HomeKit in iOS 13 hands on opinion – what’s new

Apple has released iOS 13 to developers with a significant update to Homekit in terms of functionality and app improvements. I have spent the last week understanding what has changed with the beta to find out what’s new in HomeKit and will give you my initial thoughts.

As always, I want to point out this is an early hands-on with HomeKit in iOS 13 beta 1. Because this is beta software, it may not work as expected or a feature removed before the final version is released. In the main, I have not come across any significant issues, but bare this in mind when reading this hands-on review.

Existing HomeKit controls

Existing accessories controls in HomeKit got a significant overhaul, such as thermostats, lights and sensors. The changes make controls it easier to see what is going on with the device.

When you open up the accessories card, lights, for example, show the status, brightness, and colour options together. For me, it is a big step forward as it means you don’t have to jump from screen to screen to control the lights.iOS 13 HomeKit device controls

Grouping of accessories controls seems to a common thing across HomeKit in iOS 13. Take the Philips Hue motion sensor which shows as a motion sensor, a light sensor, and a temperature sensor as separate devices in iOS 12. All of those are now grouped into one. When you open the motion sensor now, you see the motion status along with the light sensor and temperature sensor.iOS 13 HomeKit new icons

The other changes to accessories are with thermostat devices. The UI has got a major revamp with the temperature adjustment gauge being a circle. I think the new layout makes it easier to understand the current temperature and what you have set the target temperature to be.iOS 13 HomeKit thermostat controls

While not all HomeKit accessories get new icons as hoped, ones I have spotted so far include humidity, air quality, smoke alarms, motion sensors. Previously in HomeKit iOS 12, they used to show a generic icon, but now they are more appropriate to the sensor. So, for instance, the Philips Hue motion sensor icon is a stick man depicting motion.

Within the accessories card, you also get scene suggestions. This new feature suggests scenes based on particular accessories that could be included. In this example, the bathroom spots have the Home app has recommended them for the Good morning and good night scenes.iOS 13 HomeKit scenes

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HomeKit cameras

Changes to how HomeKit works with smart cameras are going to be a big deal for users, but also manufacturers. Currently, HomeKit displays a live feed of the camera and that’s about it with all the processing and storage managed by the camera manufacturer.

But Apple is going to change all of that with HomeKit secure video coming in iOS 13. Once the camera records the action, HomeKit will process the video files locally on an Apple TV or HomePod then upload them to Apple’s servers. All of the videos will be encrypted and stored inside of iCloud instead of on third-party servers.iOS 13 HomeKit secure video

You will then have the ability to playback recordings via the Home App. Meaning if you have the 200GB plan Apple gives you ten days of storage for the recordings for a single camera but ups the number to five cameras if you have the 2TB plan. While I think this is a good value if you already have a paid iCloud in those ranges, no word on what will happen lower iCloud tiers.

Supported cameras

While Apple has announced the likes of Netatmo and Logitech will support HomeKit secure video, and it will be a no brainer for the former to adopt due to its no subscription model. However, I do have my doubts about Logitech supporting the new feature given its subscription model it has in place for its Circle 2 smart camera. This suspicion is further reinforced as Logitech will not confirm support for the Circle 2 via its Twitter or PR teams, this leads me to think a Circle 3 may be in the works that will only work with HomeKit secure video.iOS 13 HomeKit camera accessories

The other change in HomeKit for Cameras is a UI makeover. The change allows you quick access to accessories that are located in the same room as the camera. I found this useful when using the Netatmo outdoor camera and the built-in floodlight at the same time.

HomePod and Apple TV in iOS 13 HomeKit

Both the HomePod and Apple TV get greater control options in the Home app. The accessory view now shows the now playing card found in Control Center. You can play/pause, change tracks, and adjust the volume. For Apple TV, in particular, you can also get access to the virtual TV remote.iOS 13 HomeKit apple TV support

While these changes and improvements are small, I think they are great for users wanting to try and bring all smart home devices such as the HomePod and Apple TV into the Home app.

