone or an iPad if you want to put Apple HomeKit to use. In fact, you cannot set anything up without the Apple Home app, which is only available on iOS devices. However, if you really want to get your money worth out of HomeKit, you’ll need an Apple hub device.

Apple offers a few options here, including, but not limited to an Apple TV, HomePod or an iPad. Your iPad will need to be in your home, powered on, and connected to Wi-Fi 24/7 if you decide to use an iPad as your hub. Anyways, the hub operates as the ‘brains’ of your setup. It lets you use all of your smart home gadgets remotely. A hub is strongly recommended if you look to make the most of your setup and use automation features.

Smart home devices that are compatible with Apple HomeKit will feature this graphic.

Lastly, you’ll need a handful of smart home gadgets that will work in harmony with your HomeKit. Most every smart home device clearly states which ecosystems they will work with. Devices that work with Apple’s HomeKit will feature the above label on its packaging. You can check this list if you are unsure as to whether, or not, a device is HomeKit compatible.

Apple Home Automation Setup

You’re one step closer to setting up your Apple home automation ecosystem once you have your HomeKit hardware and an iOS device. You’ll need to add said equipment to your Home app. There are two ways to add your equipment to your Home app: 1.) enter an 8-digit code; or 2.) scan the HomeKit QR code that’s included with your device (it will either be on the actual hardware or somewhere in the included manual). It’s also a wise idea to jot down the code somewhere safe. This is especially true if the code is located in the paper manual since you’ll probably lose it.

If you really want to step your game up then check out the HomePass app for iOS. This nifty little app is quite possibly the easiest way to keep track of your Apple home automation device codes. It features a clean and sleek user interface (UI), but it does cost $2.99.

There are certain devices, like smart thermostats or smart lights by Phillips Hue may require some extra setup in their specific apps. You should check the directions that came with these devices if you opt to incorporate these devices into your Apple home automation ecosystem.

Once you’ve ented a device code into your app, you will then be prompted to assign a name to the hardware and add it to a room.

Rooms

Rooms are how you sort all your smart home gadgets. Each accessory has to be set to a room, which is where it “lives” in the Home app.

Rooms can also be further grouped into zones, which are sort of like rooms for your rooms. The idea is that you group a bunch of rooms together into a zone (like upstairs or downstairs) for when you want to control a bunch of stuff at the same time. To add a room to a zone, hit the edit button in that room, tap the arrow next to the room name, and select which zone you want to add it to.

By the way, rooms and zones are also important if you want to use Siri. If your gadgets are grouped correctly, you can simply ask Siri to “turn on all the lights in the bedroom,” for example.

Scenes

Scenes are the most powerful part of HomeKit. It lets you group together actions and have those actions trigger at the same time. They’re basically macros for your house.

To create a scene, hit the plus icon in the app and tap “add scene.” You’ll then be presented with several presets and a custom scene option within your Apple home automation ecosystem.

At that point, you’ll be able to choose a scene name, which icon is attached to it, which accessories you want to be a part of it, and what they’ll do when triggered. For example, a “leave home” scene could shut off all of your lights and fans, while a “movie” scene could dim the lights near your TV and turn on the outlet where your popcorn maker is plugged in.

Grouping

HomeKit treates grouped devices like a single accessory. You’ll just have to tap a single button to activate those devices and settings. For example, if you have a ceiling full of smart light bulbs that you want to turn on all at once, grouping them together will let you do that. Once grouped, they’ll always all turn on and dim / brighten together. This is something to consider when setting things up.

It’s easy to group devices. Just hit the edit button in the room they’re in, tap on each accessory you want to group, and tap on the “Group with Other Accessories” button.

Sharing

HomeKit accessories are default tied to the Apple ID belonging to the person who sets them up. You can allow other people to join your Home. You can do so by heading to the main Home settings page of the app, and invite users to your Home. This allows them to control the lights, the thermostat, or whatever else you have configured.

You can also limit the abilities of the people you invited. One such limitation is limiting user control to when they’re actually in your house and connected to local Wi-Fi. You can access those options by tapping on the user’s icon in that same settings menu.

Users can also be part of multiple Apple Home setups, so should you be lucky enough to have multiple houses, you can manage and control the smart home gear in all of them from the single app.

Apple Home Automation

If you have a hub device set up, you can also automate certain parts of HomeKit using the automation tab.

As with scenes, you add new automation routines by hitting the plus button in that tab, and you’ll be given several triggers you can use: people leave, people arrive, a time of day occurs, an accessory is controlled, or a sensor detects something (should you have a HomeKit-compatible sensor, like a motion detector). You can then attach individual accessories with their respective settings. You can even attach scenes like “When I leave home, activate my ‘Leaving Home’ scene” to the trigger.

Favorites & Control Center

One of the best features of HomeKit is one of the least obvious: the Control Center widget, which lets you have OS-level access to your home controls without having to dive into an app from anywhere on your phone.

Selecting favorites in HomeKit — which you can easily do by editing any accessory and adding it to favorites — will not only place it front and center on the main page in your Home app, but it will also add it to the Home widget in Control Center, allowing you to turn your devices on and off (or control settings with a long press), with control for up to nine devices. Scenes can also be added to favorites and will show up in Control Center as well.

Siri

Once you’ve set up the Home app, all of your devices will also work with Siri on iOS, Mac, and HomePod devices, allowing you to ask Siri to turn individual devices on and off, activate scenes, or control rooms.

Yes, Siri is still a bit annoying to use, and Apple still has some frustrating limits — you can’t, for example, ask Siri to “turn off my lights in 20 minutes,” despite Siri having both timers and control over your lights — but if you want HomeKit voice control, it’s better than nothing.