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What is HomeKit? How Apple wants to put Siri in charge of your home

Andy Vandervell



What will HomeKit do for you and what are the main HomeKit devices right now? Read our guide to find out.

HomeKit is Apple’s answer to making your home smarter and more connected. It’s one of a number of standards, like Google’s Works with Nest and Project Brillo, aiming to take command of all your smart devices under a single, unified system.

Specifically, HomeKit is the name of the development system and standards that product and app developers must follow to be compatible with Apple products.

It’s similar in principle to HealthKit in that data measured by HomeKit devices will be shareable with other devices, and any product that supports it should work seamlessly with other Apple products.

How is HomeKit different to a normal app?

There are plenty of smart home devices already with working apps, so what benefits will a HomeKit-enabled device get?

The main one is better integration with iOS and Mac OS. For example, HomeKit compatibility will mean you can control aspects of a device using Siri instead of diving into the app.

This will make using things like smart thermostats and lights much easier, as you can trigger actions by saying "Turn off the lights in the living room" or "What’s the temperature in the kitchen?" without unlocking your phone.

SEE ALSO: How Apple, Google and Samsung will take over your home

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This practicality is further extended by the Apple Watch, as it also supports Siri and so benefits from the integration with HomeKit.

Another benefit is how HomeKit devices could use the data from other devices to respond to actions. You could, for example, trigger the lights to change colour according to room temperature, or the heating to turn on when it detects the garage door being opened.

These are just isolated examples, but the possibilities are only limited by the creativity of developers and any limits Apple places on access to its operating system.

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How do I set up HomeKit?

You effectively create the info HomeKit needs to operate when you add new devices. Part of the HomeKit standard requires developers to support the creation of homes and rooms within homes.

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So, for example, when you set up your first HomeKit device, it would ask you to create a 'Home' and provide information about the rooms in the home.

Each time you add a new device you would then add the device to a room, so HomeKit and other compatible apps will know what devices are where and what they do.

This is what will allow you say "Turn the lights on in the living room" and enable that to work.

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You'll also be able to create zones, which will allow you to group rooms into related 'zones' throughout you home.

This means, for example, you can to tell Siri to "Turn on the lights upstairs". So long as you've told it which rooms are upstairs, it will then apply that action to all those rooms.

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One final option is create what Apple calls 'Action Sets'. This is where you can group a set of different actions from different devices into one command. For example, you could create a 'Go to Bed' action that turns off all the lights, turns down your thermostat, closes the garage door and activates and alarm.

How will you control HomeKit apps?

You’ll still largely use individual apps to control your smart devices – despite some rumours suggesting a central 'Home' app, Apple didn't announce one in the latest version of iOS.

Indeed, the main benefit of HomeKit support is the ability to control devices using Siri – whether that's on your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. Apple's view is that Siri is the easiest way to access the features of HomeKit apps and devices, rather than a central app.

What types of devices does HomeKit support?

Apple has created a set of profiles that defines what HomeKit devices it supports. These profiles allow Siri to understand what it can control.

The list of supported profiles currently includes garage door openers (e.g. MyQ Garage Opener), lights (e.g. Philips Hue), door locks (e.g. Schlage Sense Door Lock), Thermostats (e.g. Honeywell Lyric Thermostat), IP cameras (e.g. Withings Home), switches and smart plugs, window shades, security alarms and sensors.

Developers and device makers can create custom profiles, but they can't be understood by Siri until Apple supports them officially.

SEE ALSO: What are Project Brillo and Project Weave?

HomeKit devices

Is HomeKit secure?

Apple employs end-to-end encryption for all HomeKit devices and apps, ensuring they can't be misused or their data appropriated for other means. This also means your data is totally private, so there shouldn't be any privacy problems when using HomeKit apps.

One of the ways Apple does this is by only making HomeKit APIs – the underlying software that allows apps to talk to each other – accessible when you're actively using the app.


June 26, 2015, 2:36 pm

While this sounds promising, it might be worth pointing out that there's probably no way of verifying that your data is actually end-to-end encrypted. At least, iMessage doesn't provide any such means. (Other secure messaging apps, like Threema, do.)

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