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A wise A sensible Home With Apple’s HomeKit

Apple TV The latest Apple TV is the closest thing out there to a HomeKit hub and gateway, letting you control your smart devices out of your iPhone, wherever you’re. And it’s a solid media streamer for Apple fans.
$150 from Apple

Unlike most current smart-home platforms, HomeKit doesn’t require using a hub to control groups of devices, though an Apple TV (or an iOS device you leave at home) is required to act as a gateway when you’re away. But even with no hub, HomeKit devices can easily be configured to work together as part of a modest home automation setup, and in our testing they require less fuss and troubleshooting than most other smart-home platforms.

Introduced in 2014, HomeKit is still evolving. Compatible devices have appeared slowly, and it’s only with the release of iOS 10 that HomeKit has been given a central role (along with a shiny new app) in the Apple ecosystem. In addition to a new Apple-supplied Home app, the Control Center now includes smart-device control, and Apple has added support for brand spanking new devices, including Wi-Fi cameras, and more ways to construct sophisticated and useful interactions between them, such as the flexibility to have locks trigger other devices.

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Table of contents

Who’s HomeKit for?
HomeKit: The fundamentals
What’s different about HomeKit
Getting started with HomeKit

Siri-ous shortcomings—for now
The most effective HomeKit-enabled devices
What to sit up for
Wrapping it up

Who’s HomeKit for?

If you’re an Apple user concerned about smart home gadgets, HomeKit is a capable—if not quite mature—entry point to home automation, with some privacy advantages over other systems. HomeKit allows you to use your iPhone or iPad to regulate compatible devices with your voice using Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, your control panel, or the brand new integrated Home app in iOS 10. Home permits you to create recipes for automation (say, start playing music as you dim the lights) as you’d with other smart home systems. Integrating a number of HomeKit devices may be very simple—close to plug and play when it all works right—but the system overall shouldn’t be as polished as traditional hub-based smart home setups like those built around Samsung’s SmartThings, nor does it let you build interactions which can be as complex. HomeKit, then again, doesn’t have the identical privacy concerns since all communication is encrypted and takes place locally in your devices—nothing needs to be managed within the cloud. This means a simple HomeKit setup will work without a hub, but you’ll need so as to add a 4th generation Apple TV—which acts as a hub and gateway—to control your devices when you’re not on your property Wi-Fi network.

HomeKit: The basics

Apple maintains strict control over HomeKit. Developers looking to have their devices certified as “Works with HomeKit?have to meet not only specific hardware and software standards, but must include a dedicated chip for encryption. The advantage of this approach is that HomeKit devices work pretty well and consistently together, an exception among the many smart home systems available today. Apple notes that HomeKit was designed with privacy and security in mind, and as such all communication between devices is encrypted—not even Apple has any idea what Siri requests you make, when your devices are triggered and how, what your settings are, even what devices you’re using. This may be very much a departure from the norm, as other big players like Amazon, Nest (owned by Alphabet/Google), and Samsung have all been subject to scrutiny for lax privacy or security measures and the big volume of private data they collect (and what they do with it).

This all makes producing HomeKit devices more complicated and expensive for manufacturers, which may explain why, so far, there are far fewer HomeKit-compatible devices available—just a few dozen—versus many hundreds available for other smart home standards, equivalent to Z-Wave, Zigbee, Insteon, and ClearConnect.

What’s different about HomeKit

In most smart-home systems a central hub—like our pick, the Samsung SmartThings—acts as a go-between between the varied smart devices on your home network and the internet, letting you control everything over Wi-Fi when you’re at home, or from your smartphone when you’re out. One major advantage with this kind of system is that you would be able to mix and match a hundreds of third-party devices (lots of them low cost) because a hub supports a variety of wireless standards, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and Zigbee, and is compatible with Nest and Alexa, the SmartThings companion app also permits you to create way more complex interactions than you may currently arrange using HomeKit. And for those who are technically savvy, there’s a vibrant community of amateur programmers who contribute code that may be uploaded to the SmartThings hub. All of that potential flexibility can also make SmartThings too complex for beginners.

HomeKit, in contrast, is nearly completely decentralized: You should purchase two or 10 or even dozens of devices and they’ll happily talk to one another over your Wi-Fi network with minimal setup and without requiring a hub as an intermediary. Devices can easily be set as much as function automatically, and actually, with the recent update to iOS 10, it takes just seconds to create and launch useful, simple automations—we created one scheme that turned on a light whenever a door locked, and another that turned off the lights when we were near home. And HomeKit lets you use your voice to manage devices via Siri (more on that below) right from the smartphone in your pocket.

