The Apple HomePod can be your Apple HomeKit smart home hub.
Photo: Apple

If you own an Apple HomePod smart speaker, you probably use it to play music, make grocery lists, or listen to the news. But the HomePod can also function as the hub of a smart home with Apple's smart-home platform, called HomeKit.

If you also own a Honeywell Lyric T5 smart thermostat, August Smart Lock Pro, GE AEC08LX window air conditioner, or one of a few hundred other Apple HomeKit-compatible smart-home devices, you can control them with just your voice via the HomePod and Apple's Siri voice assistant. (You don't actually need a HomePod; you can use Siri through an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV as well.)

For example, you could say, “Hey Siri, set the thermostat to 74 degrees,” and your HomePod will change the thermostat setting without you ever having to touch the device. But the setup process for enabling simple, fluid voice control isn’t always as clear and straightforward as it's billed. CR is here to help. 

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“Compared with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit makes it relatively easy to connect smart home devices,” says Elias Arias, CR’s test engineer for smart speakers and other electronics. “The key to the setup process is a HomeKit code or QR code, which should be on the device or in its packaging.”

Below, we walk you through the setup process for connecting smart-home devices to your Apple HomePod. We also explain how to organize your devices into rooms/groups and automate your devices to make them more useful.

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Connecting and Organizing Your Devices

To connect smart-home devices to Apple HomeKit, and subsequently Siri, you’ll need an iPhone or iPad. Both devices come with the Apple Home app installed. You'll use that to set up and control your smart-home devices on the HomeKit platform.

You'll also want a HomeKit hub, which allows you to remotely control connected devices and run automations when your iPhone or iPad isn't present. To serve as the hub, you can use an Apple TV, an iPad, or a HomePod that you leave—powered on and connected to the internet—in your home.

As for your smart-home devices, you'll need to make sure they're HomeKit-compatible and have eight-digit HomeKit codes. There are three ways to do that:

• Look for the Works with Apple HomeKit badge on the device or its packaging.
• Check for a HomeKit device code on the device itself, inside its packaging, in the user manual, or in the quick-start guide.
• Check this list of compatible devices, maintained by Apple.

If you know the device works with HomeKit but can’t find its code, it might connect to your iOS device wirelessly if held close to it (you'll see a radio-wave symbol to denote that connection method). If all else fails, reach out to the manufacturer for assistance.

To add your device to HomeKit, follow the steps below.

Step 1: Open the Apple Home app on your iOS device and tap the “+” button at the top-right of the screen; then tap “Add Accessory.”

Step 2: Scan the HomeKit code with your iOS device’s camera or put your iOS device near the accessory for the wireless method.

Step 3: Once added, name the device and assign it to a room in your house. For example, if you’re setting up a smart thermostat, you might call it "bedroom thermostat" and assign it to the bedroom.

After that, your device will be set up and ready to control with Siri. 

Automating Your Devices

To make your smart-home devices truly smart, it helps to program them so that they perform useful or practical actions. You can set them up to do so based on day/time, specific voice commands, and sensors.

Apple HomeKit lets you program your devices in two ways. The options are “scenes” and “automations.” Having two approaches can be confusing because they essentially allow you to do the same thing. The difference is that you activate scenes through Siri, but you don't do anything to activate automations. Automations let you set it and forget it based on triggers or rules you establish through the Home app. If you keep this distinction in mind, it will be much easier to know when to create a scene instead of an automation and vice versa. (As of the release of iOS 13.1 in September 2019, you can also create automations in the shortcuts app, which is another automation tool created by Apple. The interface for creating automations is identical in both apps.)

Creating Scenes
Scenes let you group device changes under one name, such as "Good Morning" or "I’m Home." You can create a scene named "Goodnight," for example, so when you say “Hey Siri, goodnight,” your lights turn off, your front door locks, and your thermostat turns down for the night.

Step 1: Tap the “+” button at the top-right of the Home app; then tap “Add Scene.”

Step 2: Enter a custom scene name or choose a suggested scene. Keep in mind that the name of the scene will be the phrase you say to Siri to trigger it. You can also choose a custom icon for the scene (to the left of the name field).

If you choose a suggested scene, remember that it already has devices and settings selected in it. (For example, a suggested scene called “Good Morning” will already include your smart lights and thermostat.)

Step 3: Tap “Add Accessories” to add the devices you want to include in the scene.

Step 4: After choosing the devices, tweak their settings (such as whether a light will turn on or off) and test the scene. (To set lights to a specific brightness, press and hold on the light’s icon to make its dimmer slider appear.)

Step 5: When you’re finished, tap the Done button at the top-right and your scene will be ready to use with Siri.

Creating Automations
Automations can trigger your scenes and/or make changes to your devices in response to certain conditions or triggers. Available triggers include "People Arrive," "People Leave," "A Time of Day Occurs," "An Accessory Is Controlled," and "A Sensor Detects Something." For example, instead of telling Siri “I’m home” to trigger that scene, you can create an automation based on your smartphone’s location to trigger that scene.

Step 1: Tap the automation button at the bottom-left of the Home app (or bottom-center of the shortcuts app); then tap the “+” button at the top-right of the screen. If you're using the shortcuts app, you'll need to additionally tap "Create Home Automation." 

Step 2: Choose a trigger and tweak its settings to your preferences. For example, when you select the "People Arrive" trigger, you can choose between anyone arriving or only the first person in your home arriving, as well as the time of day. When finished, tap the Next button.

Step 3: Select the devices and/or scenes you want to trigger and tap Next.

Step 4: Tweak the devices’ settings and test the automation. When you’re finished, tap the Done button at the top-right, and your automation will be ready to go.

With the release of iOS 13.1, Apple added the ability to create more powerful HomeKit automations using the shortcuts app. These new automations allow you to do things that weren't possible before, such as preventing your smart-garden sprinkler from running if the chance of rain is above 70 percent, or flashing your porch light if your security camera detects motion late at night. The downside? The setup is more complex and it requires a willingness to tinker.

To create these more powerful automations, follow steps 1 and 2 above, then:

Step 3a: Scroll to the bottom of the scenes and accessories list and tap "Convert to Shortcut" under Advanced. You will now be in the shortcuts editor, which allows you to create a list of digital building blocks. Each block will contain actions, such as "Get Current Weather." There are also actions for conditions, such as "If," "Then," "Else," "Wait," and "Repeat."

Step 4a: Tap "Search for Apps and Actions" at the bottom of the screen to select actions and conditions you want to use. Then arrange them in the order you would like them to be executed. For more information on arranging and setting up these actions, check out the "Shortcuts basics" section of Apple's in-depth Shortcuts User Guide.

Step 5a: When you're finished setting up your automation, tap the Next button at the top-right of the screen. At this point, you can now test your automation by tapping the "Test This Automation" button. To finish and enable the automation, tap Done at the top-right of the screen.

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