Apple HomeKit: the best devices, and how it works

alarm clock app

Apple HomeKit is the name of Apple’s smart home platform – if a smart camera, thermostat or sensor is HomeKit-compatible, it means it’ll work with everything else with a HomeKit badge, and can be controlled from the central Home app your iPhone, iPad or Mac computer.

The way HomeKit is designed makes adding products to your phone and setting up a smart home where everything is interconnected a lot simpler, though it can be limiting if the HomeKit-ready devices on the market aren’t exactly what you were looking for – but we’ll dig into what the best options are further down.

Here we’re going to explain exactly how Apple HomeKit works and what the best HomeKit devices of 2020 are – the top HomeKit-ready hardware you can invest in. Whether you need a Wi-Fi camera or a smart plug, we can guide you towards the right choice.

The good news is that the choice of Apple HomeKit gadgets is getting bigger all the time, as more and more companies get on board with the standard. Read through our picks below to figure out which devices you need to substantially upgrade your smart home.

Apple HomeKit: what is it?

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple HomeKit is a smart home protocol – an agreed way for devices from different manufacturers to talk to each other. These protocols are a little bit like human languages: it doesn’t matter too much which one you go for, but you want all the hardware in your home to be using the same one.

In the same way as devices can be compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and controlled by those digital assistants, devices can also be compatible with Apple HomeKit too. Some of the most popular bits of kit work with multiple protocols, so you can switch between them if you need to. The Home app isn’t available on Windows computers or an Android phones, so backup compatibility is useful for users of those devices.

If manufacturers want Apple’s HomeKit badge on their products, they have to abide by Apple’s rules, and build the HomeKit language into their hardware. That means they’ll know how to speak to iPhones, iPads, and the other HomeKit gear you’ve got.

You don’t have to use HomeKit or any other smart home protocol for every single device you buy, but sticking to HomeKit does mean all your hardware can be controlled by the Home app on iOS, iPadOS and macOS – and that also means you can do some clever tricks, like turn on a specific group devices with one command.

Apple HomeKit: what can you do with it?

(Image credit: Apple)

If you buy a smart bulb or a smart thermostat, it’ll come with its own app for accessing all of its functions. If it’s HomeKit-ready, it’ll also work with Apple’s Home app. If you build up a range of HomeKit-compatible devices, the Home app will let you control them all individually, or group them to be triggered together – and you’ll be able to use the Siri voice assistant with them as well.

In the morning, for example, you might want to turn up the heat and put on your bedroom light – you can easily set the Home app to do that with a single tap or a quick request to Siri. Apple calls these groupings ‘Scenes’, so you could have a Scene for movie night, and a scene for the morning, and a scene for the evening, for example.

It’s also possible to automate some features and functions using HomeKit, so instead of lights turning off and thermostats adjusting themselves when you request it, these actions can also be triggered automatically – at a particular time, when you reaching a specific location (such as coming back home), or in response to something detected by a HomeKit-connected sensor.

HomeKit covers all the standard smart home devices and then some: cameras, doorbells, thermostats, fans, plugs, lights, locks, humidifiers, switches and sensors. HomeKit can also interact with TVs running AirPlay 2 (the standard Apple uses for streaming audio and video) and with the Apple HomePod smart speaker (so you can include music in your HomeKit scenes if you like).

Apple HomeKit: why use it?

(Image credit: Apple)

Like everything Apple, HomeKit makes a lot of sense if you already use a lot of Apple devices – iPhone, Mac, iPad and HomePod. For those who spend more time on Android or Windows, it doesn’t have quite the same appeal. As a bare minimum, you’ll need either an iPhone, an iPad or a Mac computer to use HomeKit (via the Home app).

If you are already heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, then you’ll find HomeKit a breeze to use. New devices can be connected up in seconds, you can control everything through Siri (on your Mac or your mobile device) as well as the Home app, and the whole system fits together with the smoothness and simplicity you would expect from Apple. Everyone in your house can share the same Home app setup, and you can give guests access too (as long as they have an iPhone, of course).

As we’ve already mentioned, HomeKit lets you bring devices from different brands together under one protocol. It doesn’t matter who makes the sensors or the thermostat or the smart lights that you use – as long as they’re all verified to work with HomeKit, which is easy enough to check before you buy, you can use them together.

Apple has pretty strict rules when it comes to security and privacy, and buying HomeKit products also buys into this ethos – one of the reasons that HomeKit support has to be specifically built in is for protection. When it comes to video, Apple actually offers a service called HomeKit Secure Video that camera makers can use, which uses your own iCloud storage for the video (rather than another company’s cloud service), and does analysis (such as detecting faces or pets) on your own Apple devices, with video encrypted end-to-end. This is still in its infancy, but the first cameras that support it are starting to appear.

Apple HomeKit: do I need a hub?

(Image credit: Apple)

As you may already be aware, some smart home devices need a hub plugged into your router, while others do not. A hub often enables extra features and support for more devices, but it’s not quite as convenient as just plugging something in and connecting to it. A hub means additional costs too.

