|At a glance|
|Product||Apple Home () [Website]|
|Summary||Feature in Apple iOS 10 to control HomeKit devices|
|Pros||• Installs most HomeKit devices using a common installation interface
• Easy to navigate
• Customizable Home screen with favorite devices, scenes, and status
• Accessory icons show device status
|Cons||• iOS 10 only
• Must have Apple TV or iOS 10.x device activated as a hub to
create automation tasks
• Application controls and uses only basic features of more
• Firmware upgrades must use the manufacturer’s app
• Complex automation may require using manufacturer’s app to
• Requires Apple TV or dedicated on-site iPad as hub for remote access
Typical Price: $0
HomeKit’s rollout hasn’t been as fast as one would expect for a company with Apple’s clout. First, HomeKit certified devices were slow to make it to market. Since 2015, I’ve reviewed only two HomeKit compatible products, the Insteon Hub Pro – a hub that bridges between Insteon networks and HomeKit devices and iHome’s ISP5 SmartPlug – a simple HomeKit certified “smart” outlet.
The other stumbling block for HomeKit was the absence of a unifying HomeKit app from Apple. If you installed hardware from more than one manufacturer, you were stuck using each manufacturer’s app to control the product. This was demonstrated in my recent review of three HomeKit Smart Plugs with power monitoring capabilities. That review was written using an iOS 9.3.5 iPad and relied on the applications supplied for each device.
But HomeKit finally appears to have matured enough for Apple to make it a key feature in iOS 10. The new Home app claims to eliminate the need for third party apps by providing full-featured control of all HomeKit certified products.
Since many of the features across the products are common to the HomeKit Platform, before delving into the individual products, let’s take a look at general Pros and Cons of the HomeKit platform.
|HomeKit At a Glance|
|Pros||• Siri Voice control of zones, rooms, devices, scenes, and automation tasks
• Wi-Fi devices do not require a hub
• Unified iOS Home app (iOS 10 only)
• Secure peer-to-peer communication between HomeKit devices and iOS device
• Works without an Internet connection
• Simple setup
• Stores HomeKit data in iCloud
|Cons||• iOS devices only – Android not supported
• Remote access requires a dedicated local iOS 10 device or an Apple TV
• No Apple Home support for iOS versions before iOS 10
• Can be controlled by only one “Master” iOS device or invited guests
• No email, SMS or in-app notifications
In this review, I’m putting Apple Home to the test by using the three smart outlets from my previous review and adding a few other devices to the mix. Here’s the list:
- Grid Connect ConnectSense Smart Outlet
- Elgato eve energy Switch & Power Meter
- Koogeek Wi-Fi Enabled Smart Plug P1
- iHome ISP5 SmartPlug
- Elgato Eve Room
- Philips Hue White A19 Starter Kit
- Incipio Smart Light Bulb Adapter With Dimming
While we previously reviewed Philips’ Hue starter kit, the Philips kit used in this review has a HomeKit capable hub. The Elgato Eve Room sensor is a battery-powered Bluetooth device that monitors temperature, humidity and air quality. Finally, the Incipio Smart Light Bulb Adapter is a HomeKit-enabled Wi-Fi device that screws into a light socket. Screw any dimmable bulb into the adapter, and you can control it
I will attempt to install all devices using the Home app and test the features of the devices to see if the Home app really can be the one to rule them all.
The blank page shown at the top of the review will appear when you first open the Apple Home app if you haven’t previously installed any HomeKit devices. Otherwise, previously installed HomeKit devices should appear. (Apple refers to HomeKit devices as "Accessories"; I’ll be using both terms interchangeably.)
Setting up new HomeKit accessories using the Home app is very simple. Just tap the “+” key in the upper right corner and select Add Accessory. A discovery screen will appear and find any unconfigured HomeKit devices. Then select the device you want to add. You may be prompted to allow the device to connect to your Wi-Fi network.
Next, you either manually enter the eight digit HomeKit code, or use the camera on your iOS device to scan the number from a label that’s included with the product. An “Add Accessory” screen lets you rename the accessory, place the accessory in a room, define the accessory type, and include the accessory as a favorite on your home page. The process is virtually identical for all HomeKit accessories. It takes longer to remove a HomeKit device from its packaging than to configure it.
