Apple’s smart home platform – HomeKit – is not among the most popular major smart home systems. This is especially true when stacked up against competitors like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. However, it still has a lot of benefits, specifically when it comes to deep integration with Apple’s overall platform.
Even if you prefer Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant, you can still benefit from the Apple smart home platform. There are plenty of smart home gadgets that only support either Alexa or Google. Odds are that if your light bulb, outlet or fan supports Apple’s HomeKit, it will likely work with other services, too. Seeing how there is no penalty for using accessories with multiple services, you can easily configure products with Alexa and Apple’s Home app to get the best of both worlds.
It’s pretty easy to make this happen. Here’s how to make the most of your Apple HomeKit gear!
Apple Smart Home Hardware
As with most of Apple’s products and services, you’ll need to have Apple hardware to make the most of Apple Home and HomeKit. Specifically, you’ll need an iPhone or an iPad because you cannot actually set anything up without the Home app. In order to make the most of HomeKit, you’ll also need an Apple hub device. Apple’s hub devices include an Apple TV, HomePod, or an iPad. If you opt for an iPad, it will need to be in your home, powered on, and connected to Wi-Fi at all times.
Anyways, the hub acts as the ‘brains’ of your setup. It lets you use all of your smart home gadgets remotely. We strongly encourage you to include an Apple hub device as part of your setup. Without it, you cannot use features like automation.
Lastly, you’ll need smart home gadgets that work with HomeKit. Chances are, you’ll find this information on the box or online description of whatever device(s) you’re purchasing. Apple keeps a rather extensive list of compatible devices here if you happen to be looking for something specific.
Apple Smart Home Setup
Once you have your iOS device and your HomeKit hardware, you’ll need to add it to your Home app. To do that, you’ll be asked to enter an eight-digit code or scan the HomeKit QR code that’s included with your device. (It’ll either be on the hardware itself or somewhere in an included manual.)
It’s also not a bad idea to write down the code somewhere, especially if it’s in a manual that you will probably lose, just in case you need to reconfigure things down the line. (The HomePass app for iOS is probably the best way to keep track of these codes. It has a clean and well-designed UI, although it does cost $2.99.)
Some devices, like thermostats or smart lights made by Philips Hue, might need some extra setup in their specific apps. For those types of devices, you should check the instructions that came with them.
Once you’ve entered the code in the Home app, you’ll be asked to assign a name to your hardware and add it to a room.
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 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.
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.
One of the less obvious HomeKit features is group devices, which is particularly useful for things like smart light bulbs that you want to trigger individually. When grouped, HomeKit treats those devices as a single accessory, so 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, which 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.
By default, HomeKit accessories are tied to the Apple ID belonging to the person who sets them up (which, if it’s your house, should be you). You can allow other people to join your Home by heading to the main Home settings page of the app, which you can access by tapping the small house-shaped icon in the top left corner of the main “Home” tab. There, you can invite multiple users to your Home, allowing them to control the lights, the thermostat, or whatever else you have configured.
You can also limit the abilities of the people you invited. You can set the app so that they can only control accessories when they’re actually in your house and connected to Wi-Fi or so they can only control hardware and not edit your setup. 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.
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 automations 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. For example: “At 12AM, turn off the nightstand lights.” 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.
Once you’ve set up the Home app, all of your devices will also work with Siri on iOS, Mac, and HomePod. This allows 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.