HomeKit accessories are arriving! Here’s what you need to know.

HomeKit is Apple’s framework for home automation: It’s what manufacturers use to integrate their products — lights, speakers, thermostats, plugs, sensors, locks, and more — with Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Thanks to HomeKit, these accessories can be more secure, easier to use, and best of all, triggered with Siri.

So why is it called “HomeKit”?

It follows Apple’s other “Kit” name-schemes, combining “Home” (for home automation) with “Kit” (short for software developers kit, or SDK). Thus, HomeKit.

How does HomeKit work?

It’s pretty cool. Using a HomeKit-compatible app, you set up Homes and Rooms that can contain your various accessories. Then you set up Actions and Triggers to control those accessories. The result is a powerful, flexible system for controlling everything from a single light bulb to your entire connected house, all from your iOS device.

Why do we need HomeKit? Don’t home automation accessories already work with the iPhone using third-party apps?

Many do, but without HomeKit, those accessories had to build custom solutions that were often incompatible with their brethren, with varying degrees of security. This means that your smart lights can’t talk to your thermostat, nor can both of them hook up to a unified service that controls everything at once — you have to jump around and change them each manually in-app. HomeKit accessories will not only be able to talk to each other, but you’ll be able to communicate with all of them using Siri.

Wait, HomeKit accessories can use Siri?

Yup! Once you’ve set up your accessories, you can say things like “turn on the lights in the kitchen” to see what you’re cooking, or “good night!” to turn off your entire home. We’ll have to wait and see exactly how flexible that custom phrasing can be, but I’d personally love to set up “movie mode” for my lights, speakers, and TV, and “crash the compound!” to shut everything down.

So Siri is what makes it all compatible?

Siri works as a unified interface. Each app can full manual controls so you can do everything you need to do right from within the app. With Siri, you can control everything from everywhere.

Once you have an accessory set up via its individual app, you can control it with Siri. Set up multiple accessories, and you can control them all with Siri, too. As such, once your home automation devices are activated, you can use the third-party apps if you want or need to with just a few taps. But you can use Siri with just the sound of your voice.

What makes HomeKit more secure?

At its code core, HomeKit enforces end-to-end encryption between all accessories and iOS device, making them all more secure. That way, no third party can intercept or spoof your communications to try and take control of your home automation or steal any data.

How does Apple ensure that any HomeKit-branded accessories use the company’s security framework?

Any accessory-maker that wants to develop HomeKit accessories has to join Apple’s Made for iPhone (MFI) certification program, which requires the use of HomeKit’s security system.

How does the MFI program work?

When an accessory maker wants to certify their product with Apple and receive MFI approval, the company first has to submit its plans.

Next, it submits a prototype, wherein Apple checks all the application programming interfaces (API) that the device implements, along with how it integrates HomeKit and its security aspects.

Apple also makes sure that the accessory’s associated third-party app meets the App Store’s stringent requirements.

If those steps go well and the prototype is approved, the accessory can then go into production.

Apple also provides MFI logos on any certified device’s packaging, acknowledging that it’s gone through the MFI process and been certified for compatibility and security.

Lastly, the Apple makes sure the final products and apps match the prototype that was approved, and then everything ships, including the App Store companion apps.

Wait a second, wasn’t HomeKit announced last year? What gives?

You’re right! HomeKit was actually first announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference — WWDC — in 2014. It was introduced by senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, and shown off on the keynote stage. But this marks the first time that users will be able to buy HomeKit-compatible, MFI-certified devices in stores.

What took it so long to come out?

All that MFI stuff. HomeKit was announced last summer, Apple started taking MFI submissions last November, manufacturers showed off some prototype products at CES last January, and now the very first wave of those products is shipping this month. All told, the process took about a year — including the time needed for the first-generation software and hardware to shake out, and to make sure both security and Siri integration were working as they should.

If there’s a HomeKit, is there a Home app?

No — at least not yet. HealthKit may offer a companion Health app, but for HomeKit, any approved manufacturer’s third-party app can be used like a “home” app to set those devices up. That includes homes, rooms, accessories, and actions. Once set up, you can control everything with Siri, no Home app required.

What HomeKit products are available now?

Typically when you see products at CES in January, they hit store shelves in time for the holiday shopping season. Some of those products, however, started shipping in June. Here are the HomeKit products you’ll be able to pick up starting Tuesday, June 2:

  • Lutron Caseta Lighting Starting Kit: Available June 2 at the Apple Store and at other retailers including Best Buy, Home Depot, Amazon, and more.
  • Insteon Hub: Available June 2 through Amazon.com and Smarthome.com.
  • Elgato Eve Room, Eve Weather, Eve Door & Window, and Eve Energy sensors: Available for pre-order on June 2 from Amazon.com and Walmart.com; Apple Online Store in July.
  • Ecobee3 smarter Wi-Fi thermostat: Available late June at Home Depot, Best Buy, and Amazon.com, July at Apple Stores.
  • iHome iSP5 SmartPlug: Available for pre-order beginning June 15 at iHome.com, and retail stores in July.

If I already own one or more of those products, will they magically update to HomeKit?

Unfortunately, no. Since all of the devices announced so far have shipping dates, that leads us to believe they’re new versions. This is a bit of a pain for those of us who already have one of the products, but it appears that accessories need updated hardware to work with HomeKit, not just software.

What about support for [this accessory]? I want HomeKit in my home now!

Stay tuned! As we said above, we expect to see a lot more pop in over time, especially as we approach the holidays. In the meantime, if you’re in a hurry, you could always get an Insteon Hub or iHome SmartPlug and use HomeKit and Siri to turn on or off anything connected to them, for example, Philips Hue lights.

Any other questions?

Have a question about HomeKit that we didn’t answer? Holler in the comments.

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