Though setup involves just a few steps, I’ve included a short gallery below to show how it looks. Remember, the process is the same for most products.
Allow Wi-Fi access and Scan pairing code
Configure name, location, type, and favorites
You may have noticed I said “most products”. Of the seven products I attempted to install, five of them installed using the Apple Home app. For the Philips product, since it had a hub that needed to be configured separately, I first set up the hub, allowed it to update its firmware, then discover the two lightbulbs. Once the hub and lights were working within the Philips app, Apple Home discovered the Philips Hub as a HomeKit accessory as well as its two connected light bulbs.
I attempted to install the Elgato eve room accessory but ran into a hitch. The Apple Home app found the device and successfully paired it, but then jumped to the red screen below.
Apple HomeKit won’t update accessory firmware
While it added the device to the Home screen the icon showed “Unknown, Not Supported”.
eve room accessory not supported until firmware upgraded
After upgrading the firmware using the Elgato Eve app, the three sensors in eve room accessory (temperature, humidity, and air quality) each appeared as separate read-only icons.
The screenshot below shows the My Home screen fully populated with all my installed accessories. The only one I elected not to have on the home screen, for the sake of layout, was the icon for the air quality sensor. You can add more icons to the home screen, but they appear below the two rows of five icons, and you have to scroll down to access them. The air quality icon doesn’t change very often, and, like the other two sensors in the eve room accessory, they are read-only sensors. You can’t control them, though you can use them to control automation. More on that later.
Apple Home “Home” screen showing favorites
In the upper left corner, tapping the location icon displays the name of the home (My Home), the connected Home Hubs and people to whom you’ve sent sharing invitations. You can also change the Home screen wallpaper or use the built-in camera on your iOS device to shoot a photo to use as your wallpaper.
The edit icon in near the upper right corner makes the icons on your screen “wiggle” so that you can rearrange them. Normally, a long press on an icon in iOS is used to enter the edit mode, but in the Home app, a long press on an icon gives you access to control the accessory.
The “+” icon opens a submenu that lets you add an accessory or scene. Surprisingly, the submenu does not include an option for adding new rooms. Figuring out how to add a room took a little searching through the UI. To add a room, navigate to a room page and a menu icon in the upper left corner of the screen lets you add new rooms. Alternatively, you can long tap an accessory icon, then tap the details icon at the bottom of the screen, and then select the Location menu. The Location menu shows the available rooms and also gives you the option to create a new room.
Status and Notification
The status of the accessories you chose to appear on the home screen appears below "My Home". If you tap on Details, the screen shows a detailed view of active devices included in the summary. The icons in the Status Details view are live, and from there you can tap to toggle them off. If you turn off an accessory there, it will disappear from this status details screen, and the text of the status will update accordingly. In the screenshot below, the Humidity sensor and temperature are grayed out, as they are read only. This screen also corresponds to the screenshot above and shows the same accessories are active as are shown in the Favorite Accessory portion of the screen.
Apple Home Status details
Scenes are merely groupings of accessories with specific settings that can execute as a single command. For example, for the Good Night scene, I’ve selected all of the accessories and have set each one to off. At the end of the evening, I can tap the Good Night scene icon, and everything shuts down. You also execute the scene via Siri by simply saying “Good Night” after activating Siri.
Similarly, I’ve created an “Office On” scene that turns on a light at 50%, turns on a fan, and turns on both outlets. Tapping the Office On icon turns the scene on. In addition to executing manually, can also be used as part of an Automation Script. The screenshot below shows the Scene Details for “Office On”. Note the “Show in Favorites” switch is toggled on.
Apple Home – Scene details for Office On
Accessories that you have chosen as your favorites appear at the bottom of the Home screen. Upon initial configuration, the default setting has “Include in Favorites” toggled on, so virtually every accessory you add will appear on your Home screen until you explicitly configure it not to.