HomeKit’s main voice-control competitor is Amazon’s Echo line of internet-connected devices, featuring the virtual assistant Alexa. Amazon has made it much easier for third-party developers to jot down Alexa-compatible software than Apple has, instantly opening up a much wider—and quickly expanding—range of compatible devices. Echo also isn’t a bona fide smart-home platform in itself—it’s a controller you add to an existing smart-home system—however it’s powerfully influencing the direction of the consumer smart home as arguably the most important hit up to now alongside the Nest Learning Thermostat. Echo is a static device, however, meant to sit down in your home, always listening for a command; Siri, then again, lives in your mobile devices and laptops. Alexa’s always listening, though you should be near a speaker to use it, while it’s essential trigger Siri, but it’s likely you’ll always have it on you.

Getting started with HomeKit

Using HomeKit means you must have an iOS device—an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch—running iOS 8.1 or newer, though iOS 10 is way preferred, because it includes system-level controls and a local HomeKit app. You’ll be okay with all current iOS devices and older models going back to the iPhone 5 and 4th-generation iPad (click here for the official list of compatible devices).

You possibly can set up a HomeKit device either via its own companion app (you download these from Apple’s App store) or through the home app. All HomeKit devices are assigned a singular identifier code, and when setting up a device with the app you simply scan that code using your iPhone or iPad’s camera rather than having to manually configure everything. In our experience, it’s been a smooth process (with only a few failed pairings as a consequence of incorrect scanning of a code) and required just a few seconds to a minute to affix devices to our home Wi-Fi network where they were instantly linked to our other already installed HomeKit devices.

The following step is to assign your device to a house network—you can have multiple ones, in case you might have say HomeKit setups in numerous locations (at home, at your office, a vacation place), and you’re given the choice to assign that device to a room, in addition to to one or more “scenes?which are actions or groups of actions that can be triggered simultaneously (users of universal remotes will know these as “macros?. That could be as simple as summoning Siri and saying “Good Night,?which triggers the command to shut off your living room lights, activate the front porch one, and lock your front door.

Users will need to enable Apple’s free iCloud Keychain, which securely stores all the assorted pairing information between all of your HomeKit devices, making them accessible to other devices via the cloud. This also allows you to access HomeKit devices from multiple iOS devices or from devices owned by other members of your loved ones, without having to individually configure access for each device. Enabling it is straightforward, done by toggling a switch in the iCloud menu in Settings.

In the event you plan to monitor or control your HomeKit devices remotely—i.e. whenever you aren’t at home—you have to have an Apple TV (either the 3rd or 4th generation) or an iPad (that has been updated to iOS 10) in your network. Which means as a whole smart-home system, HomeKit isn’t truly hubless. The Apple TV acts as a hybrid Internet gateway and smart-home hub on this respect. It permits you to remotely connect with your property network and control any of your HomeKit devices if you aren’t home; it supports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and it may relay commands to Bluetooth-based HomeKit devices which are within about 25 feet. Depending on your own home and device setup, this might necessitate having multiple Apple TV.

If you’ve been using HomeKit and also you need to reap the benefits of the brand new Home app, you’ll want to notice that changes within the setup process mean you’ll should reauthorize at the least some of your devices. In our initial testing, once we enabled HomeKit on our Apple TV, there was no further setup required, no need to configure or pair anything—it all just worked. Following our update to iOS 10, we had a frustrating time getting things up and running again, and discovered after several hair-pulling hours that Apple now requires users to undergo a technique of enabling two-factor authentication—meaning it is advisable to verify your identity on one device and then enter a security code on the other. This, along with the need to enable iCloud Keychain, is woefully under-explained in Apple’s documentation, as there aren’t any prompts in the setup process to let users know it is both required or whether you’ve successfully added an Apple TV to your network. This variation proved an actual-world major hassle in our tests after we changed our Apple ID password and went away on vacation, confident in our ability to keep tabs on things at home, only to find our HomeKit network had become unreachable because we had didn’t update the password on our Apple TV.

Once you’ve successfully added a device (or devices) to your HomeKit network, you’re able to manage them in a number of how: using the home app, a companion app, third-party control apps, or more conveniently (and, well, niftily) together with your voice via Apple’s built-in virtual assistant, Siri. Siri is usually summoned by pressing and holding the home button on an iPhone or iPad, however with more recent devices just like the iPhone 6S or 7 and Apple Watch, Siri will be triggered by simply saying “Hey Siri?after which speaking a command. (This always-on mode, or the lack of it, is a key issue, especially when comparing HomeKit with other smart-home systems; see below, Siri-ious shortcomings, for more discussion). The functions available for voice control will change based on the device you’re controlling—for light bulbs you could possibly dim them, or change their color; a presence sensor might be able to relay temperature in addition to other conditions. Many devices only offer an abridged version of their full capabilities via voice control, with access to the remainder requiring interaction via a companion app or some third-party apps.

