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The smart home of the future has always been seen as some kind of Rube Goldberg Machine of connected appliances and devices. With the advent of technology and the need to place processors and internet in everything, the world was introduced to The-Internet-of-Things. The promise of this connected home quickly ran into many issues with security and compatibility, leaving people fed up with the concept before it even began.

Apple HomeKit lets you control your home from anywhere Apple HomeKit lets you control your home from anywhere

Smart Home Devices

In order to have a smart home, you need smart devices and a way to connect them together. This is where HomeKit comes in. The following device categories make up what users can add to their Apple home with HomeKit:

Home Hubs

Apple requires a Home Hub be active on the home WiFi network to allow remote automations and controls to work. Home Hubs include Apple TV, HomePod, and iPad. Designate your devices as Home Hubs for increased local device processing and learning, and to enable features like HomeKit Secure Video.

Lighting

Light strips like those from LIFX can add color to a room. Light strips like those from LIFX can add color to a room.

By far the easiest, most obvious, and likely most popular smart home device is the light bulb. Smart lights are nothing new, and quite possibly the earliest consumer devices to implement “smarts” for convenience. Some bulbs can connect directly to the network via WiFi, while others use a bridge device called a hub to communicate with the internet.

Changing color, color temperature, brightness, and power state are all supported by HomeKit. Once a light is added, a user can use the Home App or basic voice commands to control their lights.

Comfort

Ecobee’s HomeKit compatible thermostat makes maintaining comfort in your home easy. Ecobee’s HomeKit compatible thermostat makes maintaining comfort in your home easy.

Ever lie in bed dreading the cold morning air and the hike across your home to turn up the thermostat? Well smart home accessories that target your comfort are everywhere. Thermostats being the most prevalent, you can also buy fans, air purifiers, window air conditioning units, ceiling fans, and even blinds that are HomeKit compatible.

These accessories generally just have power state actions, but also can include speed, oscillation, and temperature. More advanced home air conditioning systems with motorized louvers can control what rooms are being heated/cooled.

Security

The August Smart Lock lets you access your home from the Home App. The August Smart Lock lets you access your home from the Home App.

This encompasses a large group of accessories capable of performing many tasks, but ultimately all relate to the safety and security of your home. Security devices include locks, door and window sensors, cameras, alarms, and motion detectors.

Security devices are mostly here to detect and alert. Motion detectors can be used to trigger automations too, so its not always about protection. Door locks are the obvious one here, leave the key somewhere safe and use your iPhone and biometrics as access to your home.

See camera feeds in the Home App with HomeKit Secure Video. See camera feeds in the Home App with HomeKit Secure Video.

Not yet fully functional, but new feature is HomeKit Secure Video. Footage from your home security cameras will be analyzed by your Home Hub using local device intelligence to determine if people, pets, or cars are visible. Users can designate when to receive notifications of events detected and can view this instantly in the notification. Recorded video is stored for ten days without penalty to your iCloud storage.

HomeKit also allows for environment monitoring like smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Pairing this with an automation can be very powerful and maybe even save your life.

Entertainment

The latest entertainment gear offer a wide spectrum of features and control to make your life easier. Now more entertainment devices are shipping with HomeKit and AirPlay. Connect your speaker, TV, or audio receiver to your smart home to further enhance your automations and wow your guests.

These devices include controls for power state, play state, and audio sharing via airplay. The most obvious device here is HomePod, which is Apple’s own smart speaker controlled with Siri. The latest TVs, speakers, and receivers from companies like Sony and LG are shipping with HomeKit built in.

Networking

Linksys plans on adding HomeKit compatibility to its Velop Routers soon. Linksys plans on adding HomeKit compatibility to its Velop Routers soon.

Another step Apple has taken in the battle against weak Internet-of-Things devices is the introduction of HomeKit routers. From the network level, devices will be observed and can even firewall different devices from the internet altogether, while maintaining local network control.

Bridges also add a networking element to HomeKit, if only to simplify device management and introduce legacy devices to HomeKit. With a bridge you can have multiple devices on their own private channel, like Hue bulbs, route them through a bridge, which limits network congestion since the router will see one bridge connection and not 20 light bulbs.

Water

Utilize the Rachio 3 sprinkler controller to automate watering your lawn. Utilize the Rachio 3 sprinkler controller to automate watering your lawn.

Majority of people who think of a smart home are probably thinking of electricity and turning things on and off, but water plays a big part in the home as well. Water your plants, your lawn, or your dishes with smart devices.

With simple on/off states and temperature control in some instances, you can control water sources easily with HomeKit.

Switches and outlets

Light switches from Wemo can add smarts to any light or fan. Light switches from Wemo can add smarts to any light or fan.

The catch all of the smart home. Don’t want to buy a thousand dollar coffee maker just to have a hot cup ready in the morning? Throw a smart outlet on that $20 Mr. Coffee from the discount store. Tim Cook talked about automating his fireplace! Its likely a smart switch. Heat up your bath water, make dumb fans and lamps smart, or remote control your holiday lighting.

Switches are as simple as they come, providing a power state control to things that would normally require a trip across the room. On or off, thats it. The limit is determined by your imagination and whether the device you’re powering has a maintaining master switch.

