The idea of an automated “smart home” might have sounded ridiculously futuristic years ago, but now, home automation is part of our everyday lives. What’s more, setting up a smart home couldn’t be easier – especially if you’ve got an iPhone or iPad.
In this article, we’re going to show you just how easy home automation can be. We’ll talk about the kinds of products you might consider for your own smart home before guiding you through how to set up your accessories. We’ve even got some tips and tricks which will help you troubleshoot if things go wrong.
Choosing the right smart-home products
There are plenty of smart products on the market, but which are the best – and where in your home would they be best placed? The good news is that more accessories than ever are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit – the protocol which powers home automation on iOS and iPadOS.
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the smartest home automation categories available – from lights to cameras, thermostats, and even air conditioning units. Of course, it’s a smart idea to first make sure that your accessory is compatible with the Home app. Compatible products should feature a label saying “Works with Apple’s HomeKit”.
Smart lights are a great place to begin your home automation journey.
Once connected, you can use the Home app to switch all the lights in a room – or even your entire house – on or off. It’s often possible to change the colour of your smart lights, too, and to adjust the brightness.
Of course, you can also set home automation routines for your lighting, so they automatically switch on when you pull on to the drive.
Usefully, because most smart lights on the market adhere to standard fittings, you can simply replace the old bulbs in all your favourite lamps and light fixtures with new, internet-connected ones.
There’s a huge range of smart lighting products to choose from – but worry not, because our roundup covers all the best and brightest choices: The best smart lights for Apple Home.
Smart security cameras are hugely popular amongst home automators.
When hooked up, you’ll receive a buzz on your iPhone or iPad when your security camera picks up movement in your house or on your property. You’ll be able to check on a live feed from your camera remotely, even if you’re miles away – in another city or another country.
However, because this is home automation, you’ll also be able to link your security cameras with other HomeKit-compatible products. For instance, if you’re away on vacation, you might create an automation where all the lights in your house switch on if a security camera detects movement.
When it comes to choosing a security camera, there are a few points to consider – especially when it comes to the issue of local and cloud-based storage. Our roundup of the best HomeKit security cameras should help you choose the perfect one.
Smart doorbells are useful for a number of reasons.
For starters, you can receive a notification on your iPhone or iPad when someone rings your doorbell. This is especially handy if you sometimes miss hearing the doorbell ring when the postman calls.
However, a range of smart doorbells also include built-in cameras and microphones. This not only adds extra security by letting you see who’s waiting on the other side of the door, but also allows you to provide delivery instructions if the mailman calls with a package when you aren’t home.
The Ring Video Doorbell 2 (available from eBuyer or Amazon) is a solid product in this category and would be a good place to start your search.
To automatically regulate the temperature of your smart home, consider a HomeKit-compatible thermostat.
These let iOS device owners remotely activate (or deactivate) their central heating while on the move. They can even learn your routine, so the temperature of your home is automatically regulated throughout the day.
A great accessory to consider would be the Nest Learning Thermostat (available from Amazon) – the undisputed king in this product category.
To keep things safe in your connected home, install a smart smoke detector.
These clever products will alert your device if smoke is detected at your home – even if you aren’t there. You’ll also get notifications to your iPhone or iPad about the nature of the problem (whether it’s smoke or carbon monoxide) and when the detector’s battery is about to run out.
Read TechHive’s guide to the best smart smoke detector for more advice.
Connected power outlets are a great way to add HomeKit support to a product you already own.
You might have a cherished lamp or an electric heater – something you don’t want to replace with a new, HomeKit-enabled product. Fortunately, smart outlets let you activate or deactivate power to an appliance from within the Home app.
As such, they effectively bring Home app support to any device which plugs into the wall (often for a fraction of the price of a new product, too).
Read our US colleagues’ guide to the best HomeKit-compatible smart plugs for more advice.
During those hot summer months, it might be a wise idea to invest in an air conditioning unit for your bedroom. Fortunately, a range of air conditioning units support Apple’s HomeKit protocol and work with the Home app. As such, it’s possible to add these units to scenes and automations, in order for the AC to kick in at a certain time of day or when you’re about to arrive home.
You could get really smart and pair up your HomeKit-enabled air conditioning unit with a smart thermostat, creating an automation so the air conditioning switches on when the temperature in your bedroom reaches a certain level.
It’s even possible to add Home app support to a pre-existing AC using the tado Smart AC Control V3+ (available from Amazon).
Believe it or not, you can automate your outdoor water tap, too. With a compatible product, it’s possible to automatically water your garden lawn or add irrigation cycles to planting areas using your device.
The Eve Aqua Smart Water Controller (available from Amazon) is a great option – it attaches to your outdoor tap and requires minimal setup.
