If you want to implement home automation professionally, it is better to use a system that has already proven itself in practice. After all, an extensive smart home system can cost up to 500 pounds and more. The most popular smart home systems for retrofitting are: Simplicity, flexibility and security - because the best smart home system does not ultimately depend on the price, but on personal priorities.
The best smart home system accompanies our everyday life inconspicuously, intelligently links the individual actuators with one another and can be controlled intuitively via app, radio switch or voice assistant.
Many providers have been facing this challenge for a number of years: Magenta Smart Home, Innogy or Samsung SmartThings have probably already come across most of them in the busy advertising landscape. The promise, for example: More safety with smart door sensors that send an SMS in an emergency and make the linked siren wail. And more comfort thanks to an accessible heating system that heats up to save energy while we circle around the block to get a parking space. The possible Smart Home scenes are innumerable.
Samsung SmartThings has the vision of networking the entire household with one app and controlling it conveniently with the smart TV or voice assistant. The whole thing should be as simple as possible to implement. While Samsung devices such as Smart TVs, refrigerators and music systems are in the foreground, the Samsung SmartThings Smart Home is also open to third-party providers. The SmartThings Hub control centre speaks the radio languages Z-Wave and ZigBee - two common protocols that allow the integration of various smart home devices.
While much more is already possible in America and in Germany, Netgear, August, ring, Philips Hue and Honeywell can be controlled with the Samsung SmartThings app. Anyone who wants to find their way into the Samsung Smart Home system can also start with simple security functions. Just like Magenta Smart Home, there are, for example, motion detectors and water detectors that indicate unusual activities by pushing a message on the smartphone.
HomeKit is the name for a developer framework that enables app developers to interact with devices that understand the Home Automation Protocol. It offers standardized, manufacturer-independent access to smart home devices. This means that components from different manufacturers can be controlled with one app. So, it does not matter whether they are from Philips or Elgato, as they all understand the same commands. For the first time, Home Kit enables a universal remote control for all smart home devices.
In addition, iOS has its own database that can be accessed by all apps that are prepared for HomeKit. This database stores information on all available devices in your own home. So it is possible that the app from a third party also knows that, for example, a Philips Hue lamp is available and can control it.
What is not available on HomeKit?
Apple does not initially supply any hardware or apps with HomeKit. Even if this could change in the future, this is an important difference to other systems. Apple therefore relies entirely on third-party manufacturers and the usual strong ecosystem of developers, accessory manufacturers and the app stores. Apple's goal is not to make direct profit with HomeKit, but rather to keep us users locked in the golden cage of the Apple universe. Because it is clear that HomeKit is only offered for the Apple platforms and the corresponding protocols and developer interfaces can only be used by iOS / watchOS and Mac apps. Android users are unfortunately completely left out here. However, with the Brillo and Weave projects, Google is also pushing ahead with similar projects.
How do I know if a product is HomeKit compatible?
HomeKit is based on a certification program for accessory manufacturers. They can have their products certified, similar to the well-known “Made for iPhone” seal. This ensures that both the hardware and the apps supplied are fully compatible with other HomeKit products and can be controlled, for example, via apps from other manufacturers or via Siri. Similar to the App Store, Apple plays the “gatekeeper” here, which ensures the compatibility, security and quality of HomeKit products. In terms of security, Apple sets higher standards than usual, such as full end-to-end encryption between the devices. These high standards are also the reason why many manufacturers are only now delivering HomeKit products. The first version of HomeKit was presented in mid-2014. It has been some time before manufacturers such as Philips have gone through the entire certification process and adapted their apps. In some cases (as with Philips Hue) the hardware bridge even had to be revised to meet all requirements. Therefore, with most devices, a software update is unfortunately not enough.
You can tell whether a product is compatible with HomeKit by looking at the HomeKit seal below, which should be on the packaging. Suppliers who already wear this are, for example, Philips, Elgato or Insteon: Rooms, scenes, groups - HomeKit's terminology
HomeKit arranges the products in your smart home in flexible groupings. These enable several components to be activated and controlled simultaneously with one command. This is how the structure of your home is mapped in HomeKit.
The top grouping are different houses that you can manage with Homekit (e.g. home, office and vacation home). The division into different houses enables you to control individual houses via iCloud also to enable other users, e.g. family members or colleagues in the office. All settings and groups in your home are automatically synchronized with the devices of your family or colleagues. So if you add a new device to your home, your family members can also control this automatically without having to pair it again. This makes it an extremely practical feature.
The next grouping are individual rooms in your house (e.g. kitchen, bedroom, living room). All components in a room are assigned to it. In this way you can, for example, switch on all the lights in the living room with one command.
The rooms can even be further divided into different groups (eg ground floor and first floor or just “downstairs” and “upstairs”). The command "turn on the light upstairs" then switches on all the lights on the upper floor.
Scenes go a little further than groups, as these enable certain actions to be triggered at the component level. Typical scenes are, for example, “I'm coming home”, “I'm leaving the house”, “Good morning” or “Good night”. The scene “I'm coming home” could then, for example, switch on the lights on the lower floor, let the radio run automatically and turn on the heating.
Events allow you to activate individual components or certain scenes automatically. Various triggers can be used for this, including sunrise and sunset, the time of day or leaving or entering a specific location. So when you arrive at home, your iPhone will notice this and automatically activate the "I'm coming home" scene. Since all of this is controlled by the iPhone operating system itself and you do not have to have your own app open, this is also relatively battery-saving and reliable. However, the trigger can also be an event from another device. If, for example, a sensor for the air quality in the apartment notices that it is time to ventilate, the window can automatically be tilted and the heating turned down.
Siri - the mistress of the house
Siri enables you to use commands for individual components ("Turn on the heating in the living room"), as well as controlling entire groups or rooms ("Turn on the lights upstairs"), as well as controlling scenes ("Good morning") . The voice control of the smart home is therefore included directly. Of course, this works wherever Siri is available (iPhone, iPad and also the Apple Watch). The “Hey Siri” function enables a Star Trek-like operation of the home. Siri can be activated by simply shouting “Hey Siri” without a power supply. So we don't even have to get up and use our smartphones to control the smart home
Is HomeKit the solution to all problems?
HomeKit is certainly not the solution to all the problems of building a truly smart home, but it is a bold and extremely promising step in the right direction. Apple has chosen a completely new approach for this and only acts as an intermediary, a kind of “smart glue” that combines all the individual parts into a complex and smart home. It is also certain that this will not be HomeKit's last hit, but that it will be expanded even further. The events in particular still offer enormous potential for the automated control of the home. HomeKit's biggest weak point at the moment is the availability of compatible devices. If you look at the spread of iOS devices and the deep integration into the devices and the operating system, this is a potential that only a few accessory manufacturers will give away.
Even if the certification by Apple is associated with a certain amount of time and money, the entry and development of Smart Home products is significantly easier, because on the one hand there is a ready-made framework for controlling the products and on the other hand there is no hardware gateways for the Controls needed, as are currently still in use by many manufacturers. This role is taken over by your own iOS device or an existing Apple TV or, in the future, probably also a router. The next few months will therefore be an exciting time for the smart home. The developers and manufacturers are just beginning to grasp the potential of HomeKit and use it for themselves. Not only the hardware will expand, but also the apps to control them. The undoubtedly successful ecosystem that Apple created with the app stores will also give the smart home sector a significant boost.