Everything You Need to Know About Apple HomeKit

apple homekit
image credit: Apple Inc.

What Is HomeKit?

HomeKit is Apple's framework for allowing smart home/Internet of Things (IoT) devices to work with iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad. It's a platform designed to make it easy for manufacturers of smart-home devices to add iOS compatibility to their products.

What Is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things is the name given to a class of previously non-digital, non-networked products that now connect to the Internet for communication and control.

Computers, smartphones, and tablets are not considered IoT devices. Some of the most famous Internet of Things devices are the Nest Thermostat and Amazon Echo. The Nest Thermostat is a good example of what makes an IoT device different. It replaces a traditional thermostat and provides features like an Internet connection, an app to control it, the ability to set it over the Internet, reporting on usage, and intelligent features like learning usage patterns and suggesting improvements.

Not all Internet of Things devices replace existing offline products. Amazon's Echo—a connected speaker that can provide information, play music, control other devices, and more—is a good example of one such device that is an entirely new category.

Internet of Things devices are sometimes also referred to as home automation or smart home devices. This is a bit misleading because the Internet of Things isn't limited to products you use in your home. IoT devices also show up in offices, factories, arenas, and other outside-the-home locations.

Why Is HomeKit Necessary?

Apple created HomeKit to make it easy for smart-home device manufacturers to interact with iOS devices. This was necessary because there's no single standard for IoT devices to communicate with each other. There are a series of competing platforms—AllSeen, AllJoyn, Z Wave—but without a single standard, it's hard for consumers to know if the devices they buy will work with each other. With HomeKit, you can not only be sure that all devices will work together, but also that they can be controlled from a single app (for more on this, see the questions about the Home app below).

When Was HomeKit Introduced?

Apple introduced HomeKit as part of iOS 8 in Sept. 2014.

What Devices Work With HomeKit?

There are hundreds of IoT devices that work with HomeKit. They are too many to list them all here, but some good examples include:

  • Haier D-Air air conditioner. 
  • Honeywell Lyric thermostat.
  • Hunter HomeKit Enabled Ceiling Fan.
  • iDevices Switch Connected Plug.
  • Nest Thermostat.
  • Philips Hue lighting system.
  • Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt.

How Do I Know If a Device Is HomeKit Compatible?

HomeKit compatible devices often have a logo on their packaging that reads "Works with Apple HomeKit." Even if you don't see that logo, check the other information provided by the manufacturer. Not every company uses the logo.

Apple has a section of its online store that features HomeKit-compatible products. It doesn't include every compatible device, but it's a good place to start.

How Does HomeKit Work?

HomeKit-compatible devices communicate with a "hub," a device which gets its instructions from an iPhone or iPad. You send a command from your iOS device—to turn off the lights, for instance—to the hub, which then communicates the command to the lights. In iOS 8 and 9, the only Apple device that worked as a hub was the 3rd or 4th generation Apple TV, though users could also buy a third-party, standalone hub. In iOS 10, the iPad can work as a hub in addition to the Apple TV and third-party hubs. Apple's HomePod smart speaker also works as a HomeKit hub.

How Do I Use HomeKit?

You don't really use HomeKit itself. Rather, you use products that work with HomeKit. The closest thing to using HomeKit for most people is using the Home app to control their Internet of Things devices. You can also control HomeKit-compatible devices through Siri. For instance, if you have a HomeKit-compatible light, you could say, "Siri, turn on the lights" and it would happen.

What Is Apple's Home App?

Home is Apple's Internet of Things controller app. It allows you to control all of your HomeKit-compatible devices from a single app, rather than controlling each from its own app. 

What Can the Home App Do?

The Home app lets you control individual HomeKit-compatible Internet of Things devices. You can use it to turn them on and off, change their settings, etc. What's even more useful, though, is that the app can be used to control multiple devices simultaneously. This is done using a feature called Scenes.

You can set up your own Scenes. For example, you could create a Scene for when you come pull into the driveway after work that automatically turns on the lights, adjusts the air conditioner, unlocks the front door, and opens the garage door. You could use another Scene just before sleep to turn off every light in the house, set your coffee maker to brew a pot in the morning, etc.

How Do I Get the Home App?

The Home app comes pre-installed by default as part of iOS 10.