Apple HomeKit: What Is It, and How Do You Use It?

As Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have shown, the ability to control your home with simple commands is no longer the stuff of sci-fi or limited to programmers with extensive knowledge of home automation. And you don’t need a smart speaker as a gateway, either.

Illustration: Tom's GuideIllustration: Tom's GuideApple's HomeKit is simple enough for novices who just want to say, "Siri, I'm home," into their iPhone, before walking through their automatically unlocked door and entering a relaxing scene with just the right lighting, temperature and electronics running.

What is Apple HomeKit?

Apple HomeKit is a system that lets you control your smart home devices all in one place. It allows you to adjust your thermostat, lights, locks and more in multiple rooms, creating comfortable environments and just the right ambiance with a tap on your smartphone via the Apple Home app. You can even use it to control your devices remotely.

In contrast to Amazon's Echo smart home hub, Apple’s HomeKit isn’t compatible with ta ton of devices. However, it could be an easy starting point for Apple fans who are just beginning to set up their smart homes.

What is the Apple Home app?

The Apple Home app, which runs on iOS 10 or later, lets you securely control any smart home device labeled as a "Works with Apple HomeKit” accessory. In the app, you can organize your accessories by room, manage multiple accessories at the same time, control your home with Siri, and more. Think of it as an app that turns your phone into a universal remote control for smart home devices that you could potentially use from anywhere in the world.

How does HomeKit work?

While you're home, all you need is the Apple Home app to control your Bluetooth or Wi-Fi-enabled HomeKit-compatible smart devices. To turn those devices on or off in the app, you'll simply tap on them.  

Photo credit: ApplePhoto credit: AppleTo control your smart home devices when you’re not home, you'll need a third- or fourth-generation Apple TV running tvOS 9 or later or an iPad running iOS 10. For added features, including the ability to give other users permission to control your devices via HomeKit, you'll need a 4th-generation Apple TV with tvOS 10 or an iPad running iOS 10.

The same goes for users who want to set up home automation, such as programming a series of events based on certain circumstances, or turning on the lights, heat or air conditioning when you get home from work.

MORE: Smart Home Guide: What to Know Before You Buy

Some HomeKit devices are connected to your hub via your Wi-Fi connection. Others need to be in Bluetooth range of your hub, which can be tricky if you want to control devices that are more than 30 or so feet away. In that case, you may want to get a Bluetooth range extender, such as the Elgato Eve Extend or the ConnectSense Bluetooth Extender, which act as Bluetooth-to-Wi-Fi bridges to broaden your devices' Bluetooth range.

What can I control with Apple HomeKit?

HomeKit lets you turn on and off and dim your lights, adjust your thermostat, turn on and off devices connected to outlets using smart plugs or switches, lock and unlock your front door, see who's at your door and more. Apple's goal has been to make it easy for beginners to set up their smart homes, which can be a daunting task for novices.

What brands are compatible with Apple HomeKit?

Currently, far fewer devices work with Apple's HomeKit than with other smart home hubs, but there’s a decent selection.

Here are a few highlights from Apple's full list of HomeKit-compatible devices:

For lighting, HomeKit works with devices such as Philips Hue white and mood lighting bulbs and lighting systems. To control temperature at home, it works with Ecobee, Honeywell and Carrier thermostats.

To keep your home safe, HomeKit works with August Smart Locks; Elgato Eve Door & Window sensors; Fibaro door, window, motion and flood sensors; and Withings Home Plus security camera and Latch deadbolt-equipped security cameras.

Think of Apple Home as an app that turns your phone into a universal remote control for smart home devices that you could potentially use anywhere in the world.

HomeKit can also control smart plugs such as those from iHome and Elgato, the Hunter Apache Wi-Fi Ceiling Fan, and even a Wi-Fi smoke and carbon monoxide alarm from First Alert.

How much does it cost?

The Apple Home app itself is free, but you'll need to pay for the smart devices you'll set up if you don't already own them. On the less expensive side, a single iHome iSP5 Control Smart Plug costs $49, and on the other end of the spectrum, an Ecobee3 Smart Wi-Fi Thermostat costs $249.95.

Depending on how big your home is and whether you want to control your lights, temperature, locks, security cameras and other devices, you could easily break the $1,000 mark. Plus, you'll need an Apple TV or iPad if you want to be able to control your smart home remotely.

What are scenes, and how do you create them?

HomeKit lets you create custom scenes that will trigger a number of devices at the same time. These scenes can be activated automatically at a set time, or when certain conditions are met.

Credit: AppleCredit: AppleFor instance, at bedtime, you can set HomeKit to lock your front door, turn off all of your lights and lower your thermostat to your ideal sleeping temperature. Or, if you have a motion sensor hooked up, you can also set lights or other connected devices to turn on or off when motion is detected in a certain area of your home.

How does HomeKit work with Siri, and what can I control with my voice?

When you set up HomeKit, Siri knows what's connected, and without opening the Home app, you can ask the virtual assistant to turn devices on or off, adjust temperature, set scenes, check connected cameras and more if you have the right Apple TV or iPad set up.

Does HomeKit work with the Apple Watch?

You can control some of your smart home accessories with an Apple Watch by setting them to show as favorites, or simply by asking Siri to perform specific actions from your Watch.  

Do I need Apple HomeKit?

Like many smart home devices, HomeKit and all of the devices you can connect it with are luxuries. But if you travel frequently, like to keep an eye on what's going on at home when you're away, or just want to come home to a calm environment with a push of a button or a few words to Siri, HomeKit might be worth it for you, especially if you already have an Apple TV.

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