New automation’s in HomeKit iOS 13

Apple has delivered automation improvements in iOS 13. Not only thanks to the Home app but the updated Shortcuts app with the later bringing the most significant changes.

Starting with automation’s in the Home app, the major change here is the ability to include devices such as Apple TV, HomePod, and AirPlay 2 speakers. So for example,  in my home, I got the HomePod located in my living room to play my “chill playlist” when arriving home.

Moving onto home automation in the Shortcuts app, this is where the good stuff can happen. The new shortcuts app in iOS 13 has got an additional menu option called “automation.” In this menu, you will find all the current automation setup in HomeKit and the opportunity to add more.

The interesting difference in the Shortcut app is the ability to create personal automation. As an example, I created automation when I hit the stop button on the morning alarm the lights turned on to 50% brightness, and the HomePod started playing music. This is great for me to get out of bed and get on with the day.iOS 13 HomeKit siri shortcuts

While I appreciate this is only a beta right now, it would be good to see Apple include the ability to create personal automation right within the Home App itself

You can also include HomePod, Apple TV or Airplay 2 speakers in a scene. Giving you the ability to either pause the music, start playing specific music, ignore whatever music is playing. You can also set the volume to the desired level for that particular scene if required.

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Setting improvements in HomeKit iOS 13

Inside settings for each home, you see that the layout has been adjusted with different parts relocated. For example, Home Hubs used to be near the top but now are relegated to the bottom.

Under the “notifications” sub-category, Cameras have a new option. The motion sensor paired with each camera was removed from the sensors grouping and were combined with the cameras. For each camera, you can enable or disable notifications when motion is detected and opt for whether or not to show snapshots on those notifications.iOS 13 HomeKit settings

Previously hubs for devices would appear in the room you allocated them. Apple has now grouped Home Hubs with third-party bridges showing in one location. Now your HomePod and Apple TVs show right next to bridges like Hue, Tado, Tradfri and other.

I like the new changes to the settings in HomeKit, in particular now that device hubs are out of the way and not left in a room adding no value and causing clutter.

New HomeKit accessories in iOS 13

While Apple didn’t announce any own branded HomeKit hardware at the WWDC 19 keynote. We do see support in iOS 13 for routers inside of HomeKit.

What this means is that compatible routers can monitor your home accessories and see who they are talking to you. You can limit their communication to solely inside your home with other devices, so they don’t share your private and personal information with others.

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Linksys and Eero will be some of the first routers to support this new feature via software updates coming later this year. However, it is not clear if this will be new hardware or firmware updates to existing routers.

HomeKit iOS 13 – initial thoughts

I feel Apple has made some significant improvements to HomeKit in iOS 13 with the improved UI for controlling accessories. The changes to how sensors are grouped along with the new icons is also a welcome improvement.iOS 13 HomeKit whats new

The big things for me when iOS 13 launches in the autumn are going to be HomeKit Secure Video and the improvements to privacy. I also like the automation improvements and looking forward to what can user can create with the shortcuts app.

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While Apple has made some significant changes to HomeKit in iOS 13. I still feel that Homekit is a pet project not given the attention it deserves with some key features missing in actions. So for example, things that users are crying out for;

  • More icon choice
  • Support for other smart home devices like hoovers
  • The ability to restrict device access within the Home App. This feature would be useful for security cameras and the garage to stop children from getting in without an adult.
  • The ability to save background wallpapers in the Home App

So that’s it; hopefully, you have found this hands-on review/opinion of HomeKit in iOS 13 useful. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive the latest on HomeKit and smart home. If you have a question or comment, then leave it below.

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Jon Ratcliffe
I have a huge passion for technology having worked in the sector for over 18 years in a variety of roles. I cover Wearables, tech and smart home. My reviews and information will talk about how the product works in reality and not just what the marketing departments want you to think.

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