As with most yearly software releases, Apple's HomeKit — and the Home app certainly didn't steal the show in iOS 15. However, despite taking a back seat to headlines like SharePlay, there are still some significant changes to be aware of that impact how we interact with our smart homes. This year, the Home app adds new automation capabilities, more HomeKit camera improvements, and Siri finally goes beyond Apple devices. Here are the best new HomeKit features in iOS 15, tvOS 15, and watchOS 8.
Temperature, humidity, and light automation
Without a doubt, the most significant HomeKit improvement in iOS 15 is the addition of temperature, humidity, and light automation. While it is true that you could create these types of automation before iOS 15, doing so meant using a third-party HomeKit app — which isn't always the most user-friendly.
Starting in iOS 15.1, you can finally put your HomeKit temperature, humidity, and light sensors to good use with a few taps over in the Home app. For example, you can now create an automation that automatically turns on your HomeKit ceiling fan or sets the thermostat to a cool 72-degrees when things get a little stuffy in your office.
With winter coming up, you can combat dry air in your home by creating automation that fires up a HomeKit humidifier — like the VOCOlinc MistFlow Smart Humidifier, if the humidity levels drop below 30%. With light automation, you can utilize the sensors in most HomeKit cameras to create a custom morning routine that opens your blinds and turns on the coffee maker only when the light in your bedroom reaches a specific lux level.
Siri improvements, everywhere
Another major HomeKit addition in iOS 15/HomePod software 15 is the introduction of Siri on third-party devices. Now for the first time, you can summon Apple's virtual assistant through HomeKit accessories — and potentially AirPlay 2 speakers, just by saying, "Hey Siri."
ecobee's latest generation SmartThermostat was the first to gain on-device Siri integration through a recent firmware update. Siri via the ecobee thermostat is surprisingly capable, with the device handling Personal Requests, HomeKit controls, music, and intercom messages just like the virtual assistant does through your iPhone or HomePod.
There is a catch, though — you need a HomePod mini to make the magic happen. Siri requests through third-party accessories are processed quietly behind the scenes through the HomePod mini. This method ensures that your requests are kept private, and it also ensures consistency with responses.
HomeKit Secure Video camera upgrades
HomeKit Secure video-enabled smart cameras and doorbells also gain a few new tricks thanks to iOS 15 and the new iCloud+ service. One of which is Package Detection — which, as you might expect, sends notifications to all of your devices when a delivery is dropped off at your front door.
Package Detection uses your HomeKit hub for local image processing, just like it already does for distinguishing between people, animals, and vehicles. With Package Detection, you can set your camera or doorbell only to notify you when a package enters the view, so you can prevent interruptions without missing out on your special delivery.
Switching gears, Apple's new iCloud+ service now allows for an unlimited amount of HomeKit Secure Video cameras and doorbells — if you subscribe to the correct tier. Before iCloud+, you could only use HomeKit Secure Video with up to five cameras, even with the most expensive plan. Now, if you subscribe to the 2TB plan, either as part of your Apple One subscription or just as an ala-carte service at $9.99 a month, you get access to everything HomeKit Secure Video offers for all of your cameras.
HomeKit on the big screen
Speaking of HomeKit cameras, tvOS 15 brings forth a new way to keep an eye on everything in and around your home. Accessible through Control Center on tvOS, you can now view a live feed from multiple HomeKit cameras and doorbells at once through a slick grid view. The new grid view automatically scales in size depending on the number of cameras you have, and you can permanently hide cameras if you only care about specific ones.
Both the new grid view and the classic full-screen camera views also now support auto-refreshing. If a camera happens to go into No Response mode while viewing, tvOS will now automatically reconnect within a few seconds. I love using the Apple TV with my HomeKit cameras as an always-on ambient display, and the new grid view and auto-refreshing make the experience so much better.
While the Apple TV still doesn't have a Home app, tvOS 15 does add the ability to control accessories within the same room as cameras and doorbells. A new accessories button is available near the bottom right corner in a full-screen camera view, which presents a familiar Home app tile view when clicked. If your camera picks up motion outdoors, you can use the new feature to turn on the lights or lock an entry door without having to dig out your phone.
Finally, tvOS 15 brings support for HomeKit security notifications. When a security event occurs — like when a door unlocks or when your alarm system switches modes, a notification will slide into view right on your big screen without obscuring your content.
watchOS 8 Home app redesign
Over on the Apple Watch, watchOS 8 introduces a much-needed redesign of the smaller Home app. The first thing you will notice is a new status overview that shows how many lights are on, the current temperature, and more at the top of the Home app. The status area also serves as a quick way to manage in-use devices as you can jump right in with a tap.
Instead of only seeing favorite HomeKit accessories for accessory controls, the Home app on watchOS 8 now learns from your habits and presents relevant devices and scenes throughout the day. If you happen to need an accessory that isn't on the app's home screen, watchOS 8 also provides all of your devices via assigned rooms. The same goes for your HomeKit cameras, as they are all available in a dedicated camera tab.
Still to come
Like a few other iOS 15 features announced back at WWDC 21, there are a couple of new HomeKit features that haven't made it out the door yet. One is HomeKit support for the upcoming Matter smart home initiative. Shortly after WWDC, the Connectivity Standards Alliance — which oversees the development of Matter, announced that the rollout was delayed until the first half of 2022, so naturally, it is not yet available in iOS 15.
Another feature missing in action is Home Keys, which are digital keys or passes for smart HomeKit door locks. During WWDC, Apple introduced the feature along with a slide highlighting a few HomeKit accessory manufacturers — Schlage and Aqara. Still, there have been no announcements from any vendor as of yet. We are also unsure if the new feature will be available to existing locks or if new hardware — perhaps with built-in NFC, is required.
What is your favorite HomeKit feature in iOS 15?
As you can see, this year's iOS, tvOS, and watchOS updates bring some much-needed quality of life improvements for HomeKit — especially when it comes to automation. What is your favorite new HomeKit feature? Have any creative plans for temperature, humidity, and light automation?
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