Home App

The Apple Home App The Apple Home App

The Home App is pre-installed on every iOS and iPadOS device as of iOS 10, and as of macOS Mojave, its on the Mac too. The app consists of three main tabs for user control and settings: Home, Rooms, and Automations. Each tab represents specific functions of the Home App and HomeKit devices.

Homes, Rooms, Zones, Devices

The Home App acts as a repository for all of your home data. If you have multiple homes, a remote office, or access to a loved ones home; they all show up in the home tab overview. From here select a home and the home tab will populate with your favorited devices and scenes.

Swipe between your rooms for easy control of devices in your home. Swipe between your rooms for easy control of devices in your home.

The rooms tab breaks it down even further. As you add devices you need to assign them what room they are in to not only organize the devices, but to give you more fine tuned control. Each room can have specific scenes built for it as well.

To further user control, rooms can be grouped into zones. When in room settings, you can select what zone a room belongs to, so that designating a zone in a scene or automation will affect all devices in all the roooms in a zone.

Devices are of course the individual smart home devices you've added to HomeKit. Devices are sorted by room, and can be manually ordered by the user using the edit function. If you have multiple devices in one place that should always be controlled simultaneously, like light bulbs in a single fixture, you can group them together into a single tile.

If all this seems a little confusing, think of it as a hierarchy. All devices can be controlled individually by device name. All devices reside in rooms that can be controlled by room name. All rooms are placed in zones that can be controlled by zone name. Then finally all zones make up the home under the home name.

Scenes

Scenes provide quick actions to multiple devices with one tap. Scenes provide quick actions to multiple devices with one tap.

A scene acts as a single button or phrase that executes multiple device settings at once. For example: a scene called "good morning" might turn on the bedroom and living area lights, start some music on a speaker at a specific volume, and set the thermostat to a more desirable temperature for getting out of bed.

A scene can have as many or as  few actions as a user wants. Add everything in the home and set them to off in the scene to have a single action that turns off everything. Set that scene to an automation to have everything turn off when no one is home. Simple and powerful.

Automations

Automations are fairly straight forward. The app guides you through the creation, just know what you want to achieve going in. Pick a trigger, like arriving home or a time of day, then select devices and scenes to activate when triggered.

Automations even let you trigger actions using NFC tags. Automations even let you trigger actions using NFC tags.

Automations require no user input, unless they are related to security like opening a lock. As long as it doesn't affect if the house is accessible or not, you're able to do everything else without any input or worry.

If users want even more control from their HomeKit automations, and perhaps throw in some actions from apps as well, automations can be saved as shortcuts to Siri. Alternatively, scenes and devices can be selected and controlled in Shortcuts as well.

HomePod and Siri

Apple’s HomePod lets you control your home via Siri. Apple’s HomePod lets you control your home via Siri.

Apple doesn't sell a smart assistant built into a clock or an oven, or really any device really. HomePod is the closest thing you will have to a Siri appliance. It is a speaker built with audio and music in mind, but its primary interaction is voice via Siri. This makes it an ideal smart home device, not to mention that HomePod also acts as a home hub.

Siri commands are simple when it comes to HomeKit control. And any Siri you speak to, be it on Apple TV or your iPhone, will have the same phrases for home control. Only scenes require specific phrasing, meaning that in order for Siri to activate a custom scene you'll need to say to "run" the exact scene name.

Outside of scenes, voice control works with natural language. Just think about the room the device is in and what it is to perform an action. If you are in your bedroom and want all the lights on, "hey Siri, turn on the bedroom lights" will work as expected. If you don't designate a room, it will default to all rooms, unless the Siri you are speaking to is a HomePod or Apple TV associated with a room. Then, the action will only affect the room the device is in.

Devices like Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches will not know what room they are in, therefore need to be told which room to control if you are not trying to control the entire home. Zones also work as voice commands, like "hey siri, play music in the living area." Assuming the "living area" is a zone consisting of the living room and dining room, for example.

Apple HomeKit History

HomeKit was introduced in 2014 alongside iOS 8, and was unique for having an approval process with human employees inspecting devices before certification. A part of this was a chipset licensed by Apple that not only complicated production, but increased costs of HomeKit devices considerably. The chipset was required because smart devices of the time simply didn’t ship with chipsets capable of full device and network encryption.

Apple removed the chipset requirement in 2017 for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because devices were now more than capable of encryption without a dedicated coprocessor. This meant that as long as a device was powerful enough by itself, or had an attached hub capable of it, that the device could gain HomeKit certification. This allowed a slew of new product categories to flood the market for the Apple Smart Home.

Even with this change, Apple still lags in the smart home market. Competitors like Google and Amazon have simply too many products with too easy an approval process for certification. Without wanting to compromise security and safety of its users, Apple ultimately decided to join a new consortium for home devices.

Project Connected Home over IP has a lot of companies on board. Project Connected Home over IP has a lot of companies on board.

This new group is called Connected Home over IP, or CHIP, would come up with a safe and secure universal standard that would allow home devices to communicate with any of the existing protocols. Nothing has come from this group yet, but the future looks bright for the Apple Smart Home and HomeKit.

As a part of Apple's attempt to spur the creation of more HomeKit devices, they made their HomeKit Accessory Development Kit open-source.

If you are in the market for a home, maybe you would consider buying a pre-fabricated house already set up for HomeKit? Developments like this will drive adoption for those who don't want to spend a lot of time tinkering and modifying their existing homes.

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