The Apple HomeKit SmartHome platform has been all over the news lately, but many people don’t have a clear idea about features such as how to use it, what you can use with it, and so on. Keep reading as we dig into HomeKit to uncover some of the mysteries surrounding it.

What is HomeKit?

In June 2014 at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple announced iOS 8 and highlighted some of the upcoming features. Among those features were two new «Kit» platforms, HealthKit and HomeKit, designed to integrate iOS with two growing digital age trends: quantitative self-service and smart homes. What is HealthKit for your body and fitness, HomeKit for your home and electronics.

HomeKit is not a single control app, but a hardware certification platform and database system that allows developers to build hardware and integrate that hardware with iOS to enable easy discovery, configuration, control, and communication between a wide range of SmartHome products such as locks, locks, lighting, security equipment and other home automation products.

Armed with HomeKit products and your iOS device, you can set up your home so that the lights come on at a specific time each morning to wake you up, the thermostat turns on AC when you drive home on a hot day, and at the end of the day, you can lean against bed and speak loudly with your iOS device to tell HomeKit to close the house for the evening. Let’s take a look at the most common questions we’ve been asked about HomeKit and in the process highlight everything you need to use it and what you can do with it.

Do my current smart home products work with HomeKit?

Short answer: «Probably not, with a slight hint of Maybe» . Let’s take a closer look at this. HomeKit products must meet two criteria to be compatible with the HomeKit platform. First, they must be certified through Apple’s MFI program, a certification process that Apple has been using for years (going back in one form or another to the original «Made for iPod» certification around 2005). This certification is intended to ensure that any product labeled as such works properly with Apple iOS hardware and that the developers of said hardware adhere to certain safety rules and practices.

RELATED: How to transfer your smart bulbs to the new Philips Hue Bridge

Speaking of security practices, that brings us to the second criterion of the HomeKit platform: the inclusion of a dedicated encryption co-processor in all HomeKit certified hardware.

Managing the components of someone’s home is an important undertaking both from a practical safety point of view and from an emotional point of view of the owner of said equipment. Apple designed HomeKit from the beginning to provide security and work around the security flaws of many early SmartHome products, as well as give people peace of mind when connecting sensitive components like home locks and security cameras to their network and the greater Internet.

So you can’t take a pre-HomeKit smart home product like a smart power strip you bought three years ago and just add it to your HomeKit system because that product is most likely not MFi certified and definitely not have HomeKit hardware encryption.

The only way for a manufacturer to insert their old non-HomeKit hardware into a HomeKit system is if they release a new bridge that has HomeKit certification and encryption. This is exactly the path Philips took when they released the new Bridge 2.0 for their Hue lighting system, and Insteon followed suit with the release of their Hub Pro. Both devices are HomeKit certified and can connect pre-HomeKit equipment to a HomeKit system.

Unfortunately, if the manufacturer doesn’t use a central hub system and/or release an updated HomeKit-enabled hub, then your older hardware won’t be able to integrate with HomeKit.

How do I actually use HomeKit?

You never use HomeKit directly in the same way that you never use the Internet directly (you use an application like an FTP client or web browser instead). HomeKit serves as the backbone of your Apple-powered smart home, as all of these invisible protocols and network connections power the Internet.

For example, your iOS device does not have a central HomeKit control panel that you can simply open and manage all of your devices. While HomeKit is always in the background processing everything, the actual interaction comes in four forms: through a manufacturer’s app, through a third-party app created by an iOS developer, through Siri voice control, or through digital and physical triggers.

Manufacturer Apps

Each app for a HomeKit-certified device typically contains two HomeKit-related items. First, this app will have the ability to link your HomeKit-certified hardware to a scene, room, or zone. For example, your smartbulb system may have a «scene» system where you can create scenes such as «relaxation», «movie time», or «morning routine».