Once installed, you can water your garden using custom schedules, making it perfect for those times when you’re away from home.
How to configure the Home app
Now that you’ve got an idea of the types of products you might like to buy, let’s talk about setting up the Home app. The good news for home automators is that once you’ve bought and unpacked your smart products, configuring an accessory is quick and simple.
Adding an accessory
After you’ve unpackaged your smart product, plug it in and power it on.
Then grab your iPhone or iPad and unlock it. (Unfortunately, while you can control HomeKit-compatible accessories from your Mac computer, it’s not currently possible to add new smart products using the Home app for macOS.)
Next, tap Add Accessory or the + icon.
From here, there are a couple of potential routes to go down. If you have an iPhone 7 or later, it may be possible to tap your device against the accessory to pair it. You’ll see the contactless “tap” icon (similar to the icon shown in Apple Pay) if this option is available.
However, it’s more likely that you’ll need to use your device’s camera to scan either a QR code or an eight-digit HomeKit code, which should appear somewhere on the product’s packaging. You may need to enter the eight-digit code manually if the print is faded or you’re in a poorly lit area.
After you’ve added all of your accessories, you’ll be able to view them in the Home app’s main screen. Activating an accessory – like turning a smart light on – is usually as simple as tapping the tile.
You can long-press on a tile to access additional options. For smart lights, this may include brightness and colour.
Scenes, rooms, and automations
If you tap the + icon in the top-right corner of the Home app and choose Add Scene, you can create scenes. These are designed to bundle together multiple simultaneous commands to multiple accessories.
For example, you could create a Goodnight scene, which turns all of your living-room lights off, dims your bedroom lights, and activates your bedroom air conditioning.
In the middle tab, you can group your accessories by room. To add or remove a room, tap the icon in the top-left of the Rooms screen and select Room Settings.
When you add a new room, you can choose a name, take a photo, and set a colour for the room so it’s easily distinguishable.
The last tab, Automation, is the most interesting. There, you can truly begin to automate your home so that accessories and scenes are triggered without any user input at all.
You may create an automation recipe which is based on time – such as switching all lights off at midnight. Or you could create one based on your location – for instance, turning the heating on when you’re five miles from home.
To create a new automation, choose the + icon in the top-right of the screen. Then you can choose from the available options to piece your recipe together.
All of your available automations will be available to view, pause, edit and delete from the Automation tab in the Home app. If you go on holiday, for instance, you can temporarily disable automations to prevent them from firing while you’re away.
What to try when things go wrong
Home automation is great – when it works. Fortunately for us, HomeKit is a dependable framework and issues are generally rare. However, if your accessories are struggling to connect, there are a few tricks you can try to bring everything back online.
Start with the basics
First, check that you’re connected to your home Wi-Fi and that Bluetooth is enabled. You can do this inside the Settings app.
Then, also in the Settings app, check that you’re logged into iCloud. Also ensure that in the iCloud section of the Settings app, the toggle next to Home is activated.
It’s worth knowing whether or not you’re running the latest version of iOS or iPadOS, too. It may be that you’ve updated to a brand-new release and that a bug has snuck into the software. Or, on the other hand, it could be that you’re running an older version of the operating system, and updating to the most recent version would fix the problem.
A final preliminary measure would be to reboot your device and sign out of (and back into) your iCloud account. This can sometimes kick-start the Home app back into action.
If you’re still stuck, don’t worry. There are a few more tricks you can try.
First, see if using a family member’s iPhone or iPad allows you to interact with your smart accessories. If your family member’s device works, it would be a good idea to erase and restore your own device to see if that irons out the problem.
To do so, make sure your iPhone or iPad is backed up via iCloud or iTunes, and choose Erase All Content and Settings from within the Settings app. Then, restore from your backup and see if you’re able to connect to your Home app accessories.
If the problem persists, it’s also a smart idea to check whether your devices work within the manufacturer’s app.
Phillips Hue smart lights, for example, can be controlled by the Home app but can also be managed inside a dedicated Hue app. If you find that you can’t control your smart products inside the manufacturer’s app either, it would be wise to manually reset your accessories.
Removing and re-adding your Home
If all else fails, the last – and most drastic – option would be to remove and re-add your smart home inside the Home app.
To do this, tap the house icon in the top-left of the Home app’s main screen. Then at the bottom of this screen, tap Remove Home. Following this, you’ll need to re-add each of your accessories one by one. It’s a laborious process, but worth it if it can bring your accessories back online.
Go forth, and automate!
All that’s left for us to say is good luck with your home automation journey! To find out more about the kind of smart home you could create in 2020, take a look at our article Best smart home devices for Apple HomeKit & iPhone.