A Friendly Comprehensive guide to Apple HomeKit

What is this Home app and what does it do?

Simple answer: The home app is designed to connect all of your smart appliances into one app so you can control your lights, tv, door locks and any other smart device you own from within one app quickly and securely. Keep reading below to learn more about how you can get the most out of the Home app and HomeKit ecosystem.

What problem is HomeKit looking to Solve?

Everything today is becoming smart, from smart lights to smart thermostats and even crockpots and washers and dryers. With Alexa and Siri the futuristic Jarvis home assistant from science fiction is not far away.

The propagation of smart devices in the market from so many different companies each with their own apps and protocols has caused a problem. These different companies don’t talk to each other, there is no shared system or protocol and each has its own app to use their devices. Remembering the right app to turn on your lights when you walk into a room and then finding another app to turn on the fan, and then yet another app to turn on the tv is not easy or convenient. This problem takes the ideal of a smarter easier home and turns it on its head. Apple has created the Home App and The HomeKit Accessory Protocol (HAP) to solve the problem.

Home App – is the app you use on your Apple device to control your smart home appliances.

HomeKit – is the name for the software framework developed by Apple that allows you to connect all of our smart devices from different manufacturers together in one app.

What is the Purpose of the Home App and HomeKit?

The purpose of the Home app is to integrate all of your smart home devices into 1 app. The Home app integrates with your Apple ID account so any Apple device you own, from the Mac to your Phone and iPad, even your watch can access the devices connected to your Home app. The Home app also has deep integration with your Apple device so you can launch the home app from the Control Center on your phone without even unlocking your phone giving you quick access to turn your light on or lock your door. When buying smart home devices as long as it has a sticker on the box that says Works with Apple HomeKit you know that you can use the Home app to control that smart device. Once you have setup your new smart light, lock, thermostat or other device. You can use the Home app solely to control that device in the future and you don’t even need to use the manufactures app to control the smart device.

History of HomeKit

HomeKit was first introduced in September 2014 with iOS 8. Devices compatible with HomeKit were required to go through a certification process with the MFi program and have a physical encryption co-processor chip embedded. This chip requirement contributed to a low participation rate among smart device manufacturers and HomeKit failed to catch on. This was later changed in iOS 11 to only require software authentication and adoption among manufacturers improved.

Most large companies creating iOT (Internet of Things) or smart devices are making their devices compatible with HomeKit with the notable exception of Google and Samsung. Google owned products the most notable is Nest and Samsung’s SmartThings. The reason these devices do not support HomeKit is political. Both Google and Samsung manufacture smartphones that use the Google Android operating system. Both of these companies have a vested interest in you purchasing Android phones and staying in the Android ecosystem.

What device categories work with HomeKit?

The Following categories of devices are currently supported with HomeKit. Click on one of the categories to see Apple’s current list of supported devices and manufactures.

  • TV’s (Coming Soon)
  • Speakers
  • Lights
  • Switches
  • Outlets
  • Thermostats
  • Windows
  • Fans
  • Air Conditioners
  • Humidifiers
  • Air Purifiers
  • Sensors
  • Security Systems and Devices
  • Locks
  • Cameras
  • Doorbells
  • Garage Doors
  • Bridges

Do I need a hub for HomeKit?

No a hub is not required but a hub adds the following capabilities. You can use either an Apple TV or a dedicated always on iPad as a hub.

  • Control your HomeKit accessories remotely
  • Grant access to other people
  • Create automation processes to automate your connected devices

How do I connect my new device to HomeKit?

Connecting devices to HomeKit is an easy process. Your device will come with a sticker that has a series of numbers and an QR code. You will scan this QR code in the Home App to connect your new device. This sticker may come on the box, on the manual, on the device itself or some combination. Here are the detailed directions to add the device.

  1. Open the Home App
  2. Press the Plus button in the top right corner of the app
  3. Choose Add Accessory
  4. Scan the QR code on the sticker of your device

What are Scenes and how do I use them?

Scenes are a way to group multiple smart devices together and have them all perform a function with the press of one button. For example you could create a scene named Living Room with all of the lights in your living room and have them all turn on or off at once with the press of the scene button. Or you could create a scene called Movie Mode and have it turn on the TV, set it to the correct input, dim the lights and lock the door. All depending you having all of those smart devices connected to HomeKit.

What about Nest, can I use Nest devices with HomeKit?

Nest unfortunately is owned by Google and they have little incentive to support HomeKit. Reason being HomeKit is an Apple centric ecosystem, it requires you to have an Apple device to use it. Google wants you to buy Android phones and tablets so supporting Apple’s ecosystem is not in Google’s interest.

However if you own a Nest thermostat you can connect it to your HomeKit setup using a third party application called HomeBridge. The easiest way to use HomeBridge is to buy a Raspberry Pi and Install HomeBridge on the Raspberry Pi. This is somewhat complicated a process it requires you to purchase a Raspberry Pi, install Linux on that Raspberry Pi and then using Linux command lines install HomeBridge. You will then need to install the Nest plugin for HomeBridge and configure that plugin by editing a JSON file. In conjunction with editing the JSON file you will need to create a developer account on Nest’s website and create an API for the HomeBridge Nest Plugin to connect to. If after hearing all of that you are still interested in getting started in attempting this, here is a simple guide for installing HomeBridge on the Raspberry Pi or really any Linux computer. https://github.com/nfarina/homebridge/wiki/Easy-Install-Raspberry-PI-(With-Start-with-boot)

Also here is the Github page for HomeBridge with more directions. https://github.com/nfarina/homebridge

What kinds of automation can I use with HomeKit?

The Home app allows you to setup the following Automation types, but you will need a bridge setup for this to work. You can use an Apple TV as a bridge or a dedicated iPad that is always on.

  • Action when People Arrive, (This needs to be people that you have shared your Apple ID account with so spouse, friend, etc.)
  • Action when People Leave.
  • A Time of Day Occurs
  • An Accessory is Controlled (such as a light being turned on)
  • A Sensor Detects Something (a motion detector or something)

Also be aware that controlling access to your home such as a smart door lock or garage door requires you to manually approve that automation before it can take place. For example you setup an automation to occur when you leave your home and it locks your front door. Even though this is locking and not unlocking, Apple considers this an action that could allow access to your home so it requires manual approval before the action occurs. How this manifests is that for the above example when you leave your home you will get a popup alert on your phone and it will ask you if you want to run the automation to lock your door. If you press yes it will then go ahead and lock your door. In my opinion this kind of defeats the purpose of the automation but unfortunately there is no way around it and this manual approval setup is required.

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Hi I am Jeremy. The goal of this blog is  to make using technology easier in your daily life. We provide reviews, guides and how to articles.