Use Accessories – Take Control of Apple Home Automation

Use Accessories

Now we get to the real meat of the book: doing stuff with all this fancy equipment you bought! Thankfully, that’s pretty easy. In this chapter, I talk about basic control of accessories; I get into more advanced HomeKit features in subsequent chapters.

Check Accessory Status

At the top of both the Home and Rooms screens in the Home app is a status bar with icons that display status messages (Figure 13).

Figure 11: Home’s status messages are now presented as interactive icons.

For example:

  • Unresponsive accessories (that have perhaps been unplugged, have dead batteries, or are otherwise inoperative)

  • Whether any accessories have firmware updates available (see Update Accessory Firmware)

  • Sensor readings, such as temperature, humidity, and motion

  • How many lights are on

The status bar changes depending on whether you’re viewing the entire home, as on the Home screen, or an individual room in the Room screen.

You can click or tap each of the icons to view more information. For instance tap the No Response icon to see all the accessories in that home or room that aren’t responding. Most of the icons work that way, but be careful with the Lights On icon, as tapping that will turn off all the lights in that home or room!

Control Your Accessories

Apple’s operating systems offer a cornucopia of ways to control your HomeKit devices: inside the Home app, from the iOS, iPadOS, or tvOS Control Center, with an Apple Watch, and through Siri.

Use the Home App

At this point in the book, I’m going to assume that you have only a handful of accessories (maybe just one!) and that you’ve set them all as favorites in the Home app, since that is the default, and it makes things easier when you’re just starting out.

When you open the Home app, it should start you on the Home screen, which at this point probably looks something like Figure 14.

Figure 12: The Home app’s Home screen shows any accessory you’ve set as a Favorite.

All the displayed accessories can perform actions: TV Room Dehumidifier (an Eve Energy smart outlet connected to a dehumidifier), Kitchen Light (a grouping of two Hue bulbs in a light fixture), TV Room TV Corner (a Hue bulb in a floor lamp), TV Room Ceiling Light (an Eve Light Switch), and Office Floor Lamp (an Eve Energy outlet). Tapping any one of those accessory tiles turns that accessory on or off. Touch and hold one of those tiles to display additional options. In macOS, click an accessory to activate it, and to see more controls, Control-click it and chose Show Controls.

For my smart outlets and the light switch, the additional options are pretty basic: just a big on/off switch and the gear icon I covered in Tweak Accessories. However, for a color smart bulb, things get a lot more interesting: you get a brightness slider, which you can drag up and down to adjust the bulb brightness, and color buttons, which you can click or tap to select a preset light color. The word Edit appears on the selected color button, meaning that you can click or tap that button again to change the color or temperature of that preset. Drag the circle to select a color or temperature. Click or tap Done to set the light to that color and change the preset (Figure 15).

Figure 15: If you have a color smart bulb, Home lets you adjust not only the brightness but the color, and you can set six colors as favorites.

Different types of accessories show different types of controls. For example, my ecobee 4 thermostat lets me control the temperature with a circular slider and the mode with a wheel, and then shows the status of its built-in sensors. But my Apple TV, which acts as a HomeKit device, shows playback controls when I touch and hold its tile (Figure 16).

Figure 16: Home controls for a thermostat (left) and Apple TV (right).

Those are just a few examples of common types of accessories—different accessories may have different controls, but you access them by either tapping or touching and holding their accessory tiles.

View and Control Cameras

Cameras work in a unique way as opposed to most accessories. As I explained in Adjust Camera Settings, cameras are presented as live camera feed windows instead of the usual tiles. Tap the feed to see controls for the camera. Here are some things you can do with cameras in Home:

  • View recorded footage: If you are recording video, a timeline appears at the bottom of the screen, with a scrubber that you can touch and drag to see past recordings. (It disappears after a few seconds of inactivity; touch the screen to show it again.) After you drag the scrubber back, a calendar appears at the top of the screen. Tap a date to jump to recordings from that day (Figure 17).

    Figure 17: Use the timeline at the bottom to look at past times, and the calendar at the top to jump to past dates.

    If you’ve set the camera to only record when it detects a person , animal , or vehicle , it will tag those recorded clips with an icon. Also, if you’ve set up facial recognition, a tooltip appears above the timeline with the name of the person identified.

  • Share a recording: The Share icon is always visible, but dimmed while viewing the live feed. However, when viewing a recording, you can tap it to pull up the share sheet and send it elsewhere.

  • Switch to a live feed: Tap LIVE at any time to switch to the live feed.

  • Control nearby accessories: Tap the Accessories icon to view nearby accessories that you can control (assuming you’ve set up rooms correctly; see Explore Homes, Rooms, and Zones).

  • Mute camera audio: Tap the Volume icon.

  • View the camera feed outside of the Home app: In iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, tap the Picture in Picture icon to shrink the camera feed into a window that you can keep watching even if you switch away from the Home app.

Use Control Center in iOS and iPadOS

Jumping in and out of the Home app every time you want to turn on a light may be more of a hassle than flicking a switch on the wall. Thankfully, Apple offers access to HomeKit accessories from Control Center.

In iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, this takes two different forms: a Home Favorites tile that reveals all your favorite accessories and scenes (more than nine of each now!) and individual tiles for suggested accessories, which change throughout the day depending on your habits.

