When Apple unveiled iOS 13 at its Worldwide Developers Conference last June, one of the more behind-the-scenes improvements it mentioned was support for secure routers that would work with its HomeKit home automation platform. Although Apple didn’t go into a lot of detail about exactly what these routers would do for HomeKit, the general sense was that they would improve security where internet-of-things (IoT) devices are concerned, helping to protect users’ homes against outside attack via IoT services.
The actual support for HomeKit-enabled routers didn’t appear until iOS 13.2, but this was one feature Apple could easily delay, since it had to wait for hardware manufacturers to catch up anyway; Apple hasn’t made its own router since it killed off the AirPort line in 2018, and really it had stopped doing anything particularly new with router technology at least two years before that, when it shut down its AirPort Wireless Router division.
So there was no expectation that Apple would produce its own HomeKit-enabled router, and it had pointed to partnering with other vendors, and updated its HomeKit accessories list after iOS 13.2 landed in November to include the Eero, Eero Pro, and Linksys Velop mesh systems, although no word was given on when they might actually be coming.
However, it looks like Eero may finally be ready to offer HomeKit support, and the good news is that it looks like this will come via a firmware update to existing hardware, rather than requiring users to buy a whole new system.
According to 9to5Mac, the Eero and Eero Pro routers have just received a new firmware update that brings them to version 3.18, and while the release notes don’t have much to say about what the update brings, Eero and HomeKit user Adam Miarka discovered that after the update, his Eero system began appearing in Apple’s Home app as a HomeKit accessory.
Unfortunately, the support isn’t fully baked in yet, as there seems to be no way to actually add the Eero to HomeKit, since there’s no HomeKit setup code available. The Home app also notes that the Eero routers are still “uncertified,” although it’s less clear if this is a function of the firmware on the Eero routers themselves or because Apple needs to change something in an iOS update.
An Eero developer also shared on Reddit that there’s at least one new feature in Eero’s 3.18 firmware that’s a “biggy” that he’s “not allowed to talk about” yet, which combined with Eero’s sudden appearance in the Home app definitely seems like HomeKit support is coming very soon.
What This Means for You
The main benefit of HomeKit-enabled routers seems to be something that most users won’t even necessarily see, since Apple is promising that it will simply offer better security. It’s totally unknown right now what kind of user interface a HomeKit-enabled router may present in the Home app in terms of settings or configuration options, but we’ve seen numerous HomeKit devices appear in the Home app as mere placeholders — especially when it comes to things like bridges — so there’s no reason to assume that a HomeKit router would be any different.
However, it does seem that HomeKit routers will help to partition off your home automation accessories for security reasons, and perhaps may even offer performance benefits by isolating IoT device traffic from your main Wi-Fi network in some way. It’s perhaps telling that so far the only routers that look like they will support HomeKit are mesh-based systems, which could also offer a clue to how a HomeKit-enabled router could help to optimize network performance while also preventing unsafe connections between IoT devices and the outside world.
Many users have also reported reliability problems with HomeKit after updating to iOS 13, so there’s certainly hope that a HomeKit-enabled router will help to address some of these issues, especially for those with a lot of HomeKit devices, however while this latest update may offer some hope for Eero users, Apple is still going to need to address some of these issues in a broader sense, since it can’t expect everybody to buy HomeKit-enabled router systems.