The new iOS 10 Home app introduced the ability to create automations—triggers and interactions between devices. Unlike competing smart-home platforms, the language and control schemes are understandable for beginners, and we arrange three automations successfully in just a few minutes in our tests. The options aren’t as sophisticated as you’d find in a SmartThings hub—you can have one or multiple devices activate based on time, your location, or if another device is triggered—but they’re useful and simple to arrange.

Siri-ous shortcomings—for now

Much of the appeal of HomeKit is the ability to make use of voice commands to operate smart-home devices, something Amazon’s competing Echo line of voice-controlled speakers already does wonderfully. In real-world use, we found controlling devices via Siri has vastly improved with the iOS 10 update in terms of speed, but counting on it to regulate HomeKit devices still feels hit or miss. We haven’t tallied every request but in our daily use, Siri fails to correctly process requests often enough that we found ourselves hesitating when deciding to summon it, instead sometimes resorting to using an app. Siri will undoubtedly improve in reliability, but for now, the experience of counting the seconds go by waiting for a response only to have it fail with some frequency is frustrating.

Some unexpected quirks also make using Siri feel inconsistent. For instance, if you want to use your voice to unlock a door, you first have to unlock your phone; this is sound practice from a security perspective but negates much of the perceived convenience of voice control. Notably things are a bit easier if you’ve got an Apple Watch, which will be set as much as have Siri always listening for commands without requiring a touch-based trigger (though, see above); it also can control Bluetooth devices (like smart door locks) even when out of range of your other iOS devices, a convenient shortcut. A couple of of our editors also found Siri to be less linguistically flexible than Alexa, requiring slightly more precise and particular phrasing to have a command understood.

Another issue is that the more comprehensive your system is, the harder it becomes to remember all the voice commands to manage it. As an illustration, every zone and room must have a distinct name, as does every individual device. In case you have 10 Hue bulbs peppered around your home, each with specific names, in several rooms, and even in numerous zones, but only want to control one or two of them, you might easily find yourself struggling to recall specific names and find yourself requiring multiple attempts to command Siri—borderline tongue twisters like “Siri, dim Upstairs Office Hue 2 to fifty percent?are par for the course. This was a standard and frustrating experience for us even with a modest assortment of HomeKit devices, especially when a command failed for whatever reason and Siri’s glib response was,”I’ve sent the message to the lights, but a few of them seem uninterested.?(Oh really Siri, how about telling me which ones?) To be fair we’ve had plenty of Alexa misfires as well. At the very least Apple wisely included a fail-safe mechanism: If Siri is too busy to talk (or simply failing in an epic fashion) and even in case your internet service is down, you might be still able to control all HomeKit devices directly from an app.

A less pressing concern but one we expect might put a damper on the enthusiasm of some HomeKit users is that, despite how useful the brand new Home app is, to access lots of the controls for some devices, or to accomplish firmware updates, still requires downloading individual companion apps. In an effort to get our test system running, we wanted to update the firmware on several devices, along with the apps, a process we’d love to forego if all of it possible. This won’t be a difficulty if you’re starting from scratch, but when you’re migrating HomeKit-compatible devices you previously had into the brand new app, expect some extra effort.

As with lots of current smart-home technology, it’s pretty easy to get befuddled by some of the idiosyncrasies of HomeKit, especially when dealing with Apple’s two-factor authentication and iCloud Keychain. While we found it generally pretty simple to add Wi-Fi HomeKit devices to a system and for them to find each other quickly using Apple’s Home app, we’ve found inconsistent support with Bluetooth-only devices corresponding to spotty access to Elgato Eve products when trying to access them remotely and range issues with a Schlage Sense smart door lock.

Despite those areas of frustration or concern, HomeKit has become a totally fleshed-out system that’s a worthy alternative to other smart-home platforms, particularly if you have already invested in Apple hardware or if privacy and security are a priority.

In pulling together this piece, we researched and then tested greater than a dozen HomeKit devices. The next are our picks for anyone hoping to get started with their own HomeKit system.

The very best HomeKit-enabled devices

Smart-home devices are only as valuable as they’re convenient. With HomeKit particularly, you purchase into an ecosystem that currently offers the advantage of extremely high standards with the downside being that fewer devices are available. Since you don’t need a hub—your iPhone essentially acts as one—unless you have to access your smart devices from outside the home, by which case you’ll need an Apple TV—and most devices connect to one another either across short distances via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (for the latter some devices come with a dedicated gateway which plugs into your own home router) it’s easy to get started.

