Everything You Need to Know About Apple HomeKit

Apple HomeKit on iOS, Apple Watch, and HomePod
Apple Inc.

HomeKit is Apple's framework for allowing smart home and Internet of Things devices to work with iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad. It's a platform designed to make it easy for manufacturers of smart-home devices to add iOS compatibility to their products.

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is the name for a class of previously non-digital, non-networked products that now connect to the internet for communication and control. Computers, smartphones, and tablets are Internet of Things devices; they typically work as controls or interfaces for newer smart appliances and items. Some of the most famous are the Nest Thermostat and Amazon Echo.

The Nest replaces a traditional thermostat and provides features like an internet connection, an app to control it, the ability to control it over the internet, usage reports, and intelligent features like learning patterns and suggesting improvements to save energy and improve performance.

Not all Internet of Things devices replace existing, offline products. Amazon Echo — a connected speaker that provides information, plays music, controls other devices, and more — is an example of one such tool that is an entirely new category. It uses the Amazon voice-activated digital assistant, Alexa, to perform tasks.

Internet of Things devices are sometimes referred to as home automation or smart home devices. Those names are a bit misleading because the Internet of Things isn't just the products used in the home. Internet of Things functionality also shows up in offices, factories, arenas, and other outside-the-home locations.

Why You'd Use HomeKit

Apple introduced HomeKit as part of iOS 8 in September 2014 to make it easy for smart-home device manufacturers to interact with iOS devices. The protocol was necessary because no single standard existed for devices to communicate with each other.

A series of competing platforms are available, but without a single platform, it's hard for consumers to know if the devices they buy will work with each other. With HomeKit, all devices will work together and can be controlled from a single app.

Devices That Work With HomeKit

Hundreds of products work with HomeKit. Some examples include:

  • Haier D-Air air conditioner
  • Honeywell Lyric thermostat
  • Hunter HomeKit Enabled Ceiling Fan
  • iDevices Switch Connected Plug
  • Nest Thermostat
  • Philips Hue lighting system
  • Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt

How to Know If a Device Is HomeKit Compatible

HomeKit compatible devices often have a logo on the packaging that reads "Works with Apple HomeKit." Even if you don't see that logo, check the other information provided by the manufacturer. Not every company uses the logo.

The HomeKit logo and devices that support the protocol

Apple has a section in its online store that features HomeKit-compatible products. It doesn't include every compatible device, but it's a place to start.

How HomeKit Works

HomeKit-compatible devices communicate with a hub, a device which gets its instructions from an iPhone or iPad. You send a command from an iOS device — to turn off the lights, for example — to the hub, which then communicates to the bulbs or plugs on the network.

In iOS 8 and 9, the only Apple device that worked as a hub was the 3rd or 4th generation Apple TV, though users could also buy a third-party, standalone hub. In iOS 10, the iPad can work as a hub in addition to the Apple TV and other solutions. The Apple HomePod smart speaker also works as a HomeKit hub.

How to Use HomeKit

You don't use HomeKit itself. Instead, you use products that work with HomeKit. The closest thing to using HomeKit for most people is using the Home app to control their Internet of Things devices. You can also control HomeKit-compatible devices through the Apple digital assistant, Siri. For example, if you have a HomeKit-compatible light, you could say, "Siri, turn on the lights," and it would happen.

Apple's Home App

Home is Apple's Internet of Things controller app. It controls HomeKit-compatible devices from a single place rather than controlling each from its program. 

The Home app controls individual HomeKit-compatible Internet of Things devices. Use the Home app to turn devices on and off and change settings. What's even more useful, though, is that the app controls multiple devices simultaneously using Rooms and Scenes.

A Room is a group of devices that operate together with a single command. For example, if you have three smart bulbs in the living room, control them with a single command like, "Siri, turn off the lights in the living room."

A Room doesn't have to be a single room in a house. You can group Internet of Things appliances in any way that makes sense to you.

Scenes work similarly to Rooms, but control multiple Rooms. A Scene is a specific configuration of all of the smart appliances that are activated with a command, which can be tapping a button in the Home app, issuing a voice command to Siri, or crossing a geofence that you set up.

For example, create a Scene for when you pull into the driveway after work that automatically turns on the lights, adjusts the air conditioner, unlocks the front door, and opens the garage door. You could use another Scene just before sleep to turn off every light in the house and set your coffee maker to brew a pot in the morning.