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Apple iOS 14 hands-on: Testing the Home app and Eufy's Indoor Cam 2K

We take a look at what's new with HomeKit on iOS 14.

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Apple's new iOS 14 software includes some changes to the Home app.

Apple

Apple's Tuesday event brought new Apple Watch and iPad hardware, the Apple One service bundle -- and software updates, including iOS 14iPadOS 14TVOS 14 and WatchOS 7. The software updates went live Wednesday, and I, like so many other folks, continually refreshed my phone to get iOS 14 as soon as possible.

iOS 14 adds a variety of changes to your iPhone, but I'm focusing on the Home app updates here. 

The Home app is Apple's landing page for its smart home platform, HomeKit. Different from Alexa and Google Assistant's comparatively open platforms, HomeKit has fewer product partners and integrations by choice. That has held HomeKit back in some ways, but others point to its focus on security and privacy as signs of a superior smart home platform.

iOS 14 added a few updates to the Home app that I decided to test out along with the HomeKit-enabled Eufy Indoor Cam 2K

The basics

When I first opened the Home app after installing iOS 14, a screen popped up listing "what's new in home," including that the app would now recommend smart home automations, automatically adjust any HomeKit-compatible lighting products and use people tagged in your iPhone photos for security camera facial recognition. 

Apple also redesigned the layout of the Home app with iOS 14 and added activity zones to compatible HomeKit cameras. I can't speak to the lighting updates, since I don't currently have any HomeKit-enabled lights at home, but I'll address the other changes using the Eufy camera.

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Inside the automations tab in the Home app.

Screenshot by CNET

Possibly because I currently only have two devices in my Home app -- an Apple TV and the Eufy camera, I don't notice any major design or layout differences. Fortunately, I thought the Home app was relatively straightforward to navigate before iOS 14 and it appears that Apple has continued that trend with this software update. 

I also deleted and then reinstalled the Eufy camera on the app after updating to iOS 14 -- and didn't receive any pop-up messages suggesting potential automations. However, the app does provide automation prompts in the automations tab and in the Eufy camera settings in the Home app, such as, "people arrive/people leave/a time of day occurs" and other suggestions. 

Wait, this is kind of complicated

While the layout of the Home app is fairly minimal, it has historically been overly complicated to add new features and settings with HomeKit. Unfortunately, that was also true with the new face recognition and activity zone features. 

In order to get facial recognition to work, click on the home icon on the top left of the home screen, select "home settings," and then "cameras and doorbells." From there you should see a list of your cameras -- in my case, the Eufy cam -- and below that something that says "face recognition." Click on face recognition and toggle it on if you want to enable this feature. You'll need to have iCloud Photos enabled to use face recognition in the Home app. (It sounds easy, but I had to do a lot of digging to find those steps.)

If you don't see the face recognition option, make sure your Apple TV or HomePod (whatever device you're using as your HomeKit hub) is also up-to-date. I didn't see the face recognition option in the app at first, even after getting iOS 14, but then I installed TVOS 14 on my Apple TV and it immediately appeared. 

I also don't have iCloud Photos enabled on my personal phone and when I tried to enabled it, a pop-up told me I had to pay for an iCloud storage upgrade in order to turn on iCloud Photos (an upgrade costs $1 per month for 50GB storage, $3 per month for 200GB or $10 per month for 2TB). I have about 70GB of saved photos and videos right now (I clearly need to clean out my phone), so that means I'd have to start paying $3 per month for iCloud Photos in order to use (or even try out) the face recognition feature in the Home app. Frustrating. 

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It seemed straightforward at first, but devolved from there.

Screenshots by CNET

Activity zones are supposed to appear in your camera's settings in the Home app but it didn't appear in the Eufy settings. In fact, in the Eufy app when I set up the camera (after the iOS 14 update), I got a pop-up that said, "According to the Apple guidelines when HomeKit is enabled: Activity zones will be disabled," along with a list of other Eufy camera features that will not work with HomeKit. 

I've reached out to Apple for clarification on the activity zone issue and will report back when I learn more. Overall, I'm unimpressed with this update since the two most substantial changes -- facial recognition and activity zones -- were either unwieldy and required a fee (and a total overhaul of the photo and video storage on my phone) or didn't appear as options at all in the app. 

See more: Check out my review of the Eufy Indoor Cam 2K.

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