Apple HomeKit basics
Apple’s HomeKit hub smart home system, using the Apple Home app, is one of several popular solutions for controlling and automating devices in our home.
HomeKit has several key advantages. Apple promotes the protection of our privacy and security for HomeKit devices.
One of the other benefits is the ability to start small and grow incrementally. We can purchase a single HomeKit certified smart plug, smart bulb, or other accessory and have a working system.
The software to install, setup, and use the device is built into every iPhone and iPad.
The Apple Home app is straightforward to use and covers all the basics.
Hub or hubless?
This setup doesn’t require a special hub device or bridge to operate, so it is often called a “hubless” automation system and not having to buy that $50, $100, or even $500 hub is a strong selling point.
But this is misleading! Many of the capabilities of HomeKit to truly automate and not just control the devices in your home require a hub device.
The hub is a separate computer that must be turned on 24 x 7 x 365. The hub runs scheduling and automation software where the magic happens.
If you want a light to turn on or off at a certain time, have a motion sensor turn on the lights when you walk up to your front door, or do any other combination of tasks automatically will require a hub.
A hub also provides secure remote access from outside your home. Want to manually turn on the heat or adjust the A/C before you get home? Want to check on the live video from your security cameras?
You’ll need a HomeKit hub to perform these and other remote access tasks securely from another location using your cellular device or another Wi-Fi system.
Apple doesn’t sell a HomeKit hub?
This is the confusing part. Unlike many other smart home systems where the first thing you buy is the hub, Apple doesn’t sell a dedicated HomeKit hub.
Apple has chosen to use the idle computing power in Apple devices you might already own.
If you have an AppleTV, you can turn it into a HomeKit with two simple steps.
First, in the settings menu and click on “AirPlay and HomeKit”.
Second, in the “Home Hub” section, enable your HomeKit configuration.
Your AppleTV will work silently in the background as an Apple HomeKit hub.
Make sure you leave the AppleTV plugged in and turned on all the time. It won’t interfere with your normal use for streaming media, watching TV, or running other apps.
When HomeKit first came out, AppleTV’s were not that popular, so there is another option.
If you have an iPad that is always in your home you can enable “HomeKit Hub Mode” in settings.
Just like AppleTV’s, an iPad will serve as your HomeKit hub quietly in the background.
Just don’t turn it off, unplug the charger, or take it outside your home.
The more the merrier
Apple’s HomeKit system can work with or without a hub but you really need a hub to get the most out of the system.
So Apple didn’t stop with just one hub. You can have multiple devices acting as HomeKit hubs at the same time.
Every AppleTV and iPad in your HomeKit can be enabled for HomeKit. The system will automatically choose one device as the active hub with the rest on standby.
If you turn off the active hub or remove it from your home, HomeKit will automatically promote another hub to take its place.
More than a smart speaker for music
The Apple HomePod was introduced several years ago as an expensive, but excellent quality smart speaker.
With the Siri voice assistant built-in, and support for Wi-Fi and AirPlay, it provided an all-Apple way for distributed music throughout the home.
The App HomePod also becomes a HomeKit Hub for your smart home. The HomePod is a good choice as there is less chance of a TV problem or kids playing video games on the TV causing problems with the HomeKit functions of an AppleTV.
Finally, an affordable option
Apple’s new HomePod Mini is a smaller version of the HomePod that sells for $99. The HomePod Mini can also become a HomeKit hub.
If you want to get started with HomeKit but don’t have an AppleTV or HomePod this is a great option.
Now for $99, you can have a great sounding smart speaker that also provides the automation and control for your HomeKit smart home devices.
It’s not $49 or free, but does provide a much more affordable hub solution for HomeKit.