Apple's jumping into the smart-home business, but what does it have to offer?
As part of its gradual domination of every aspect of daily life, Apple has set its sights on the burgeoning smart-home market with HomeKit, a framework for controlling Wi-Fi-enabled lights, speakers, thermostats, security systems and other compatible smart devices from a single app. Like all things Apple, HomeKit aims to be simple and accessible enough that anyone can use it, but there are still a few aspects to it that warrant further explanation. Let's take a look:
What is HomeKit?
HomeKit is the name for the network protocol that allows different Apple-approved smart devices communicate with each other. Rather than manufacture a whole new range of smart-home appliances, Apple is working with existing brands to incorporate their devices into the HomeKit ecosystem. Over 50 companies worldwide currently sell HomeKit-enabled products, with each product reviewed by Apple and fully configurable and controllable through Apple's Home app.
The list of HomeKit-enabled devices is comprehensive, but some of the biggest product lines include the following:
- Philips Hue smart lights
- Elgato light switches
- iHome smart plugs
- ecobee thermostats
- Honeywell thermostats
- Hunter ceiling fans
- De'Longhi heaters
- Onelink smoke detectors
- August smart locks
- D-Link Omna cameras
- Elgato Eve motion detectors
- Serena motorised window shades
How does the Home app work?
Available on any iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch running iOS 10, the Home app lets you view the status of and control any HomeKit-enabled device connected to the same wireless network as your iDevice. Some devices will only support basic on/off controls, while others will allow for more advanced features such as changing the brightness of your lights, adjusting the temperature of your thermostat or viewing the feed from your security camera.
To add a new smart device to the Home app, you first need to power the device on and connect it to your home Wi-Fi network. Once you've done this, you will need to open up the Home app and wait for the device to appear on the home page. When it does, you'll need to tap it and enter the 8-digit HomeKit code located on the smart device or use your iDevice's camera to scan the code in automatically. From there, you can add extra information about the smart device, such as the room where it's installed or the name you want to use when referring to it so you can control it through Siri. Excluding a few devices that require additional setup through their manufacturer's apps, you will then be able to control and customise the device straight from the Home app.
The Home app includes the ability to group several devices together into what it calls "scenes". These scenes let you combine multiple functions into one command, so that you can, for example, turn off all the lights in your house and activate your security system with a single tap.
Automation and remote control
If you have an iPad or a fourth-generation Apple TV, you can set it up as a home hub to enable automation and remote control of your HomeKit devices. While operating as a home hub, the iPad or the Apple TV must remain powered on and connected to your home Wi-Fi network, otherwise they'll lose access to your HomeKit devices.
Once you have a home hub set up, you can create tasks to be performed automatically when certain conditions are met. For example, you could set your heater to turn on at 4:30pm every day, so that the house is warm when you arrive home from work. Or you could have all your house lights switch off whenever you walk out of the house, saving you the trouble of doing it yourself. You can set up all these tasks within the Home app.
Setting up a home hub also lets you control your HomeKit devices manually while you're out of the house. After specifying which users are allowed to control your house remotely, you can manage your home from the Home app regardless of where you are. Forget to close the garage door? Left a light on upstairs? Worried about an important delivery being pinched from your doorstep? Being able to manage your home remotely solves these problems and many more.
What about Siri?
One of the greatest benefits of Apple's smart-home initiative is its integration with Siri, everyone's favourite virtual personal assistant. Rather than pulling out your phone and tapping through the Home app to check if you locked the front door before climbing into bed, you can simply ask Siri and she'll tell you. So long as you have your phone or another Siri-enabled device nearby, all it takes is a single voice command to check on and control your HomeKit devices. If you've got a home hub set up, you can even use Siri to control your house while you're out and about.
What is HomePod?
To complement its HomeKit framework, Apple has built a voice-activated smart speaker called HomePod to function as the central hub of your smart home. HomePod is powered by Siri, which means it's able to answer questions, summarise the news, provide local traffic information and perform any other function Siri is capable of.
For smart-home owners, HomePod also serves as a command centre for HomeKit-enabled devices. Like the Home app, you can use the HomePod to control any HomeKit device on the same network through simple voice commands. However, unlike the Home app, you won't need to carry your phone around to keep Siri within range of your voice; HomePod's 6-microphone array is powerful enough to hear you across the room even when you're blaring music out of it.
Music is one of HomePod's key selling points. Not only does it pack a high-excursion woofer and seven horn-loaded tweeters, it can sense where it's placed in a room and adjust its audio output accordingly. Apple promises that this results in acoustics that are superior to any ordinary speaker on the market. Additionally, HomePod can link with Apple's music streaming service, Apple Music, providing hands-free access to its library of over 40 million songs.