It can also give you the ability to group lights into physical rooms or areas, such as «bedroom» or «upstairs». The second element related to HomeKit is the ability to link the app with the iOS voice assistant Siri; somewhere in the app’s menu system, you’ll find an option to «Enable Siri», «Enable Siri HomeKit Integration», etc. We’ll talk more about Siri in a minute.

Third Party Applications

The HomeKit system is also available to developers outside of those involved in hardware manufacturing. This allows developers to create control panels for the HomeKit system that thankfully fill a void that is conspicuously missing from the native HomeKit interface.

One example of such an app that we particularly like is the simply named Home app by Matthias Hochgatterer. Its app works exactly like the versatile toolbar many people have come to expect from HomeKit (and allows you to create rooms and zones even for HomeKit apps/hardware that lack said functionality).

We fully expect more apps like Home to hit the market as demand for more robust and traditional HomeKit-like dashboard controls increases with the introduction of HomeKit-enabled hardware.

Voice control

While the apps are great (and essential for setting up and customizing your HomeKit hardware), the real «HomeKit» feature is a killer ready-made integration with iOS’s digital voice assistant Siri.

RELATED: How to use Siri to control your Philips Hue Lights

With heavy Siri integration, your HomeKit system can be controlled by nothing more than your iOS device and your voice. In our How To Use Siri To Control The Lights In Your Home guide, we showed you how to connect your Philips Hue system to HomeKit.

Siri’s controls are pretty flexible, and if there’s a scene/room/zone and a corresponding task that Siri can do on the HomeKit database, it’s very good at using natural language patterns to execute your commands. Commands such as «Office Lights Off», «Set House 75 Degrees» or «Set Morning Scene» are easy to understand for Siri and, if your product’s HomeKit hardware/app supports it, will turn off office lights, change house temperature or activate anything related to your morning scene (for example, changing the light to cool white and starting the coffee maker).

Environmental triggers

While voice-controlled triggers are super cool and definitely make you feel like you’re living in the future (we’re used to ending our day by saying, «Hey Siri, turn off the lights»), the real magic is the environment triggers that happen in the background without any interaction with you.

To do this, you can set up HomeKit with location, time, and hardware triggers so that your home automatically makes changes based on where you are, what time of day it is, and where you are in the home (or other sensor). based on triggers).

With such triggers, HomeKit can turn the lights on and power off when the GPS on your iPhone detects that you are near your home to automatically turn on the lights to wake you up in the morning or the oven to turn on when the motion sensor in the hallway detects that people get up and move around in the morning.

Between ubiquitous location tracking thanks to the presence of a GPS chip in iOS devices, the simplicity of watch-based triggers, and the ever-falling prices of simple sensors, the future of home automation is certainly a kind of background running in the background, in which our homes just adjust and adapt to us without any of the hassle of switches, schedules, thermostats, or other activities that defined 20th-century life.

Can I use HomeKit when away from home?

By default, HomeKit only works in your home, or more specifically, within range of the Wi-Fi that links your iOS device to HomeKit devices. If you want to be able to issue commands from afar with voice commands, then you need an optional accessory.

Thankfully, this accessory isn’t a monotonous pony where you shell out money for a little bridge that just sits there, plugged into the wall, doing nothing but waiting for you to send out a voice command from across the country.

Apple has integrated the HomeKit control into the Apple TV so that your entertainment center can do double duty as a home control center. You do not needed Apple TV to use HomeKit, but you need it if you want to control HomeKit from afar.

To do this, all you need is an Apple TV (3rd generation or newer), and to ensure that the iOS device you normally use to control HomeKit hardware and the Apple TV are connected to the same iCloud account .

If you’ve already invested in SmartHome hardware, implementing HomeKit will definitely be a daunting task. However, for those who are still on the cusp of adoption and are already using iOS devices, HomeKit is a huge step in the right direction that bridges easy integration and universal control with a frequently breaking landscape of home automation hardware and protocols.

Do you have a question about HomeKit or SmartHome hardware and automation in general? Send us an email at and we’ll try to answer it.

Images courtesy of Apple and Insteon.

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