Apple wants to streamline home automation.

In other words: it wants to make it easier for smart accessories to communicate, and for you to connect and manage all the smart accessories in your home from various manufacturers (Philips Hue lights, for instance, or Wink lights, as well as other speakers, thermostats, detectors, plugs, blinds, locks, sensors, etc). HomeKit is Apple’s framework for home automation.

Manufacturers can implement HomeKit into their smart accessories. It was first announced at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 2014. The name is a combination of “home” for home automation and “kit” for software developer kit (SDK). HomeKit-enabled accessories are secure, easy to control (commanded by a single interface: Siri), and work with Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

The idea is you’ll use a HomeKit-compatible app to set up your home and all the rooms with accessories, and then you’ll set up actions and triggers to control those accessories. If you’d like to know more about HomeKit, Pocket-lint has explained everything you need to know below.

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So, you’re probably wondering to yourself: I’ve longed own smart lights and controlled them with their own easy-to-use iOS app - why is HomeKit necessary now? Well, imagine that you also own smart blinds.

Without HomeKit, your smart lights can’t communicate with your smart blinds, meaning you can’t hook them up together, control them with a single interface, nor set them to perform actions together at certain times. (Like, make your lights automatically to turn off and window blinds simultaneously close at 9 pm EST every night.) Instead, you must manually control each accessory with their individual, third-party apps and set every one to do a specific task at a certain time. That’s all rather tedious, to be honest.

HomeKit-enabled smart accessories however can speak to each other, and best of all, you can control them using voice commands through Siri. You can use Siri on your iPhone/iPad by saying things like “turn on the lights in the living room” - or even “good morning” to unleash a bunch of commands that’ll cause many smart accessories to turn on and do their thing (maybe your coffee will start brewing while your blinds open).

Every HomeKit-enabled accessory automatically works with Siri once you set it up via its HomeKit-compatible app. Siri is just the unified interface you use to issue voice commands to those smart accessories. You still need the individual apps that come with those smart accessories to gain full access to touch controls and whatnot. So, it's not completely streamlined just yet.

Now, the last thing you need to know about HomeKit is that it can enforce end-to-end encryption between all smart accessories and iOS devices. That means third parties can’t steal your data, hack their way into your communications, or take control of your home automation.

Yep. Manufacturers can add support for it now, then get approved by Apple, and their devices will work with Siri after pairing. We're just waiting on more HomeKit-enabled accessories to hit store shelves. 

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HomeKit works with any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running run iOS 8.1 or later. Also, with watchOS 2, you can now control all your HomeKit accessories with the Apple Watch (more on that later). And if you have an Apple TV (third generation or later), you can control your accessories with Siri commands when you're away from home (more on that later).

Nope.

To set up smart accessories, Apple is letting you use the third-party apps that come with those smart accessories (for now, anyway). Once everything is set up within a HomeKit-compatible app, you will be able to control the HomeKit-enabled accessory with Siri (no Apple HomeKit app required). Simples. That said, there is a HomeKit section under Privacy in Settings. It’s a place for you to see which apps have requested access to your home data. We expect a more full-fledged HomeKit menu to appear in Settings in the future, along with management options.

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Any manufacturer in the world that wants to develop HomeKit-enabled accessories has to not only add support for HomeKit into their devices and companion apps but also join Apple's Made for iPhone (MFI) certification program and submit its plans, prototypes, etc.

Apple will check the application programming interfaces (APIs), then ensure the third-party app meets the App Store's requirements, and finally, approve or deny the accessory for production. Apple provides MFI logos on any certified device's packaging, which tells you the accessory is an official MFI-certified product. These products are secure and compatible with iPhone and iPad.

When Apple showed off HomeKit in 2014, it announced HomeKit partnerships with many manufacturers, including as iHome, Haier, Withings, Philips, iDevices, Belkin, Honeywell, and Kwikset. The first batch of HomeKit-enabled, MFI-certified accessories include:

  • Elgato: Elgato and it's Eve sensors went on sale in the Apple Online Store in July 2015. The first four sensors are the Eve Room (£69.95), Eve Weather (£44.95), Eve Door & Window (£34.95), and Eve Energy (£44.95). Additional Eve products are coming. The Eve app is now out as a free download from the App Store.
  • Ecobee: Ecobee in the US is offering an intelligent thermostat with HomeKit integration. It launched in June 2015 and costs $249 (£163).
  • Lutron: If you're looking to control your lights Lutron will be releasing the Caseta Wireless system that allows you to bark orders like "lights off". The Caséta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit, with HomeKit-enabled Smart Bridge, is available for $229.95 at Apple Stores. The kit includes one Caséta Wireless Smart Bridge, two Caséta Wireless dimmers (compatible with dimmable LED, halogen, and incandescent bulbs), two remotes and two pedestals. To add more lights, you can purchase the Caséta Wireless dimmer/remote kits, also available at Apple Stores, for $59.95.
  • iHome: The iHome iSP5 Smartplug fits into your standard wall sockets and will mean you can turn off connected devices via Siri.
  • Insteon: The Insteon Hub will let you control a whole manner of things like cameras, switches, sensors and more either via an app, Siri, or schedules like configuring a single device to turn on and off at dusk and dawn or create customized groups of devices that turn on and off at various times throughout the day.