For remote access

Not everyone must access their smart devices while they’re away, but to do this you’ll need an Apple TV connected to your home network, where it acts as a gateway so you need to use Siri or apps in your iOS device to remotely control your property from wherever you’re. Both the 3rd- and 4th-generation Apple TV units are HomeKit-enabled, but we recommend the 4th-generation model, as it’s faster and more functional (and Apple recently killed of the flexibility to create or run Automations with the 3rd gen).

The Apple TV is also a polished and user-friendly media streamer (see our full review in our Media Streamers guide) and a sensible buy for an Apple household. The setup of a HomeKit devices happens automatically once you check in to your iCloud account on the Apple TV. (This is an important step—for HomeKit to work correctly, your iOS devices have to be signed into the identical iCloud account, which is typically used for purchasing content from Apple’s ecosystem of apps and digital media.) The Apple TV isn’t really a hub—Wi-Fi HomeKit devices communicate directly with one another over a network, or via an iOS device if it’s in range—but the Apple TV does act as a Bluetooth gateway, allowing both local and remote communication with Bluetooth smart-home devices equivalent to an Elgato Eve Room or Door/Window sensor or smart locks like the Schlage Sense or August smart lock.

One gaping hole in the Apple TV’s smart-home functionality (which ought to be resolved later this fall) is the inability to make use of its Siri remote to trigger or control HomeKit devices. Another issue is the necessity to maintain Bluetooth devices within 25 feet or less of the Apple TV. Even in homes of modest size, this could make it difficult to place devices where you want them, and a few users might have multiple Apple TVs or iPads as a way to get their preferred devices to function properly in a big setup.

Best HomeKit thermostat

*On the time of publishing, the worth was $250.

There are still few HomeKit options for controlling your house heating and cooling, but among the options we’ve seen the Ecobee3 is our preferred HomeKit-compatible thermostat and considered one of our overall favorites. The hardware setup and installation are DIY-friendly—though unlike Nest and a few others Ecobee requires a three-wire setup or the use of an adapter cable, which can complicate things for older homes—and getting Ecobee integrated with your HomeKit devices is straightforward. The Ecobee unit is handsomely designed, and it’s intuitive to manage using onscreen touch controls or its app, but we found the ability to regulate it by Siri voice commands a surprisingly attractive advantage of. To tweak the thermostat or check on temperatures within the nursery there’s no must dial up an app or run upstairs, and in contrast to Alexa-compatible options, you don’t have to be in range of your Echo speaker in case your iPhone is in your pocket.

Another advantage of the Ecobee3 over other systems is the power to put an included, battery-powered secondary temperature, motion, and humidity sensor in a remote location. This makes the Ecobee3 more useful in large homes or ones with few or poorly-placed thermostats. In our test setup, which was a single radiant heating zone serving four disparate rooms (a hallway, an open room, a large bedroom, and a nursery), the sensor was the proper antidote, making a median temperature that kept the nursery cozy when occupied without allowing the opposite rooms to get too chilly. Accomplishing this either isn’t possible or takes serious techie gymnastics with the opposite thermostats we’ve tested.

Best HomeKit lighting control

*At the time of publishing, the value was $203.

While the Philips Hue is our favourite smart LED bulb for most smart home users, and the newest version is HomeKit compatible, Lutron’s Caseta Wireless Dimmer Kit works even better with Apple’s smart home system and is a straightforward option for controlling traditional home lighting.

Unlike individual smart bulbs, that are controlled singly or as groups using an app or voice command, Lutron’s smart dimmer allows you to control your existing switched lights and will be controlled wirelessly with Siri or iOS apps and also by utilizing physical switches—an old-school approach that’s sometimes more useful than a lot of smart-home aficionados care to admit. For example, when your smartphone isn’t handy or the internet or your property network is on the fritz, you’ll be able to always shut off or dim your home’s lights without having to tug a circuit breaker—a not uncommon situation some early smart lighting adopters have faced. That said, the flexibility to make use of voice commands for controls, especially for scenes instead of with individual control of devices, is a highlight of HomeKit and the way in which we found ourselves using Caseta most frequently.

Installation of the included in-wall replacement dimmer switch is identical as with a daily switch and so appropriate for experienced DIYers, but novices might want to leave it to a pro, as it involves fiddling with home wiring. Once the dimmer, the Smart Bridge (which connects to your Wi-Fi router), a portable Pico Remote control, and the companion Lutron app are installed and setup, the app guides you to assign the switch to a room and zone, after which you may create lighting scenes, or schedule lighting based on specific hours or sunrise and sunset.

