(Pocket-lint) - After what seems like years of planning, especially in the fast moving world of gadgets, Apple's solution to getting your smarthome devices talking to each other has finally arrived.
Launching with iOS 10, Apple's dedicated Home app - which is the interface to HomeKit - will, for the first time, allow you to automate your home with over 100 different compatible devices - ranging from smart connected plugs to window blinds that can be closed by using your voice.
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First debuted in 2014 with iOS 8, HomeKit promised to deliver a common protocol alongside secure pairing and the ability to easily control individual or groups of devices throughout the home - including integration with Siri. Two years on and Apple is about to release a dedicated app alongside a big push by third-party manufacturers to get HomeKit truly into homes.
Is HomeKit in 2016 it the smarthome solution to rule all things?
Apple Home review: One app to rule them all
The experience centres around the single Home app. Although HomeKit-compatible devices have been available in some guise for some time, this is the first time Apple has given iPhone and iPad control via its own all-in-one dedicated app.
The idea behind the Home app is that rather than devices silo-ed within their own dedicated apps, HomeKit devices are able to talk to each other across a unified secure platform. One app to rule them all and all that.
The app itself is simple, yet powerful. Broken down into three main areas - Rooms, Scenes and Automations - you can quickly access all the HomeKit devices in your house, view them room by room, or create automations based on specific triggers.
The homescreen in Home is like Mission Control in Apple's Mac-based OS X operating system. Key details are given, favourite scenes listed and favourite accessories accessed. Regardless of whether you have one device or 35, they are all here to be picked at the touch of a button.
The interface is easy to use and a longer press (using Force Touch on the iPhone 6S) allows you to access the selected HokeKit device to make changes - say, brightness if it's a connected light bulb, or further information if it's a temperature sensor.
Apple Home review: Rooms and Scenes
The Home screen is fine for those with only a handful of HomeKit devices, but is likely to soon get cluttered if you have more. Realising that, Apple has created Rooms.
Breaking down your HomeKit devices by room makes a lot of sense, allowing you to effectively zone your gadgets into logical groups. A quick swipe to the right in the Home app moves you to the next room you've got setup. A nice touch is that you can replace the background image with a photo (say of that specific room) and of course change the name - you don't have to stay with "Kid Bedroom 3".
Within Rooms you can also create something called Scenes. These allow you to control different gadgets created by different manufacturers at the same time, but restricted to a single room in your house.
Scenes can be anything from simply saying "Movie Night" to allow you to create the perfect mood for watching a film in your living room, to something more serious like automatically having all the lights in your house turn on and the front door unlock if a HomeKit compatible smoke detector goes off.
The winning element here is when you've got more than one smart device by more than one manufacturer in a given room. That's where the system really shines.
With an array of different devices available, or in development and coming to the market soon, you can soon allow yourself to run away with what is and will be possible in the future. It's no longer the stuff of sci-fi movies. Come September, it will be a reality.
Scenes are easy to create and Apple gives you four default offerings to get you started, including "Good Night" (that could be set to turn everything off) or "I'm Leaving" (which could also be set to do the same as you walk out the door). The real power, though, comes in creating your own custom scenes with your own array of accessories.
Want to make it so when you close the door to the nursey the lights dim and music starts playing? That's all possible - and really without you having to do anything other than setting up the rules for it to happen. Want to make it so you never come home to a dark house or need your keys if you've got your phone? That's possible too.
It's sounds corny, but the possibilities really are endless.
Apple Home review: Hey Siri, it's Movie Night
Apple has also layered Siri into the Home mix, allowing you to voice command orders at your iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, or even Apple TV to get your instructions heard. While many third-party products are compatible with separate apps outside of the Apple experience, you'll only be able to use Home on Apple products.
Each HomeKit device can be referenced separately, as a Room or Scene, with Siri doing very well to understand many of the requests you are likely to throw at it. Say "Good Night", and that scene would automatically kick in, for example, which is ideal if you are already tucked up in bed. Saying "Good Morning", could turn on your kitchen lights and start the coffee machine. Nice.
Using Apple TV and you can use its remote, to save getting the iPhone out, and it's clever enough to understand that saying "Movie Night", isn't going to pop-up some random movie, but instead perhaps dim the lights, close the blinds, and maybe turn up the heating so you can snuggle in for the evening. If only there was a HomeKit popcorn maker.
Apple Home review: Automations
Apple also lets you to set Automations based on time, location, sensor (i.e. when it detects something) and accessory (when it is controlled). However, you'll need remote access via Apple TV or a home-based iPad for these to function - something we'll cover in more detail below.
Setting-up Automations means that you can have lights turn on and the curtains close at a set time, or your front door unlock as you approach your house.
Where Automations might struggle is that they aren't yet able to offer nuances to specific requests, like understanding who's still in the house, or whether one automation wrongly overrides another - like turning on all the lights when you come home after a session in the pub and everyone else has gone to bed.
At this stage it seems like you will have to make sure your Scenes are setup correctly to avoid awkward moments with other members of your household.
Apple Home review: Connecting away from home with Apple TV and iPad
Apple has concentrated on making the system as secure as possible - and that does have its side affects.
This stringent security system means HomeKit devices will have to be on either the same wireless network or within Bluetooth range to use all the dedicated HomeKit features, like Siri or automations. That's a potential problem if you aren't at home, although you might find that you can use a product's own cloud service instead (which kind of defeats the point, but is there as a backup).
If you want to keep within the Apple Home experience, the obvious and cheapest way of doing this is to install an Apple TV running tvOS 10 - as it can act as a constant connection hub, regardless of where you and your iPhone or iPad are.
You can also opt to use an iPad running iOS 10 too (handy for countries where you can't get Apple TV), as long as you don't take it out of the home. Taking it out of the home or turning it off will terminate your HomeKit access, but it does offer another way to get remote access without necessarily having to immediately buy an Apple TV (if you don't have one). Apple is unsure whether you'll be able to do the similar trick with a spare or older iPhone, but that might change for release.
Apple Home review: You'll need HomeKit-enabled devices
If you've already got some smarthome devices in your house they won't automatically work. Some, like Philips Hue, are upgradable by replacing the Hue Bridge, but others like the security camera Canary will have to be completely replaced with the HomeKit-enabled Canary Plus when it eventually comes out.
Whether manufacturers will offer an upgrade path is yet to be seen, but it does punish early adopters.
Then there are other devices that won't be HomeKit at all. Google-backed Nest hasn't announced any plans to allow Apple users to integrate the intelligent thermostat into the HomeKit eco-system, for example. That might change if the system takes off, though.
Apple Home is the company's attempt to unify the smarthome by delivering a single app that works efficiently with HomeKit-enabled devices - without having to dip into multiple apps. That could be, say, automatically turning on the kitchen lights at sunset, or starting up a fan when the temperature in your town gets to a certain level.
You could argue that there are a number of work-arounds for this already though. Many smarthome devices offer their own remote cloud experience, or there's the IFTTT service (If This Then That) which allows you tap into a number of smarthome devices and have them perform tasks based on actions from other services.
However, different APIs via IFTTT don't offer the same security protocols as Apple. It's this point about security which is why you will have to own an Apple TV or at-home iPad hub should you want to use the Home app when away from home.
What Apple Home really gets right is the "one app to rule them all" approach. And it really starts to shine above and beyond dedicated device apps when you pair multiple devices together. It's at that moment everything snaps into place.
If Apple has its way, it won't be long before your home is very smart indeed. Now all we need are the HomeKit-enabled devices.