All of the icons work exactly the same way. For lights, dimmers, and sockets, a tap will toggle the device on/off. A long tap will bring up the control screen (below left). For this example, I chose the Philips Two accessory which is a dimmable light bulb. The control is a dimmer slider which you can adjust from 0-100%. For other accessories like Smart Plugs, the control is a toggle switch.
From the Apple Home screen image above, you can see that the accessory is on and is set to 5%, which corresponds to the dimmer slider setting. Tapping on the details icon at the bottom of the page opens the configuration for the accessory. Here, you can rename the accessory, change its location, included it in your favorites on the home screen and include it in the Status/Notifications. As noted above, the location menu is where you can create a new room and add the accessory to it. Not shown because it scrolled off the screen is additional information about the manufacturer, the serial number, and the option to group this accessory with other accessories that could be treated as a single group.
Apple Home – accessory control (l) and accessory config (r)
Finally, across the bottom of the Home screen, you’ll find icons for Home (currently selected in above screenshots) Rooms, and Automation. I’ll discuss Rooms and Automation separately.
The Rooms view shows detailed information about a selected room. All accessories assigned to a room appear at the bottom of the screen with each icon showing its current status. Above the listing of accessories is a listing of scenes. A scene will appear on a room’s page if any of the accessories in that room are selected for that scene. In the screenshot below, at least one accessory is in each of the three scenes. As on the Home page, a long tap will open the scene for inspection/editing. At the top left of the screen, there’s a menu icon which all of the available rooms. This menu also has an option for creating new rooms or changing a room’s wallpaper. To navigate between rooms, just swipe left or right.
Apple Home – Room page for Office
You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned anything about timers, rules or schedules. That’s because all those items are included under Automation. Here’s the catch: You can’t create any automation rules unless you have a hub. The “Create new Automation” option doesn’t even appear unless your Home app is connected to a hub. A hub can either be an Apple TV (version 4 or later), or an iOS 10.x device you’re willing to turn into a hub. Just to save you a little time, the composite screenshot below shows you which settings you have to check on your iOS device. In this case, I’m using the same iPad as a hub and for the Home app.
Apple Home – settings to enable Automation
Automation provides a way to control accessories based on the change of location, time of day, when another accessory is controlled, or when a sensor detects something. In my previous look at HomeKit schedules and rules (aka automation) using manufacturer’s software, the only actions that could be triggered were scenes. However, in the Apple Home application, once the trigger condition is met, you can execute scenes or turn on one or more individual devices.
The gallery below illustrates Automation. I created an automation that turns on the dining room lights at 40% brightness at sunset every day of the week. The automation was easy to create, but unfortunately, as you’ll see in slide # 2, the sensor trigger is grayed out. I found this disturbing because using the eve room sensor, I have three sensors whose conditions appear within Apple Home. I had originally planned to create a temperature based rule.
Allow Wi-Fi access and Scan pairing code
Configure name, location, type, and favorites
All of the installed accessories, with the exception of the read-only sensors of the eve room, could be easily controlled using the Home app. It didn’t matter whether I was dimming a Philips light that was connected to the Philips HomeKit bridge, or a standard incandescent light screwed into the Incipio Smart Light Bulb Adapter. Once you rename the product to a friendly name, the manufacturer’s name doesn’t matter. The accessory name is the same as the name recognized by Siri. And, I’m happy to report that based on my empirical tests, Siri seems to have improved since I first tried to use Siri for home automation last year. Siri didn’t mess up one command. But then again, maybe it’s because I took care to name the accessories with a name that could be easily recognized.
One side note: I experienced the same problems connecting the Philips Hue hub to the Internet as I did with the hub in the original Philips review. Again I contacted Philips, and they couldn’t find an answer to the problem. I’m guessing that they are using a standard port that I’m using for something else on my network – most likely my NAS. Enabling UPnP on my router also didn’t fix the problem. Without being able to connect to the Philips back-end, I wasn’t able to test integration with Amazon’s Alexa.
After working with the Apple Home application for several days, I got to know the product pretty well and there’s a lot to like about it. First, the HomeKit setup experience is far simpler and easier than what you go through to install non-HomeKit Smart Home devices. The Home app streamlines the setup experience by standardizing it across all accessories. The steps of Discover, connect, pair, configure accessory really can be accomplished in less than a minute or two.
