Apple announced its smart home automation platform HomeKit a year ago, and the first devices for the platform are now shipping, enabling you to finally control your home with your iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. A second crop of devices for the framework will be released in July.
To refresh your memory, HomeKit isn’t an app, but instead is a framework that enables smart home products to communicate with one another. HomeKit enables device manufacturers to build apps that connect to other HomeKit products, allowing Siri to tap into those devices and enabling homeowners to set different presets for lights, music, televisions, and other devices. While the platform has, technically, been available since the launch of iOS 8, the first products that work with it have just completed Apple’s long review process, which Mashable’s Samantha Murphy Kelly reports includes checking that each one is secure and provides end-to-end encryption.
All of the devices available for HomeKit can be controlled either through their apps or with Siri, prompting The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes to report that “Siri is starting to take over the smart home,” though an Apple TV is required to use voice control from outside of the home. The products for sale now are from two companies: Lutron, which is offering lighting kits, and Insteon, which is offering a smart home hub. Three other companies will begin shipping HomeKit products in July. Ecobee will offer a smart thermostat, iHome will offer a power outlet, and Elgato will offer a series of home sensors that can keep track of air quality, weather, energy use, and whether doors and windows are open or closed.
The specific devices compatible with HomeKit include: Lutron’s Caseta Smart Bridge, a wireless lighting hub that enables users to control groups of lights with connected switches and dimmers, which costs $229.95 with additional dimmers and remotes for $59.95; the Insteon Hub, which enables users to control and automate an array of lights and appliances and costs $149.99; Elgato’s Eve line of room, weather, door & window, and energy sensors, which will cost $79.99 for Eve Room, $49.95 for Eve Weather, $49.95 for Eve Energy and $39.95 for Eve Door & Window; Ecobee’s Ecobee3 WiFi thermostat and remote sensors, which will cost $249 with additional remote sensors available for $79 per pair; and iHome’s SmartPlug connected power outlet, for which pricing hasn’t yet been announced.
You can control your HomeKit devices with Siri as long as you have their apps installed and you’re running iOS 8.1 or later. The setup and discovery of HomeKit devices is automatic, and you can group devices into different collections for control and management. If you have an Apple TV, you can also control your HomeKit devices when you’re away from home and disconnected from your home WiFi network, according to MacRumors. It’s been known that Apple TV would serve as a hub for many HomeKit accessories since CES in January, and support for the HomeKit framework was introduced in the Apple TV 7.0 software last September.
As Apple Insider’s Sam Oliver notes, one of the best things about a smart home is that you can control it — or it can manage itself — while you’re away from home. And getting that to work well has traditionally required shelling out for an expensive proprietary system, or exercising the extreme degree of patience needed to put together a system from pieces by different manufacturers, juggling apps and standards. But as Apple looks to change that with HomeKit, the Apple TV could prove to be an ideal bridge between your iPhone and your smart home.
Oliver explains that the system automatically registers a compatible Apple TV as a remote access peer once the user signs into iCloud; home and accessory data is stored using iCloud, and paired keys are synced via Keychain. Once that’s set up, Oliver imagines, you could use your Apple Watch to ask Siri to unlock the front door as you approach with a load of groceries, or tap on your iPhone to turn on more lights in your garage as you change your oil.
While, on their own, the HomeKit-compatible devices are simple building blocks of a smart home, they afford someone who’s interested in smart home automation a place to get started. Apple could reveal more about its smart home plans at its upcoming WWDC developer conference. But even more certain is that HomeKit is the promising beginning of a new ecosystem of accessories for Apple, with more devices by a wider array of manufacturers very likely to roll out soon. TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington notes that it’s interesting to see Apple announcing the initial lineup of HomeKit devices ahead of WWDC, and the move implies that the company has so much to talk about at the event that the HomeKit announcement didn’t fit into the agenda.
MacRumors notes that Apple is expected to unveil a new A8-based Apple TV, with both an App Store and Siri, at WWDC. The next generation of the set-top box is also rumored to feature a “dramatic increase” in internal storage, reportedly far beyond the 8GB offered by the current model. The inclusion of Siri would be integral to enabling users of HomeKit accessories to control the smart home with voice commands.