To use these capabilities, go to Settings > Control Center. The Show Home Controls switch controls whether suggested accessories appear in Control Center.

As for the Home tile, tap the plus button next to Home to add that shortcut to Control Center if it’s not already in the Include list.

Now any time you want to, say, turn a switch on or off, just bring up Control Center and either tap one of the suggestions, or tap Home Favorites to see all of your favorite accessories and scenes (Figure 18).

Figure 18: Tap Home Favorites to see all of your favorite scenes and accessories.

The buttons here work the same as they do in the Home app, except you can’t access settings.

Use an Apple Watch

You can also control your home with an Apple Watch. I often find it more cumbersome than using my iPhone, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Start by launching the Home app from the Apple Watch’s Home screen or the Home complication on the watch face:

  • Status messages, scenes, and accessories are presented as a list. Scroll up and down with your finger or the Digital Crown to move between them. Status messages are presented at the very top, followed by favorite scenes, and then favorite accessories. (We’ll cover scenes in Set Scenes.)

  • Tap an accessory to turn it on or off.

  • Tap the More button to see more advanced options. Advanced controls work just like on iOS. Smart bulbs present sliders that let you control brightness, which you can adjust with your finger or the Digital Crown. Some accessories, like color smart bulbs, have different pages of controls that you can flip between by swiping left and right (Figure 19).

    Figure 19: The main screen of Home for the Apple Watch displays accessory status and lists your favorite accessories (left). Tap an accessory to turn it on or off (second from left), or tap the More button to show advanced controls (second from right). Just like on iOS, you can adjust color smart bulbs with a slider and pick different colors (right).
  • Tap done to leave advanced options.

Use Apple TV Control Center

tvOS 14 introduced rudimentary Home support to Control Center. Bring up Control Center on the Apple TV by pressing and holding the Home button on the remote. Select the Home icon to see a selection of favorite scenes and any camera feeds you have (Figure 20).

Figure 20: Control Center in tvOS shows camera feeds and your top favorite scenes.

Use Siri

One of the big advantages of HomeKit is that you can control your home automation accessories with Siri. This works on iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS (assuming your devices are all signed into the same iCloud account).

Here are some examples of how you can control accessories with Siri:

  • “Turn all my lights on.”

  • “Turn off the bedroom lamp.”

  • “Is the living room light on?”

  • “Turn on the downstairs lights.”

  • “Set the thermostat to 72 degrees.”

  • “What’s the temperature in my bedroom?”

  • “Make my living room blue.”

  • “Unlock the front door”

  • “Open the garage door.”

How well Siri works with HomeKit depends largely on how well you set things up in the Home app:

  • Give accessories pronounceable names: It’s tempting to give accessories abbreviated names like KTLT so they fit neatly in the little buttons, but good luck getting Siri to recognize it. Likewise, you may give an accessory a name that you think is perfectly pronounceable, but Siri struggles with. Such is Siri. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works.

  • Set rooms correctly in Settings: It’s super handy to be able to say things like “turn off the living room lights,” but that works only if you’ve set the correct room for each accessory. I go into more depth about rooms in Establish and Configure Rooms.

  • Set up zones correctly: As I explained in Learn the HomeKit Hierarchy, zones are collections of rooms, and I tell you how to set those up in Explore Homes, Rooms, and Zones, so you can tell Siri stuff like “turn on the upstairs lights.”

  • Set accessory types as best as you can: In the settings of generic sorts of accessories like outlets and switches, you have the option to set what type of accessory it displays as. By default, it’s set to what the accessory actually is, like Outlet or Switch. It’s better to set it to what it actually controls, if you can. Unfortunately, you only have two choices besides the default: Fan or Light. But that’s better than nothing; at least Siri counts that accessory as a fan or light when you issue voice commands.

Deal with Switches

Here’s one of the most confusing aspects of home automation: You install some sort of smart bulb, then you turn the light off using the same switch (on the lamp or wall) you’ve used for years. Later, when you open up Home to turn that light back on, you see NO RESPONSE on the accessory button. What gives?

Here’s the problem: these smart bulbs have a receiver in them so that they can receive instructions wirelessly from your iPhone or other controlling device. Those receivers need power. Without power, the light bulb is just dead.

If you install a smart bulb, it’s important to not use the standard light switch to control that bulb—otherwise you’re constantly going to have to get up and flip the switch, defeating the whole purpose of having a smart bulb!

Here are three ways to solve the problem:

  • Communication: The first and best line of defense is just to explain the situation to your housemates, so they know how things work and know to not turn the switch off. You want to do this regardless, but for children, guests, and the technically challenged, this may not be enough—you may want physical solutions.

  • Switch covers: A number of covers on the market make light switches hard or impossible to access. They’re cheap and relatively easy to install.

  • A smart switch: Several light switches work with HomeKit, including semi-traditional in-wall switches like the Eve Light Switch (which I explain how to install in Install a Light Switch), as well as newfangled, battery-powered switches designed specifically for home automation, like the Eve Button and Philips Hue Dimmer Switch.

    Do not group a smart switch with smart bulbs. (Grouping lets you combine two accessories into one, as I explain in Tweak Accessories.) What ends up happening is that the group defaults to the lowest-common denominator of control and you lose the brightness and color control of the Hue bulbs. Even worse, it causes all sorts of glitches, because HomeKit gets confused. Keep them separated!