What choices are available for an Apple HomeKit home hub?

Cupertino, August 21, 2023

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Apple HomeKit Home Hub Options

Apple's HomeKit has quickly become a favorite for smart home enthusiasts, especially those more comfortable using Apple devices, but when it comes to choosing a hub for yours, there are multiple ways you can go. So what's best? If you want to set up an Apple HomeKit home hub, you essentially have three options: HomePod, Apple TV, and iPad. These are not all equally good solutions, and in the case of the iPad, Apple seems to be losing its enthusiasm. Nevertheless, we've outlined all the options for an Apple HomeKit home hub to set up your smart home, but first a little explanation of what a HomeKit home hub is and why you'd want it.

What is a HomeKit Home Hub and Why Do You Need One?

First things first: what is Apple HomeKit's hub? If you've set up smart home devices to work with Apple HomeKit through the Home app, you can already run technology with the press of a button or through a Siri phrase on your iPhone. The problem is that this requires you to be close to the smart tech you want to use - on the same Wi-Fi network or within Bluetooth range. And some of the coolest smart home tricks are done remotely (like locking your smart lock from a distance or setting your thermostat to preheat before you get home). A HomeKit home hub is the answer. It acts as a bridge to your smart devices in your home, allowing you to control things even when you're away from home. Moreover, it also allows you to share access to your smart home control with others, and you can automate your smart home functions. It's pretty much essential if you're serious about getting the most out of your smart home.

What are the Options for an Apple HomeKit Home Hub?

Apple won't let just anything be used as a HomeKit home hub, and there are currently no third-party options. You have three choices in total, but one of them has a pretty serious downside. The good news is that you can have more than one to get the benefits of them all, and also have a backup connection if one goes down. Here's what you can use.

  1. Apple HomePod


    • The cheapest solution
    • Hands-free Siri control for smart home voice commands
    • A good speaker in its own right


    • You may already have smart speakers from other brands

    A HomePod is probably the best Apple HomeKit home hub choice. It's low-power, always-on, and has Siri built-in for hands-free voice control. Best of all, it's the cheapest option here if you're happy with the audio quality of the $99 HomePod mini. Alternatively, you can buy the $299 HomePod 2 if you're serious about your audio fidelity. There aren't really any downsides unless you happen to have invested in a pair of Nest Audio or Amazon Echo speakers in your home. If so, you might want to turn your attention to the Apple TV instead...

  2. Apple TV


    • Usually a central location
    • Optional Ethernet port for reliability
    • HomeKit camera feeds can be displayed on screen


    • You need the remote for Siri
    • Not all versions are supported and some are limited

    If, for whatever reason, the HomePod doesn't appeal to you, then Apple TV is the next best solution. Not only does it offer such good streaming performance that it outperforms most smart TVs' built-in interfaces, but every version since 2012 has some sort of HomeKit home hub functionality. It's usually in a nice central location next to your TV for maximum reach, and it has two main advantages over the HomePod. First, it's connected to a screen so you can see feeds from compatible connected cameras. And second, some models have an Ethernet port for a more reliable wired Internet connection. The only real downside is that you have to wake Siri with a button on the remote for voice control, but if that's not a problem for you then it's a wise choice. Keep compatibility in mind: While all 4K models are fully compatible, the 2012 third-generation Apple TV doesn't allow you to share remote access with other users and doesn't support camera streams.

  3. Apple iPad


    • The most flexible device
    • Portable


    • Can run out of battery
    • It's not supported on the newer Home architecture

    Finally, there's the iPad. While it's the most flexible option in theory, given its portability, multiple uses, and the fact that you might already have one, it has one serious drawback: it doesn't deliver the same performance as the other options. "iPad can still work as a home hub on the new, more reliable and efficient Home architecture, which is available as a separate upgrade in the Home app," Apple explains on its official support page. At first, it seemed that it would be completely abandoned, but that is not true. "iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 will continue to support iPad as a home hub with no loss of functionality," Apple's Catherine Franklin told The Verge in June 2022. Nevertheless, it doesn't feel like the best way to integrate a HomeKit home hub into your setup unless you already have one laying around. Keep in mind that if the battery runs out, the home hub functionality won't work until you can get it with a charger.

Which is the Best?

They all have their pros and cons. HomePod is the most cost-effective option and makes voice control easy, while Apple TV offers the reliability of Ethernet and shows compatible cameras. Even the iPad, with its obvious drawback, might be best for you if you already have one up and running. The good news is that you don't have to choose just one. If you're serious about keeping your smart home running smoothly, combining two or three of these is definitely the way to go, giving you the best of all worlds.

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