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A primer to Apple Home and Homekit

Apple is helping consumers make their homes smarter. Find out how.

One of Apple’s biggest USPs, since long has been its exclusive ecosystem. For a company that started off making home computers, Apple has obviously come a long way, dominating the tech industry with products in almost every category. From tablets, phones, computers, laptops to software services like cloud storage and music streaming. With each new tech product or service, the value of this ecosystem kept on increasing, and the need for consumers to step out of this ecosystem kept on decreasing. Critics of Apple and its exclusive ecosystem call it restrictive, but it is because of this restrictiveness that Apple has been able to keep everything so smooth and cohesive in its ecosystem – everything plays well with everything else. All your contacts, photos, videos, account settings and preferences are synced across all your devices automatically.

The next obvious step in this ecosystem of devices was including your home, and that’s exactly what HomeKit and Home are meant for.

smart home

HomeKit

HomeKit is Apple’s smart home platform that provides a framework for smart home device manufacturers to communicate with each other and your Apple devices. It was first announced by Apple at the 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference. Its name is actually made by combining ‘Home’ and ‘Software Developer Kit’.

So what sets the HomeKit framework apart from the other industry standards and why would manufacturers use it when they already have their own iOS apps?

Well, the reason is that HomeKit provides a standard for devices from different manufacturers to communicate with each other and automate actions making your house and devices all the smarter. A smart-home isn’t really a smart-house until all the devices are capable of exchanging information and interacting with each other. Also, one of the most important features of HomeKit is its deep integration with Siri, letting you control all HomeKit enabled devices through the voice-enabled AI assistant residing on your phone.

phillips hue
Phillips has a wide range of HomeKit enabled smart devices including the
Hue Hub and bulbs showed above.

Whenever a new technology comes up, the second argument you hear about is its security and smart homes and smart home devices are no different. The industry has already been abuzz with these concerns for quite some time now. But if you are using HomeKit enabled devices, you can relax, at least a bit, as all communication between any two devices or your Apple device and the smart accessory is ‘end to end’ encrypted.

HomeKit is still not a widely popular standard though, something you’d both want and expect from Apple when you are buying into their smart home ecosystem. The reason behind this are the strict policies, rules and regulations that Apple has implemented, which manufacturers have to meet before developing and launching HomeKit enabled accessories. Any manufacturer willing to implement it in their device will have to join Apple’s Made for iPhone certification program, sign up for its licence, and meet all the requirements. Once this is done, it’s Apple who decides whether the device is up to the mark or not, and only once approval is received, will the device get to display a “Works with Apple HomeKit” badge. All this makes for a lot of extra effort which many manufacturers are not willing to put in, just yet. Nest, one of the leading manufacturers of smart home devices in the market right now, has no HomeKit enabled device and isn’t planning on coming out with any soon.

Though things are slowly changing. With the launch of Apple Home, a central app that lets you control all your HomeKit enabled devices from one place, and with Apple’s much-awaited voice-controlled smart hub – the Homepod – they now have a complete ecosystem for smart homes, giving manufacturers more incentive to incorporate HomeKit in their devices.

Apple Home
Apple’s official website has a list of all HomeKit enabled smart devices currently available in the market

Home

To complement the HomeKit platform and provide a central command centre for all your HomeKit enabled smart devices, Apple brought out the Home app, and it was something which was missing from the ecosystem. Apple Home lets you control all your HomeKit enabled smart devices from an iPad or iPhone running iOS 10, Apple TV and even Apple Watch.

HomeKit was a good platform with its end to end encryption, but you had to rely on third-party applications from different vendors and even then it wasn’t possible to create elaborate automatic actions which one can perform using existing smart home hubs. The Home is not a smart home hub replacement though.

It doesn’t have many new features, but rather brings all the features and functionalities that come along with HomeKit under one roof – in one app. Most importantly it lets you create automatic actions and fully utilize the potential of having a house full of HomeKit enabled smart devices.

HomePod
Apple’s HomePod

Starting up Home is easy. It comes preinstalled with the latest iOS. Search for ‘Home’, launch the app and get a quick walkthrough tutorial to get acquainted with the UI.

The features and functionalities are divided into 3 tabs inside the app – Home, Rooms and Automation.

Home

Apple Home
This is what the Home landing page can look like after some customisation

This is the main landing page of the app where you see all your HomeKit enabled devices and can start building your smart home from. Connect your devices to your home network, and tap the ‘Add Accessory’ button. Home will scan your home network for all available devices, pair with them and add them to this tab. All your added devices can be accessed directly from here. You can tap various icons of different accessories like your smart lights, drapes and thermostat and toggle them on and off. To access a device’s more specific controls, long press the accessory and you will see all the controls related to the device pop up fullscreen.

Once you have set it all up and opened the app, the home tab will list down all the active devices in your smart home like the number of lights turned on or open locks. Press the edit button in the top left corner, and you get to rename your house, set a background wallpaper for the app, add other users and leave notes for them.

Room

Once you have added all the devices in your house to your app, you can segregate them into ‘Rooms’ based on their physical location or whatever way you want. You can create scenes for specific rooms, and access all the devices in a room from one location. The devices which aren’t added to any room are put into a default room. This is a very nice feature which de-clutters your home letting you easily access any device and offers more flexibility.

Apple Home
‘Automation’ lets you automate various activities based on various different parameters

Automation

This is the golden egg, something which the standalone HomeKit lagged. Automation lets you automate device activities based on time of the day, particular day, the activity of a particular device in your home grid, sensor response or your activity and position inside the house. But to actually be able to use this feature, one needs a 4th Generation Apple TV or an iPad running iOS 10 to act as a hub.

Other features

  • The home app and Siri are not the only way you can control your smart home now. A new pane has been added to the swipe up control centre, that lists up to 9 favourite devices and 8 scenes which you can directly access and control from your lock screen, or anywhere on the iPhone.
  • For the Automations to work and for you to be able to control your smart home from far away, a central hub is needed. This hub can either be the Apple TV 4 or an iPad running iOS 10. All you have to do is leave your tablet connected to your home network when you are going away, and it will control and take care of your smart home.
  • The home app is also supported by the Apple watch. This app is basic compared to its iOS counterpart, but it lets you toggle your devices on or off and control some of its basic features right from your wrist. You can also select between different scenes.
  • Homes is a multiuser app and obviously, you won’t be the only one controlling all the devices in your home when you have five more people living with you. Home takes care of this seamlessly.
  • The Home app has a very intuitive feature called ‘scenes’ where you can set up a particular scene along with a phrase, which when said activates it. Scenes, basically allows you to control multiple devices simultaneously and make them work and activate with a single command. So you can set up a ‘Scene’ called “I am leaving” such that every time you say it, all the lights in your house are turned off, the thermostat goes in a passive state and the blinds are drawn close. Pretty cool eh? This is as close as it gets to JARVIS in real life, at least right now.

This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of Fast Track on Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Purusharth Sharma

Purusharth Sharma