Services & Software

Here's what's new for Apple HomeKit in iOS 10

With a dedicated Home app and new ways to control smart-home gadgets on your iPhone or iPad, HomeKit aims to take a step forward in iOS 10.

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A lot of us have been waiting for smarter smart-home controls from Apple -- now, with new improvements to HomeKit in iOS 10, Apple wants to deliver.

First announced two years ago during the WWDC 2014 keynote, HomeKit is a set of protocols for how smart-home products should communicate and work together within Apple's iOS software for mobile devices. This year in iOS 10, you'll find a new Home app that'll serve as a central point of organization for your connected home setup, along with support for new categories of gadgets, including cameras. You'll also be able to manage your gadgets right in the Control Center -- just swipe up and then over to access a dedicated smart-home section.

With iOS 10, you'll be able to view your smart-home camera's feed directly from your iPhone's lock screen.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That section will feature icons for all of your devices. You'll be able to turn things like smart switches and connected lights on and off just by tapping. And, thanks to 3D Touch, you'll be able to pull up additional options and info for each device, too -- the feed from your doorbell camera, for instance, with the option to unlock the door if you see someone who needs let in.

As for the Home app, it's intended to centralize your smart home controls, and serving as a fully featured command center for all things HomeKit. That's a big change from previous versions of iOS, where HomeKit was all but invisible, existing only as a tiny section of your device's settings.

A dedicated Home app will also help to clear the clutter of third-party HomeKit control apps. We've found a few of these apps actually work pretty well, but the variety of options left a lot of users confused or even frustrated. Apple says to expect dedicated Home controls on the Apple Watch, as well.

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You'll also be able to control your devices with your location, thanks to new geofencing support. With geofencing, you can trigger devices whenever the iPhone in your pocket enters or exits a pre-determined area. So, for instance, you could set the AC and lights to turn off whenever you leave for work.

Apple also made a point of reiterating some of HomeKit's existing selling points (the ability to craft "scenes" that control multiple devices with a single Siri command, for instance), and made sure to point out the growing number of device manufacturers jumping on board, too.

That number hasn't been growing as quickly as it has with other smart-home platforms, though; popular smart-home centerpieces like the Nest Learning Thermostat and the Amazon Echo smart speaker both work with more third-party connected home products than HomeKit does. Clearly, Apple still has work to do, but making HomeKit a lot more visible and understandable seems like a significant step in the right direction.

See everything Apple announced today at its WWDC 2016 keynote.