Best HomeKit smart lock

*On the time of publishing, the worth was $217.

August’s HomeKit-enabled smart lock replaces the interior knob of your existing deadbolt with a big dial. On its own, it may be controlled via August’s app or your voice when you’re in Bluetooth range, and you can share access with others as well; when connected to HomeKit and coupled with an Apple TV, you possibly can control the lock remotely via Siri or app. And for those who splurge on an August Connect, which acts like a Wi-Fi bridge, you will get notifications when anyone accesses the door. August also has a Keypad, a slim doorbell-button-sized Bluetooth console that allows you to control an August Lock or assign and share unique door codes for opening and shutting the door without the necessity to download an app (though it doesn’t offer your guest voice control).

In our tests we found it handy to add August to a scene with another smart lock, an outdoor light, and a Caseta dimmer; we labeled the scene “Good Night.?When triggering it via voice command, it would lock (or within the case that the doors were already locked, it could confirm the fact) turn off one light and turn on another. Triggering via Siri was a greater solution for us than simply making a schedule to accomplish the identical scene, since we rarely end the day at the identical hour and thus would risk getting locked out of the house or having the lights go out on us, and doing all of it with a single voice command instead of having to launch an app (or several) is efficient and fun. We had a reasonably good batting average with Siri actually connecting and having all the devices work as commanded, but nowhere near 100 percent, which you’d want in a device as mission critical as a home lock. That said, due to the multiple redundancies for controlling these devices—even if voice commands fail, you’ll be able to fall back on an app, third-party apps, a keypad, or even a physical key—we’re still comfortable recommending it, especially as August continues to supply firmware updates and improvements that will improve reliability.

The August was our pick over the Schlage Sense, a keypad-based model that replaces your entire deadbolt. In our initial review we felt the Sense was a largely fine smart lock but that it was missing a few key features, equivalent to the ability to send notifications (we had a a lot better experience with a Z-wave version for our Smart Lock guide). A recent update has added notifications in addition to the ability to use the Sense as a trigger, both of which make for a major upgrade; however, after the update, our device initially didn’t reboot and the app went haywire. We’ve since resolved the difficulty, but before we will recommend the Sense we’d wish to pursue further testing. We’ll update as soon as possible.

Best HomeKit wireless switch

Photo: Rachel Cericola

*On the time of publishing, the value was $50.

Plug-in smart switches range from basic on/off switches to sophisticated models that may act as light dimmers. The iHome iSP8 builds on its standard smart-switch capabilities—which it performs very well—with smart-home integration and energy-monitoring features, so you may see how much energy your lava lamp is wasting. And unlike competing smart switches, reminiscent of models from Belkin or Insteon, since it’s a HomeKit device you may add it to scenes with the rest of your smart devices, and it doesn’t require a hub. In case your smartphone isn’t nearby, or if you want to take a break from delivering voice commands via Siri, the iHome switch also offers a separate remote control. The remote is extremely basic, offering just on and off features for the one plug, as much as 35 feet away from the device. However, it does not need line-of-sight, which we very much appreciate. The iHome’s companion app for iOS devices is simple enough for somebody new to HomeKit to use, offering options for zones, rooms, scenes, schedules, and triggers, as well as a couple of graphical elements under the Scenes section. It could be nice if iHome could extend some of those aesthetics to the remainder of the app, but the current app is extremely user-friendly.

What to sit up for

As noted above, HomeKit received a major update with the September 13, 2016, release of iOS 10. Though that introduced various welcome improvements, we stay up for further refinement. The Apple HomePod, which was announced at WWDC 2017, will be able to act as a HomeKit hub. We’ll update this guide with how it expands HomeKit’s abilities once it’s available in December.

Sylvania’s Smart+ A19 Full Color bulbs, the company’s first line of smart light bulbs, are supposedly the first to permit owners to regulate them directly via Siri and Apple’s Home app. The Bluetooth-enabled bulbs are expected to ship in September. Once they can be found, we’ll see how seamlessly they work with HomeKit and decide whether to recommend them on this guide.

Wrapping it up

Despite loads of initial hype, HomeKit adoption by manufacturers and users has been slow, causing a good amount of confusion for people looking to construct smart-home systems. There are ultimately numerous highly competent and polished devices available, and by and enormous, setup is simpler than with most other smart home systems we’ve tested, though one of HomeKit’s signature features—voice control via Siri—is neither as user-friendly or widely compatible as Amazon’s Alexa. Quibbles aside, there’s still plenty to like about HomeKit in general and the devices we’ve tested in particular, and we predict Apple is clearly invested in making HomeKit a priority.

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