HomeKit can work without a hub, but to get its best features – namely automation at all times and being able to control your devices from outside the house – a HomeKit hub is required. If you want to turn your kitchen lights and fan on together at a certain time for example, or you want to turn down the heat at home from the office (using the Home app at least), then you need a hub.

Three devices can act as hubs: iPads (if they’re left plugged in), HomePods, and Apple TV boxes. You need at least one of these to get everything that HomeKit can offer – the reason being that the Home app issues orders directly from a device, rather than the cloud, so there must be an Apple device on the same network (or within Bluetooth range) of the device you want to controlled. Set up couldn’t be any simpler, and is managed through iCloud and your Apple ID – you effectively don’t need to do anything to set this up.

Not having a hub doesn’t mean your HomeKit smart home gear is useless – everything will work when you’re at home, and many products will still work within their own app when you’re not at home – but in terms of the Home app and Siri control, a hub adds a lot of useful functionality for when you’re not at home.

Apple HomeKit: the best devices

(Image credit: Signify)

1. Philips Hue

The best HomeKit smart lights

Reasons to buy
+Packed with features+Wide choice of bulbs

Philips Hue has been in the smart lighting business for a long, long time now, and it shows – these bulbs are packed with features, super-reliable, and capable of doing just about anything you could possibly want smart lights to do.

Another point in favour of Philips Hue is that the range has grown to be impressively big. You can get bulbs of all shapes and sizes, standalone lamps, light strips, outdoor lighting and more. If you want to go all in on Philips Hue, then you’ve got a wide selection of white and colour bulbs to pick from.

You can also combine your lighting with motion sensors if needed, and the default Philips Hue app is very polished as well (though we’re focusing on HomeKit and the Home app here). A smart lighting choice that you won’t be disappointed with. It’s best to start with a Starter Kit of some kind – either for the colour bulbs or the white ambience bulbs. The Starter Kits include the Hue Bridge, which is vital for HomeKit support – Hue does sell bulbs that work over Bluetooth alone, but they’re not made for HomeKit.

(Image credit: Tado)

2. Tado Smart Thermostat

The best HomeKit thermostat

Reasons to buy
+Comprehensive home coverage+Intuitive but intelligent operation

There aren’t many smart home heating systems as comprehensive as the one Tado offers, and if you’re looking for the best HomeKit smart thermostat around then this would have to be at the top of our list. It covers all the basics – controlling the heating from your phone or computer – and adds on a whole load of advanced features as well.

You can have the heating adapt to your location for example (as tracked by your phone), or respond to a door or window sensor, or even adjust itself in response to the local weather conditions (Tado calls this Climate Assistant). The thermostat will even keep track of how much you’re saving on your energy bills along the way.

It’s a flexible setup as well – you can expand it with more Tado smart thermostats for the individual radiators in your home, giving you full control over every room in the house. Most heating systems are compatible with the Tado kit, old and new, including products from Vaillant, Buderus, Viessmann, Junkers and Brötje.

(Image credit: Arlo)

3. Arlo Ultra 4K Wireless Security Camera System

The best HomeKit security camera

Reasons to buy
+Super-sharp 4K resolution+Totally wireless to positioning anywhere+Great extra features
Reasons to avoid
Quite expensive

If you’re going to use security cameras to keep watch over your property and your family, then they need to be ones you can rely on and trust – and that’s what you get with the top-of-the-line 4K models from Arlo. They’re battery powered, so you can position them anywhere, inside or out.

The list of specs is an intimidating one: 4K HDR video, colour night vision, an 180-degree field of view, automatic motion detection and motion tracking, an integrated spotlight, two-way audio, and an integrated siren. You also get a free year of the Arlo Smart premium service, which includes an extended archive for your cloud recordings.

It’s hard to fault the Arlo Ultra 4K system, though it is on the pricey side, especially if you’re going to buy a lot of cameras to fit around the home. We’d say it’s absolutely worth the investment though, for the reliability and peace of mind they offer.

They work with the Home app, so you can see video right in the Home app, and you can use their motion detection to trigger other HomeKit devices. But they don’t currently support HomeKit Secure Video, thought Arlo is a reliable and secure provider.

(Image credit: Netatmo)

4. Netatmo Smart Indoor Camera

The best HomeKit single smart camera

Reasons to buy
+Lots of great smart features+Nice minimal design+HomeKit Secure Video support

This is one of the first cameras to support HomeKit Secure Video, meaning that it has a bunch of very smart features, but with a strong focus on privacy. It can recognise specific people that it sees, so you don’t need to be warned if your partner comes into the living room, but you’ll get a notification if someone unknown comes. It also recognises pets, so doesn’t tell you it’s seen motion when it’s just the car. 

It has a smart alarm detector, so if a siren (from a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector, say) goes off, it can tell you. It has night vision, it can record to microSD card for extra security, you can install multiple cameras in a household… for simple indoor security, it’s excellent.

(Image credit: August)

5. August Smart Lock Pro

The best HomeKit door lock

Reasons to buy
+Advanced guest management+Works automatically on your phone

The August Smart Lock Pro will do an excellent job of guarding the entrance to your home, and if you ever move away from Apple HomeKit, it works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa as well (you can of course just use the August app with it).