Go here to see a full list of devices. You can also shop them from here.

HomeKit-enabled accessories are marked with a “Works with Apple HomeKit” badge on their product packaging and have only been available since June 2015. If you previously owned one of the above-listed products, they won’t work with HomeKit going forward. You need to buy the new versions. But there is a workaround for old smart accessories: you could get the Insteon Hub or iHome SmartPlug and use the HomeKit support within those device to leverage Siri and control anything connected to them, such as Phillips Hue lights.

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Pairing

  • To use HomeKit, you need an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 8.1 or later. You also need one or more HomeKit-enabled accessories (see a list of devices from here).
  • On your iOS device, go to the App Store, then download the HomeKit-compatible app for your HomeKit-enabled accessory, and pair that accessory with your iOS device. Your accessory will come with a HomeKit setup code. Open the app for your accessory, and then point your device's camera at the setup code to scan it.

Siri

  • Once your iOS device and accessory have been paired, you can control the accessory with these Siri commands, which includes phrases like “turn off the lights” or “set the temperature to 68 degrees F”. If you set up homes, rooms, zones, or scenes (more on that later), you can use commands like “movie time”, for instance, to simultaneously control your TV, audio equipment, lights, or whatever.
  • You’ll also be able to use Siri via your Apple Watch to issue voice commands. But that’s not all: your watch can still control HomeKit devices when you aren’t carrying your phone. Let’s say, for instance, you go for a run with your watch but leave your iPhone at home, you can unlock your HomeKit-enabled door when near it using BT proximity detection or a companion Apple Watch app.
  • If you have an Apple TV (third-generation or later), sign in to iCloud with the same Apple ID on your iOS device and Apple TV. This will allow you to control your accessories with Siri commands when you're away.

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If you don't want to use Siri voice commands all the time, you can set up your accessories to respond to other triggers, such as your location, the time, or another accessory. So, for location, you can set your garage door to open when you pull up. With time, you can have your coffee pot come on at 6 am PST, and with the accessory, you could use a motion sensor to detect when you walk into a dark hallway and turn on the lights.

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Some smart accessories have individual apps that let you group your accessories in homes, rooms, or scenes. This lets you control a group of accessories with a single Siri command. Keep in mind you'll need to set up these groups within the apps of the accessories.

With HomeKit, everything - a home, room, accessory, function, setting, etc - must have its own name and be stored in a common database accessible by Siri. That's because Siri has to recognise what to control when you speak a command. For example, if you own a house and a condo, each home must have a different name (such as "House" and "Condo").

Every single room in your homes must have different names as well. Take note that you can have a "Kitchen" in both homes, but you can't have two "Kitchens" in one home. Also, all HomeKit accessories in your home need their own names too. And every function or service that the device is capable of providing will need a distinct name in HomeKit.

Luckily, HomeKit-compatible apps take care of must of this stuff for you. That means, if you want a cup of coffee, the app should seamlessly let you name your machine "Coffee pot" and the function as ”Brew". Siri will only be able to control your home, rooms, and HomeKit-enabled devices by voice if it can recognise pre-programmed names across your apps.

Those of you who are tech-savvy could conceivably have hundreds of names between all your rooms, accessories, and functions. To make it easier for you to control multiple smart accessories at once, Apple offers a grouping feature with HomeKit. Grouping allows you to, for instance, turn off all the lights in your house with a single spoken command.

That means you won't have to ask Siri to shut off every light in every room in every house you own. Grouping also includes sub-features called rooms or scenes, so you can control multiple devices in an area or for a specific reason. Imagine you've assigned a scene called “Goodnight”, and various devices and actions are connected to that scene, such as locking your doors, turning off the lights, and setting your alarm.

When you tell Siri “Goodnight”, HomeKit's grouping feature will alert your doors, lights, and clock to do their respective tasks (in no particular order). After you group your accessories in a home, you can also invite other people to share control of these accessories. They just need to sign in to iCloud to accept the invitation. If you create the home, you're the admin, and people you invite are shared users (learn more from here).

Apple's HomeKit is unique in that it doesn't have much stiff competition. Sure - Samsung offers a home automation platform called Samsung Smart Home, but it just debuted earlier this year and is still new. There's also a nifty platform and app called SmartThings, which turns your smartphone into a remote to control for smart devices in your home. Samsung acquired SmartThings last year, and you can read all about that here.

Apart from Samsung and SmartThings, Apple should keep on eye on Google. The Mountain View-based company already has the potential to both topple HomeKit and dominate home automation, thanks to a company called Nest Labs. Google acquired Nest Labs - the makers of the Nest smart learning thermostat - for $3.2 billion in January 2014. The high price tag of the acquisition (coupled with Google’s newcomer status to the smart home market) made headlines and confirmed Google’s interest in home automation.

Then, in 2014, Google announced a new developer program for the Nest division. Called "Works with Nest", the program provides a set of APIs that manufacturers can include in their smart devices in order to let you link and remote control them as well as integrate them with Nest and other Google products. The thing is you won't hear anything about Google or Android. Google is keeping the Nest brand separate, letting Nest spearhead home automation for the company (which will eventually include rivaling HomeKit).

Check out Apple’s HomeKit support page for more details.