Apple's HomeKit has lagged behind Alexa and Google Home, but is gaining a few new features that should help it get a bit closer to those other smart home platforms. At WWDC 2021, Apple previewed some new functionality for its network, including the ability to detect packages and view security-camera feeds on your Apple TV.
There aren't a lot of security cameras that fully integrate with HomeKit — Logitech's Circle View video doorbell, security camera and and the EufyCam 2 Pro are among the few — but with the update to HomeKit, these cameras will be able to detect when someone leaves a package at your door.
It's a feature found on the best video doorbells, such as the Nest Hello, and has proved very useful as deliveries have skyrocketed over the past year. Having this as a part of HomeKit means that other video doorbell makers won't have to worry about building this natively into their own devices.
When someone knocks on your door, you'll also be able to see a live feed from your video doorbell or HomeKit-enabled camera on your Apple TV, too. This feature isn't novel — you can already do something similar with Ring cameras on Fire TVs and Nest cameras on Chromecast devices — but it's good to see Apple catching up to the best streaming devices.
However, with HomeKit, you'll be able to view a feed from more than one camera at once, and also control smart home devices near that camera. So, if something triggers one of your cameras, you can then turn on your outside lights.
HomePod mini as a soundbar
In May, Apple announced that its now-discontinued HomePod would be able to be used as a speaker for the Apple TV; at WWDC, Apple said that the $99 HomePod mini would also gain this function. Based on the presentation, it appears that you will be able to pair two HomePod minis for stereo sound, which would make sense given this feature already works for audio.
Siri gets smarter in the home
Another improvement makes the HomePod mini into more of a universal remote; an update will let you ask Siri via the smart speaker to play a movie or show, and Apple's assistant will bring it up on-screen if you have an Apple TV. Again, this is something that Alexa and Google Assistant can already do, but it's good to see Apple achieving parity here. What's not clear yet is if Siri will be able to send commands to your TV and soundbar to turn it on, like the best universal remotes can.
Siri is also being extended to third-party smart home devices. During WWDC, a presenter spoke to Siri through an Ecobee SmartThermostat (we're not sure of the exact model, but assume it's the latest version) to control smart home devices. Ecobee's thermostat has long had Alexa built in, so this is nothing new, but allowing Siri on third-party devices is a new tack for Apple. We're interested to see what other smart home devices will incorporate the assistant.
HomeKit on the Apple Watch
Last, Apple hinted that the Apple Watch would become a more functional part of HomeKit, letting you use the smartwatch to enable Intercom mode, better control accessories, and get picture notifications when someone is at your front door. Ring and Arlo cameras already provide similar notifications, but show only static images, whereas the WWDC presentation displayed what looked like a live view, with the ability to respond from your wrist.
And, you'll also be able to use your Apple Watch or iPhone to unlock a HomeKit-compatible smart lock via a feature called HomeKeys.
Apple didn't provide an exact date as to when all these features will be available — "this fall" was what Tim Cook said during the presentation — but a public beta will be available in July.