Every accessory was discovered immediately. I didn’t have to worry whether the accessory was using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both. Pairing using the iOS device’s camera is a snap. It will take you longer to find the card with the pairing code than the actual setup process. Contrast that simplicity with other Wi-Fi smart products that direct you to go to your settings, select Wi-Fi, find a network named “Vendor_name-XXXX”, return to the app, select your home Wi-Fi network and enter the password, etc. Apple wins the setup contest hands down.
I do have a minor nit. For a company that undoubtedly has almost unlimited access to photos, you’d think that they could include more than two pieces of wallpaper with the application. But no, you’re stuck with the red leaves or the three white vases or whatever photos you take with your iOS device’s camera. I think Apple could do better.
Apple has long used icons for notifications – such as the number of unread emails. In the Home app, the accessory icons deliver a lot of information at a glance. If a light bulb is on, the background field of the icon is white and the bulb is yellow. If the light has been dimmed, the percentage of brightness is also shown. If the light is off, the background field changes to a muted color that’s complimentary to the background color, the bulb dims, and the status goes to off. The Fan icon is animated if it’s turned on – the fan blades rotate.
However, I’d like to have more control over the layout of the Home screen. If you start to build out a large HomeKit-based Smart Home, you’ll wish that you had more screen real estate for accessories, and perhaps less real estate for Favorite Scenes and Status. Alternatively, perhaps there could be an additional icon at the bottom of the screen that would take you to an “At a Glance” page where could see all devices sorted by room, or type, or status.
There are some problems with the Apple Home app, too. As noted before, the Home app doesn’t appear to be able to update, or perhaps even to check for new firmware for accessories. This shortcoming alone keeps the Apple Home app from being a universal replacement app.
A more serious problem with Home is it seems unaware of many accessories’ advanced features. All three smart outlets had some power monitoring, tracking, and on one product, cost estimating capabilities. The Home app treated each of them as if they were just a simple Wi-Fi-enabled switch like the iHome ISP5. Home didn’t even report the current power consumption of any of the outlets, much less the more advanced power tracking features. The only advanced feature that Apple Home picked up was the dual outlets on the ConnectSense Smart Plug.
Without access to advanced features, your ability to create elaborate automation features is limited in Home. Even though Home recognized the eve room’s three sensors and reported their statuses, you couldn’t use that status information to create an Automation. I couldn’t for example, create an automation that would turn on a fan if the temperature exceeded, say, 74 degrees.
Using the eve app installed on iOS 10.1, I was able to create an Automation (Rule as Elgato calls it) that turned on my office fan if the temperature in my office exceeded 74 degrees. The Home app recognized the rule but the rule was read-only in the Home app. You couldn’t edit any of the conditions. It’s not clear whether the Elgato eve app executed the rule, or whether the Home app executed it.
There are also some issues related to the platform itself. First, it’s designed for iOS 10.x and above. If you’re going to make use of location-based automation, you’re going to need more than one iOS 10.x device or an Apple TV. Similarly, for remote access, you need either a dedicated iOS 10.x device or an Apple TV (Rev 4 or later). Either can act as a hub and provide remote access. But if you don’t have an Apple TV and have only one iOS 10.x device and you take it with you, your home automation ceases.
On the other hand, most non-HomeKit products rely on cloud services for even basic on/off functions. So, no internet, no control – even locally. This one feature alone puts HomeKit far ahead of other smart home technologies.
Another problem that hopefully Apple will address is the lack of notification. While there is a notification and status section of the Home app’s Home page, there doesn’t appear to be a way to trigger an email or text message based on a sensor or the status of an accessory. Some Smart Home systems can send a text if, say, it detects motion or a door open/close trigger. That still remains a missing feature in Apple Home.
In the end, Apple Home is like a universal remote control for your entertainment system. It does a pretty good job for basic control of collections of devices. But for more esoteric tasks, you may have to pull the original remote out of a drawer. You haven’t eliminated the need for multiple remotes – you’ve just reduced the number of times you need to reach for them. I hope Apple continues to improve Home and make it smarter, so I can really throw those other remotes away.