This Pro edition is the third-generation of the August Smart Lock series, and it has all the bells and whistles you might expect: instant locking and unlocking from your phone, the ability to assign guest access to people for a specific period of time, easy installation, keyless operation, a full run-down of who is coming in and out, and more besides.

Once you’ve got used to the convenience and the benefits of a smart lock then you’re not going to want to go back to traditional locks and keys in a hurry – and if you want the best HomeKit door lock we think the August Smart Lock Pro should be high on your shortlist.

(Image credit: Netatmo)

6. Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell

The best HomeKit smart doorbell

Reasons to buy
+Wired, battery-free operation+Tamper-proof alarm system

For those of you new to the idea of a video doorbell, it lets you see who’s at the door from the sofa or from the other side of the world. Thanks to a two-way audio feed, you can give delivery drivers instructions or scare off burglars as needed.

The Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell does all of this and does it rather well too. You get a Full HD 1080p video feed, two-way audio, night vision for seeing in the dark, weatherproofing and more. The doorbell will even send an alert to your phone if it detects that it’s being tampered with.

There’s just one caveat, which is that the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell hasn’t actually gone on sale yet. The manufacturer is promising that we’ll have it at some point during 2020, so keep an eye on your favourite electronics retailer.

(Image credit: Eve)

7. Eve Energy

The best HomeKit smart plug

Reasons to buy
+Simple operation+Make any device smart

If you’re in the market for the best HomeKit smart plug then we’d like to direct you towards the Eve Energy plug – you stick it in a spare socket and you can turn it on and off from your iPhone, iPad or Mac, as well as have it operate on a timer.

In other words, you can make any electrical device smart, whether it’s a lamp or a radio. Even better, the plug reports back on how much energy it’s using, so you can see at-a-glance whether you need to cut down on electricity use (this is handled through the Eve app rather than HomeKit).

Eve Energy plugs are available in both US and UK flavours, and can be relied upon to get the job done. Smart plugs don’t come with a huge array of features, but this is absolutely one of the most compact and easy to use that we’ve seen. Please note, though, that these work on Bluetooth only, so if you want to be able to control it from outside the home, you’ll need a HomeKit hub.

(Image credit: Eve)

8. Eve Door and Window Wireless Contact Sensor

The best HomeKit window and door sensors

Reasons to buy
+Straightforward to set up+All the functions you need

We like the Eve Energy smart plug (see above) for its no-nonsense reliability and it’s ease of use, and the same can be said of the contact sensors that it makes for doors and windows – and you’ve got a better chance of everything working together if you stick to as few manufacturers as possible.

In terms of operation, it’s really quite simple: these Eve sensors ping your HomeKit network if they detect that there’s a door or a window open. You can then set up an alert on your phone, for example, or turn down the heating, or activate a security camera… whatever you think the situation warrants. Even if you just want to check that you closed the kitchen window before you left for your weekend away, they’re great.

You actually get a bunch of statistics on opened and closed timings, so you can (for instance) see if your kids are opening the bedroom window a bit more than they really should. These are maybe not the flashiest smart home devices out there, but you’ll find they can be some of the most useful.

Like the Eve Energy, this only communicates over Bluetooth, and is the kind of product that’s most useful when you’re not at home, so we strongly recommend using it with a HomeKit hub device.

(Image credit: Eero)

9. Eero Mesh Wi-Fi Router

The best HomeKit router

Reasons to buy
+Extra security for your home network+Get Wi-Fi reaching everywhere

The Eero router system does a fantastic job of getting precious Wi-Fi out to every corner of your home, thanks to its mesh approach – where you have several different nodes dotted around, rather than just one central router. Oh, and it works really well with HomeKit too.

That means better security protection at the router level for your smart home devices, an easier way of managing what devices can and cannot get online (and when), and the option of limiting some devices to in-home communications only – so your smart home automations can stay up and running without everything pinging the cloud all the time. Keeping devices offline also helps ensure they can’t be hacked.

Besides the HomeKit integration, the Eero router and satellite nodes are easy to configure and manage, whether you’ve got a couple of devices to get online or a couple of dozen. The system can easily be expanded over time as well, if needed.

(Image credit: Fibaro)

10. Fibaro Button Multicontroller

The best HomeKit smart switch

Reasons to buy
+Easily programmable actions+Clean, elegant design

The final piece in your HomeKit-powered smart home network may well be a smart switch: these switches can be customised to perform any sort of custom action, whether it’s closing the smart blinds or turning off the smart lights (or both together).

When it comes to the best HomeKit smart switch, the Fibaro Button Multicontroller is hard to beat. With just a few taps inside the app you can assign a push of the button to just about anything on your HomeKit network – turning on a fan, locking the front door, or whatever it happens to be.

With a long press, you can launch one of the scenes you’ve configured in HomeKit, so you can take care of several actions at once. Smart switches are relatively simple additions to your smart home, but they’re a lot of fun to use.

Buy the Fibaro Button Multicontroller from Apple US for $49.95
Buy the Fibaro Button Multicontroller from Apple UK for £54.95

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap