Apple’s HomePod is more than an intelligent speaker, it’s also a HomeKit hub, just like Apple TV. That means you can use your HomePod as the bridge when you control your HomeKit smart home gear when you aren’t at home.
Your HomePod automatically becomes a HomeKit hub if you’ve already added devices like smart lights and smart thermostats to your smart home setup, no need for you to do anything else. In fact, the setup process is completely transparent; the initial setup adds your HomePod to your HomeKit device list without requiring any action on your part.
HomePod and HomeKit Primer
Apple has been talking about its smart home platform for some time now, although it hasn’t gained traction in the same way that some others have. That means there are still plenty of people using Apple products who don’t know what HomeKit is, or how they would use it.
Apple introduced HomeKit in 2014 with iOS 8 as a platform to unify smart home device control. The idea is that you can control your lights, thermostat, window shades, garage door, locks, and more from a single interface—and all those devices can work together.
Device makers need to build HomeKit support into their products, which until recently has been a fairly arduous task. Apple relaxed the licensing requirements for hobbyists and tinkerers with iOS 11, and in iOS 11.3 is letting device makers enable HomeKit support through software so they don’t have to use custom chips any more. That should help HomeKit’s growth.
HomeKit also includes Siri support so you can control your smart home devices with your voice. That voice control, at least for now, is limited to iPhone, iPad, and 5th or 6th generation iPod touch models. HomeKit control isn’t available on the Mac even though Siri is part of macOS.
HomeKit and Siri are great when you’re at home, but what about when you leave for work and forget to turn off the lights? HomeKit control from your iOS device is limited to when everything is on the same network. To control your smart home gear remotely, you need a HomeKit hub.
Apple includes HomeKit hub support in the fourth generation and newer Apple TV, and limited support in iPads running iOS 10 or newer. You can control an unlimited number of devices with an Apple TV as your hub, but only three with an iPad. The iPad also needs to be plugged into a power source while it serves as a hub.
Apple added another option to its HomeKit hub options with the introduction of the HomePod. That gives you two choices for streaming entertainment devices that let you remotely control your smart home tech.
HomePod is Apple’s wireless smart speaker with an A8 processor, seven tweeters, six far-field microphones, a high excursion woofer, and limited Siri support. The speaker dynamically adjusts its audio based on where it’s placed in a room to improve audio output and to create a stereo-like sound from a single unit.
You can control your HomeKit devices with your voice through HomePod, and like Apple TV, it serves as the remote connection to your smart home devices when you leave your local network. It also lets you use your voice to control smart home devices, no need to raise your iPhone or Apple Watch to talk. That’s a big plus for anyone who wants a completely hands-free voice system for Siri, like we already see with Amazon Echo and Google Home.
HomePod vs Apple TV: What if I Have Both?
Let’s say you already have an Apple TV and you add a HomePod. Which acts as your HomeKit hub when you’re out and about? The short answer is: either. The longer answer is your HomeKit hub devices decide on their own which will serve as the hub, and that can change any time based on device status.
On my network, for example, my Apple TV has served dutifully as my HomeKit hub ever since that was an option. It continued to fill that roll for a couple days, and then my HomePod took over. At some point my Apple TV went into standby mode and when I power cycled my HomePod it took over as the hub. So far it’s been just as reliable as my Apple TV.
You can see which device is serving as your hub by launching the Home app on your iPhone or iPad, then tap the location icon in the upper left corner. Now tap Home Settings and select your network. While you can see all of your hub devices, you can’t select them, or change their status.
At first that annoyed me because I wanted to set which device served as my hub. Later I started wondering why it matters because what I really need to know is that at least one device is doing the job. Also, if I set a specific device as the hub, and it goes offline when I’m away from home, I couldn’t switch to the other because I’ve lost remote HomeKit access.
What does that mean for your HomeKit hub choice? I’d recommend avoiding using an iPad since you pretty much can’t use it for anything else, and you’re limited in how many devices it can control. As far as choosing between Apple TV and HomePod, either is fine—or both. Get what fills your other entertainment needs and let HomeKit choose which it wants to use as a hub. If you want to speak to the air and have your HomeKIt devices do your bidding, HomePod is the way to go.