Apple HomeKit: what is and how it works

Published on Apr 27, 2015 in iOS Developers Resources


HomeKit is a home automation system that will allow users to have wireless and electronic control of their home and all the smart devices in it via their iPhone or iPad. As a result, users will be able to control all the household features and appliances like heating, lighting or security from their phones or tablets. Thanks to HomeKit, you won’t need to use individual apps to control every single smart device in your home.

Apparently, HomeKit won’t have a lot of rivals for now, because although Samsung Smart Home also offers a home automation platform, it just debuted earlier this year. There’s also a platform and app called SmartThings, which turns your smartphone into a remote control for smart devices in your home. The main competitor Apple will have to keep an eye on is Google: the company acquired the home automation firm Nest Labs last year, which indicates that Google is also interested in entering this market.

HomeKit’s release date

HomeKit technically debuted with iOS 8 last autumn, though it isn’t available for consumers because it has yet to be activated by Apple. HomeKit is expected to launch soon, but there’s not confirmed date at this point. However, several HomeKit partners and third-party manufacturers are unveiling new products that support Apple’s home automation system. At the company's Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2014, Apple announced partnerships with numerous household manufacturers, including Philips, Withings, iHome, Haier, iDevices, Belkin, Honeywell and Kwikset.


How will it work?

With HomeKit, Apple essentially created a common language that smart devices or accessories from any manufacturer can understand and support. HomeKit will work fundamentally with Siri, Apple's intelligent voice assistance, letting you control all the smart devices with your voice. Siri doesn’t just understand words, but also the global meaning of your questions or commands. So, for example, if you say “I’m cold”, Siri would understand it and thus turn on your heating.

You will have a bunch of smart devices (lights, cameras, smoke alarms, door locks) from multiple manufacturers that can understand each other and work together. In the HomeKit system, everything (a home, room, device, setting, etc) must have its own name and be stored in a common database accessible by Siri. HomeKit will work with iOS 8, which will guide you through the process of configuring and naming all the HomeKit-enabled devices and rooms.

You’ll also need to give a different name to every function or service that the device is capable to do. The problem with this is that you could end up with a lot of names for everything, so Apple has included a grouping feature to make it easier for you to control multiple things at once.That means you won't have to ask Siri to shut off every light in every room, for instance.

HomeKit will group your accessories and functionalities into three categories: “rooms,” “zones” and “scenes”. With “room” control, you can turn on/off all smart devices in one determinate room with a single tap. A “zone” is a group of rooms, this enabling you to control smart devices in multiple rooms at once. Finally, you can also create “scenes”. Let’s take the example of a scene called “It’s bedtime”: when you give that voice command to Siri, HomeKit will know what to do with all the devices connected to that scene, such as locking the doors, turning off the lights and setting your alarm clock.


One of the main questions we may ask ourselves is if HomeKit will be secure: as usual, Apple promises it will. The connected smart devices will use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (in many cases, both) and your iPhone will just recognise the devices you want to control. Your iPhone will share your Wi-Fi details with the device, and thanks to iCloud Keychain, you will be able to authorise other iPhones and iPads to control the accessory too. Another big question right now is if users will be able to manage their devices once they are outside their Wi-Fi zone. According to some information, once you are away from home you’ll just be able to use HomeKit if you have an AppleTV. This AppleTV would be connected to Wi-Fi or through the Ethernet, and would receive orders through Siri via iCloud from wherever you are. However, AppleTV won't be required to control HomeKit in general; it would just act as an intermediary, letting you give Siri voice commands to your home from a remote location.

First HomeKit-enabled devices

Many companies introduced their HomeKit-compatible smart devices at CES 2015, although most of them aren't yet for sale, as Apple's platform still hasn't launched.

These are some of the first HomeKit-enabled products seen at CES last January:

  • Chamberlain’s MyQ Garage, a garage door opener.
  • Insteon Hub Pro, which will let you control any Insteon lighting in the house.
  • Honeywell’s Lyric Thermostat, which includes control via the Apple Watch. You will be able to see a snapshot of your home system in your Apple Watch, and thanks to the smartwatch’s geofencing feature, it will engage Out of Town mode when you leave range of your home network.
  • Incipio adaptors, including the Incipio Direct Wireless Smart Outlet, which lets you toggle power outlets on and off using Siri commands; the Smart Lamp Adapter, which lets you control all the bulbs in your home, and a four-port Power Strip that allows you to control the devices plugged into it.
  • Schlage Sense Door Locks.
  • Elgato Eve home-monitoring system, which includes a wide range of electronic sensors for tracking air quality, temperature, humidity, air pressure, energy or water consumption.
  • Tempo Environment Monitor, which monitors temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure indoors or outdoors.
  • Withings Home Security Camera is a 5-megapixel, 135-degree camera that detects motion and includes a time-lapse view of the last 12 hours.
  • With the iHome SmartPlug, you can plug any appliance into it and you’ll be able to control it from inside your home or remotely using Siri via an iPhone app called iHome Control. You will be able to name each device that’s plugged in within the app and group them by room.
Homekit Partners

Some of these products have their own apps, but there’s no evidence that there will be an official HomeKit app. The system will probably run in the background of iOS 8, controlling your smart devices either directly or indirectly through iOS features like Siri and Geolocation fencing. Apple insists in Siri as the main way to control your HomeKit.

Info for developers

HomeKit is a software framework that enables developers to integrate internet-connected home devices with iOS apps. To turn accessories into HomeKit-enabled, manufacturers will just have to add support for HomeKit into their smart devices. The framework was made available to developers after WWDC and you require a developer’s account to develop it. In order to get involved with HomeKit APIs, developers have to sign up (and pay) for Apple's Made for iPhone (MFi) program. That also ensures that customers are buying a product that uses legitimate Apple connection. Anyway, Apple mentioned the possibility of connecting other smart products (not MFi) to HomeKit using a hardware “bridge”. These non-HomeKit devices would use competing protocols, like ZigBee or Z-Wave.

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