When it first launched, Apple's HomeKit was a famously closed-off ecosystem, thanks in part to a rigid certification process that required companies (at least partly for security reasons) to include an Apple-designed authentication chip in every piece of hardware that worked on the platform.
Luckily Apple has since softened its requirements, without in principle weakening security, with the introduction of software-based authentication. This has opened the door to a whole host of new HomeKit-enabled products - even allowing manufacturers to retroactively add HomeKit support through software and firmware patches, rather than requiring consumers to pick up new hardware.
That means that if you dream of controlling every light in your house directly from your iPhone, you now have a lot more ways to do it. That's great news, but it also means it's a lot harder to know what kit to buy. And with the launch of the Siri-enabled HomePod speaker just around the corner, now's the time to take the plunge and commit to owning lightbulbs that are smarter than you are.
Philips Hue Starter Kit
Phillips was one of the first major smart light manufacturers to jump on the HomeKit bandwagon, actually adding Apple's HomeKit authentication chip to its Hue hubs.
The Hue starter kit includes said hub, along with three colour-changing screw-fit bulbs. You can use the official Philips app or Apple Home to set brightness, warmth, or colour of the bulbs, along with setting them to activate on a schedule or whenever you approach your home.
Through HomeKit, you can control the lights with Siri, asking her to switch them on and off, dim to a specific brightness, switch to a pre-set scene, and more.
The only big downside is that Hue can be a little pricy, not least because you need that hub to enable the bulbs' smart features - they won't work on their own, unlike some other brands.
Koogeek LB1 Smart Light Bulb
Koogeek's multicolour light bulbs are easy to control via Home on your iPhone or iPad. Home initially presents only slight tints rather than the full vivid colours you see in Koogeek's own app (tap Colour > Edit to access a full colour picker) but you can shortcut this by asking Siri to "turn living room lights blue".
No hub is required for most smart functionality: the bulbs access Wi-Fi directly, and setup is a breeze thanks to a scannable product ID on each package. You can also use them as part of multi-accessory scenes such as "I'm leaving" and "Good morning". But, like all HomeKit accessories, they do require a hub such as an Apple TV or HomePod if you want to set up automated behaviours.
For a slightly cheaper way of smartening up your home's lighting, we also looked at Koogeek's Smart Socket, which plugs into a lighting socket and then has a conventional bulb plugged into it - so you don't get the colour effects, but you can control it via Siri and so on. This is a nice simple budget option, but be warned that it lifts the bulb by a couple of inches; this meant that it peeped out of the shade in our living room and didn't look as nice.
LIFX Smart Bulb
LIFX wasn't one of the first companies to jump on the HomeKit bandwagon, but its third-generation bulbs include support for the Apple standard, and the company says it's investigating software options to add support for older bulbs too.
These bulbs may look pretty similar to Philips Hue - and they offer a lot of the same functionality - but there is one big difference: there's no need for a hub, as each bulb can independently connect to Wi-Fi and be controlled directly.
If you're planning to kit out your whole house that may not matter all too much, but it's ideal if you only want one or two bulbs, as it saves you from committing to the Hue three-bulb starter kit. It's also great if your home isn't well set up for plugging a hub directly into the router.
The other benefit is that the bulbs are available in either screw fittings or bayonet style, and along with HomeKit they also work with IFTTT and Alexa for more complex triggers. And even though there's no hub, you can still get the bulbs to coordinate, creating scenes involving multiple bulbs with different settings.
Nanoleaf Aurora Starter Kit
The Nanoleaf Aurora isn't an ordinary lightbulb that you plug into your ceiling socket. Instead, it's a series of connected panels that you can mount on the wall or ceiling and control individually.
Each panel can be set to its own static colour, or you can set the whole lot to cycle through a range of colours or even change randomly, with plenty of options for brightness and speed. There's a whole set of pre-selected colour palettes, but you can also create your own combinations at will.
You can arrange the nine panels in any configuration you want (as long as they're all connected) and they mount with reversible Scotch tape, so it's easy enough to take them down and rearrange them. You can also buy expansion packs with an additional three panels in each, and the company is even working on a set that flashes in time to any music that's playing.
The networking side of things can be a little patchy - our Aurora has dropped from our Wi-Fi network a few times already, and occasionally refused to re-connect. It's worth putting up with those hiccups, though, because when it works the Aurora is one of the most jaw-dropping smart lighting kits around.