Despite its combined look with HomePod and Apple TV during WWDC 2021 Keynote, HomeKit gets some substantial improvements this fall in iOS 15, tvOS 15 and WatchOS 8. This year, Siri is moving to more devices, tvOS adds a few new ones tricks for the HomeKit camera, and the Home app on the Apple Watch becomes very necessary. Of course, there were a few things Apple didn't announce that we're just discovering now, so here's a look at everything coming to HomeKit this fall.
Announced with new additions in iOS 15, Apple brings digital keys for doors and garage doors in the Wallet application on the iPhone. With the HomeKit door lock keys in the wallet app, you'll be able to unlock your doors by tapping your iPhone (iPhone XS or later) or Apple Watch on the lock.
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While Apple has not specifically announced which locks or garage doors will support this feature, an overview has revealed several hardware vendors - Schlage and Aqara. We assume that compatible locks will need NFC capabilities with the touch to unlock feature, but it's unclear if additional hardware is needed or if existing locks can be added through an upgrade.
Apple's virtual assistant, Siri, was an unexpected highlight of WWDC 2021, thanks to many improvements on all Cupertino devices. The most significant announcement was that Apple opened Siri to third-party accessories. For the first time, HomeKit devices and potential speakers will be able to launch Siri queries with the HomePod mini later this year.
During the main presentation, Apple submitted a Siri application through a HomeKit thermostat, all running locally, without your data leaving your home. Apple did not mention the specific hardware, but it was quite obvious that the thermostat was from ecobee. Shortly after the keynote, ecobee confirmed that it is working on the function for the latest SmartThermostat model and will come through a future update.
Source: Luke Filipowicz / iMore
Siri on third-party devices is not limited to handling HomeKit orders. For example, Apple mentions sending messages, adding reminders, and using the handy HomePod intercom feature on the iOS 15 preview page.
Other Siri surprises came after the event, once the developers managed to download iOS 15 developer beta 1 and iPadOS 15. One of these is the ability to make Siri perform HomeKit tasks at certain hours. For example, you could say "Hey Siri - turn off the living room lights at 7:00" or "Hey Siri - turn on the thermostat when I get home."
Another surprise is a new HomePod accessibility feature that automatically adjusts the volume of Siri responses. With this setting, Siri will respond to requests at the same level as your voice and incorporate other factors, such as background noise levels, including music or other media.
As part of the new iCloud + service, Apple is removing limits on the number of HomeKit Secure camcorders you can have at home. Previously, HomeKit Secure Video features, such as 10-day recording storage in iCloud and Activity Zones, were limited to five cameras, which wasn't enough to cover all areas in and around homes. Now you can add as many cameras as you want if you subscribe to the iCloud + 2 TB or larger storage plan.
Speaking of HomeKit Secure Video, Apple is offering this feature an upgrade this year, with the ability to detect packages. The new package detection feature works exactly as it sounds, the Home app alerts you to a delivery with a personalized notification just as you receive with the detection of people, animals or vehicle.
Finally, although it was not announced during the main presentation, the Home app in iOS 15 now shows a change in the way HomeKit video ringtones are displayed. Prior to iOS 15, ringtones that used a higher aspect ratio - such as the excellent Logitech Circle View sound, included black bars surrounding the preview. While this could be a bug, iOS 15 now displays a cropped preview, allowing you to get a closer look without having to switch to a live stream.
On Apple TV, HomeKit cameras again see a little love on the big screen in tvOS 15. In addition to viewing your HomeKit cameras in a full-screen view, tvOS 15 introduces a new multi-camera network view, creating in essentially a modern equivalent to traditional CCTV systems of the past. The new view is accessible directly through the Control Center and as a dedicated button while in a full screen view.
HomeKit cameras also receive activity alert notifications in tvOS 15. Just like we received last year with HomeKit ringtones, cameras can notify you when they pick up a motion event, complete with a live image in the image that appears over any binging right now.
While watching a HomeKit camera feed on your TV, tvOS 15 now also displays nearby HomeKit accessories. Accessible with a small button next to the new multi-camera option, you can extract a list of all the accessories assigned to the same HomeKit camera as your camera. If you have a room overlooking the front porch, you can switch the exterior lights with the remote Siri for a better view through a familiar accessory board like a Home app.
HomeKit security accessories are also receiving TVOS treatment this year. HomeKit door locks, motion sensors, door and window sensors and more can alert you to potential issues with tvOS notifications. Combined with accessory controls by viewing the room, you may be able to avoid potential intruders hiding around your property from the comfort of your couch.
Of course, if you're afraid that your TV will become another source of annoying notifications, you can always customize alerts or turn them off completely. Apple gives you the ability to filter alerts from the same basic set of HomeKit Secure camcorder filters - people, animals, vehicles, and now packages. You can also pick and choose which security accessories deliver notifications so you can focus only on the critical doors or locks in your home.
Let's face it - using the Home app to control HomeKit accessories even on the best Apple Watch is not the most enjoyable experience. Apple is addressing this in watchOS 8 with a completely revamped app with features similar to the Home on iOS app.
The first thing you will see on the watch is a new overview of the status at the top of the list of accessories. This list includes the number of lights on in the house, the condition of the door lock, temperatures and more.
At the bottom of the Home app, there are new buttons on your watch that take you to HomeKit cameras, favorites, and individual rooms in your home. By adding these buttons, navigating the clock app is faster, more responsive, and simpler, because you can finally access all of accessories for the first time on the wrist - not just your favorites.
The Apple Watch also receives new activity notifications in watchOS 8. Apple has introduced an enhanced HomeKit notification with ringtone that includes a live view of your visitors and the ability to interact via two-way audio capabilities, if your ringtone supports it. .
Although mentioned briefly during the conference, the most significant addition to HomeKit in iOS 15 is the integration of Matter. The subject - formerly known as CHIP, is the latest attempt to create a unified smart home standard and is backed by Apple, Amazon and Google, to name a few.
According to the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which guides development, we should start seeing the first Matter accessories later this year. If all goes according to plan, Matter accessories will do just that just work with all the major smart home platforms and voice assistants right out of the box or through upgrades that open the door to HomeKit hardware devices like the Ring and Nest.
Needless to say, this would be huge for HomeKit, but as we have seen with other attempts to solve the biggest obstacle of the smart home, Matter will only matter if the suppliers support it.
Most major operating system updates come with some visual changes, and iOS and iPadOS are no different, with a few changes seen in the Home app. Right off the bat, you'll notice that the headers for your favorite scenes, accessories, and cameras found in the Home and Room tabs now have a more prominent and bold font, and HomeKit thermostats now have a darker color icon in cooling mode.
The Home Settings section of the Home app has a new condensed look in iOS 15. The HomeKit Secure Router settings are alongside other HomeKit accessories, and the People view is reduced to a simple list. The People list also includes tags such as Resident, Administrator, or Owner, which may suggest additional changes that will come along the way.
Unfortunately, iOS 15 does not seem to address a common complaint of the Home app - the lack of icons available for accessories and scenes. So while Apple might always surprise us, as they did a few years ago, in the middle of the beta, it looks like we'll live at least another year with the same old icons.
As you can see, there are a lot of changes coming to HomeKit this year. What are your favorite HomeKit features in iOS 15, tvOS 15 and watchOS 8? Are you going to pick up a HomeKit Secure Video compatible camera to try out the latest features on your TV? Tell us in the comments below!
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