HomeKit is the least popular smart home platform of the big three. Both Alexa and Google Home are more popular, largely due to the much wider range of compatibility that both platforms have over HomeKit. Despite this disadvantage, HomeKit has a major bonus: the installation is incredibly easy in most situations.
On the other hand, they are some of the most serious obstacles to installing any platform. This strange two-sided coin makes HomeKit a unique platform, offering both an extraordinary promise and many areas for improvement and refinement.
Easy installation, no application required
HomeKit is representative of the promise of the Matter protocol – easy-to-install devices, regardless of platform. HomeKit allows users to add devices to the platform without downloading the proprietary application; for example, you can install a LIFX bulb on the HomeKit platform without the LIFX application present on your phone.
This is different from the Alexa or Google Assistant platform. You need to set up your app and connect your device to your network before these two platforms detect your device and ask you to add it. If HomeKit offers an easier installation method than your own product application, it makes it a great alternative.
If you have never installed anything through HomeKit, let me give you an example. From the Home app on iOS, all you have to do is tap + symbol in the upper right corner of the screen. From there, tap Add accessories. Then you have two options: You can use the HomeKit configuration code, which is on the package or product, by scanning it with the device’s camera. Alternatively, you can hold the device next to the accessory.
The next option is to tap I don’t have a code or I can’t scan, which displays another screen. Features options for any compatible nearby smart device. If you choose to set up a device using this method, you will be prompted to enter an eight-digit code found either on the device itself or in its packaging. If you still can’t see your device, well, that’s one of the disadvantages. You’re out of luck other than performing a hard reset.
No code? Installation is possible, but find something Advil
If the device you are trying to install does not have the HomeKit code printed on the device itself, chances are you will find the code in either the user manual or the box. However, the codes are unique – which means that if you lose them, you have to go through the less-than-ideal code recovery process.
LIFX provides a step-by-step process for how to do this on the tits site. Just select the device in the app and find the option to recover the code. Theoretically, it sounds good, until you need to recover the code for a device that you have not installed. Then it becomes much more of a hassle. Fortunately, this only applies to two LIFX devices that were produced before the company integrated HomeKit into its configuration – the rest have eight-digit code printed on the device itself.
The issue of losing HomeKit codes is not exclusive to LIFX. As long as a device has the number printed somewhere on the case, then it’s easy to install it again. If that code is hidden (the device is scratched, the code is covered, etc.), it may be almost impossible to use the device again. The same applies whenever the code is included in the manual or on the box, but not on the device.
Why the HomeKit installation method matters
The Matter protocol is an idea and vision shared between the main smart home platforms (Alexa, Google, Apple, etc.) that would unite all smart devices in a common “smart language”. HomeKit shows some of the potential of this in how you set up devices on the platform. You do not need to configure a device through its individual application; instead, you can configure it directly via HomeKit.
An Ecobee SmartCamera that I installed is just one example. I don’t have the Ecobee app downloaded on my phone; I only used HomeKit to configure it. This does not mean that individual applications are not needed or that they will disappear – after all, there are users who only want a certain device and have no interest in a smart platform like HomeKit – but it means that devices of very different origins, such as it would be a smart Alexa only connector and a SmartThings hub, they will not be able to communicate with each other.
The idea of a smart home with an agnostic platform is electrifying. If the Matter protocol is made with features similar to the HomeKit installation process (but not limited to HomeKit compatible devices), the smart home would be much more “smart” than it is today. Customers should no longer have to ensure that a particular device works with their personal smart assistant or platform. In essence, it would eliminate the existing walled gardens and allow all devices to work with each other.
HomeKit is not a perfect example of what Matter would look like, but the installation process has many promises and streamlines things in a way that other platforms do not. On the other hand, it also brings a lot of upsets that can turn what should be a 30-second process into something that involves a lot more Googling and troubleshooting than it should.