This Apple HomeKit workaround might solve your biggest smart home problem, and all you need is a spare Apple TV

Apple TV 4K 2022 box on a counter
(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

Apple's HomeKit smart home system is pretty great in the way that it takes accessories and systems from various different companies and then melds them into one, cohesive collection setup that seems to always work..... is what I would say if it were true. But it isn't.

Not to do HomeKit a disservice, but cause when it works, it works well. Its biggest problem used to be that there were just so few accessories that worked with it that people would be better off sticking to Google Home or Amazon's Alexa smart home options. But these days that's all been rectified thanks to the advent of Matter and whatnot. Now, there's a new problem — the flakey home hub.

See, you need a home hub to control your HomeKit and Matter accessories whenever you're away from home, want to share access to your accessories with others or have the audacity to try and automate your smart home accessories using the Home app. Apple's HomePod, HomePod mini, and Apple TV can all work as home hubs, and once your home hub is up and running, it works well. So long as you only have one of them. Have multiple, and things can go awry — automation stops working first, then you start to experience other oddities. But there might be a workaround, and all you need is a spare Apple TV.

The home hub dance

My HomeKit setup involving an Apple TV 4K, a HomePod, and two HomePod minis has worked relatively well for some time now so I'd forgotten the farce that can be a system that misbehaves when you have multiple devices that are capable of acting as a home hub. Thankfully, Brian Stucki reminded me in a blog post that detailed how to force an Apple TV to act as a home hub, preventing other devices from taking over.

See, it's the taking over that causes the problem. If you're using a home hub that works well, with a solid connection to your network, everything's great. The problems come when your setup decides all on its own to switch from using that hardwired Apple TV 4K to a HomePod in a bedroom with an iffy Wi-Fi connection. And there's seemingly no way to stop it from doing it.

"I'll start off by saying that there is no official way to determine which device is used as the home hub," Stucki explains. "You can disable HomeKit on an Apple TV so it's not selected as a hub. You cannot disable the HomePod as a home hub. But there is no option anywhere to say "Use this device as the home hub."

So what's the fix? Some believe that the device with the lowest IP address or fastest connection is the one Apple chooses as the home hub, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, Stucki believes, "the device with the most current software is chosen as the home hub."

That's where the spare Apple TV comes into play.

"About a week ago, I took an Apple TV that has been sitting in my "unused tech" drawer for a couple years. (What? We all have that drawer right?) Luckily, it was one with an ethernet port which isn't the case for all current Apple TV units being sold," Stucki explains. "I connected the Apple TV to a monitor and set it up as normal with my iCloud login. I enabled HomeKit and assigned it to my 'Office' room. I then enrolled it in the Apple Beta Software Program and set for updates to be applied automatically. I also disabled sleeping and screen saver."

That setup has apparently been running for a week with no issues, even after "switching routers, resetting wifi networks, and lots of other things" that would normally cause HomeKit to switch home hubs of its own accord. So far, so good.

The real problem? Stucki says that "all of this could change at any time," and that's an issue. With Apple's desire to hide options and settings, it removes the power to really troubleshoot these kinds of issues. And even if this spare Apple TV option does do the trick, it simply isn't a viable option for most.

I'd love it if Apple gave us more configuration options for HomeKit, but I won't hold my breath. With Apple's newfound focus on AI with iOS 18 and beyond, the chance of Apple taking the time to make something as simple as turning on the lights work each and every time seems remote, at best.

Still, it isn't all bad. "Plus...this new role frees up an Apple TV Remote to serve as a replacement when others are lost," Stucki adds.

We've all been there.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.