Life with HomeKit - The Ultimate Guide
For those of you that don't know Apple built a home automation platform so device manufactures could all adapt to one standard that built on simplicity and security. HomeKit (Apple's home automation platform) was first introduced in along side a later version of iOS 8 and originally required devices manufactures to build in all of the software into their applications but had the added advantage of being able to control the devices via Siri. Fast forwards a few years and now Apple has great improved the reliability of Siri with HomeKit (because it really sucked before) and Apple now has a Home application on iOS 10 and watchOS 3. Additionally users can control their homes with tvOS 10 via Siri (but strangely not the Macintosh.)

Devices

Let's talk about devices, Apple has a pretty good selection of HomeKit enabled devices but those are exclusive to what is on the Apple Store and right now there is not a good complete list. Of course doing some web searches will yield some results but still that's more work you have to do. So that being said I will not be able to talk about every HomeKit device that's on the market today but I will talk about the ones that have caught my attention.

Lighting

Philips Hue

The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about smart home lighting is the Philips Hue lighting system. It was one of the first products on the market and I think it is the best lighting system available. Hue was released well before HomeKit was a thing and caused a little distress when it took Philips a few years to implement it but thankfully users could retain their investment in Hue by just upgrading the Hue hub instead of all of their lights. My favorite thing about the Hue lights are that they aren't binary, they don't just go on and off. If you go with the Hue color lights then your lights can change to millions of different colors which is really nice. I personally prefer buying into the colored lights because I think long term is a better buy then just going with the Hue white bulbs just to save some money when filling the house. Philips also has light strips that change color, this is something I have some interest in as I think they would look really cool when stuck to the back of a TV. My only word of causation is that use the Philips Hue app as little as possible as its very poorly designed but thankfully they support HomeKit so you can use Apple's app.


Elgato Eve Light Switch

New to the party is Elgato's Eve light switch which as you may think is a HomeKit enabled light switch. I personally do not have one of these but I am looking into some in the months to come. These are pretty neat, they replace your existing light switches and give you complete control over that circuit. For the most part I want to replace all my lighting with Philips Hue bulbs but in some cases Light Switches are the way to go. For example is my porch light, I don't want to leave a $60 light bulb un protected where someone could steal it. Another example I have is that my apartment has some fancy light housings where hue bulbs just dont fit (believe me I tried..)


Smart Plugs

iDevices Plug

One of my favorite new devices is the iDevices Plug which is a HomeKit enabled plug extender that will power anything you have plugged in it. These are extremely great for my window unit air conditioners. Since my AC units use the standard American outlet, I can plug them into these plugs and turn them on and off from Siri. Another amazing bonus is that they have night lights built into them which act as separate HomeKit devices. They are a fantastic product and I cannot recommend them more highly.


iHome Plug

iHome was first to the market with a HomeKit compatible plug and so me being me I bought one and it does exactly what you would expect. I used this one on my rope lights which I have lining the perimeter of my living room ceiling. They are about the same price as the iDevices plug so if you don't want to have an extra nightlight than this is your choice but for me personally I won't be buying anymore of these unless they were more inexpensive when compared to the iDevices offering.

As an added bonus, when using Apple's Home app you can label a smart plug as a light or a fan so if you instruct Siri "turn the lights on" Siri will know that your smart plugs are lights too.



Deadbolts

August Smart Lock

I'll be honest, I had to put a lot of trust into Apple and August for this product because this quite literally grants access to your home and that's a product that has to be 100% secure/reliable with no exceptions. This product is neat because it uses your existing deadbolt (replaces the inside portion) and allows use of Siri (and HomeKit apps) to lock/unlock your door. What's also great is that it can automatically unlock when you arrive home and lock when you leave. The thing that allows me to put trust into this product is that I can check the door lock status from anywhere with a network connection. The only bummer is that the lock is a bluetooth device instead of wifi so you need to buy an additional hub in order to use it outside of the network. I'm sure they have a good reason for doing it like building a firewall into the hub so they could keep the deadbolt smaller. I don't know but it doesn't seem too hard to put all of the technology into the deadbolt. As I'm writing this I also though that it might be because wifi requires so much power that it may be more convenient to have that plugged in at all times and let the lower power Bluetooth antenna be as energy efficient as possible.



Doorbells

Ring Video Doorbell

Now this is kinda an inappropriate device for a HomeKit article but hear me out, it's really cool. Now technically Apple said at WWDC 2016 that Ring would be implementing HomeKit into it's product but has yet to do so. Ring stated in October 2016 that they would be adding HomeKit to Ring Video Doorbell Pro but has yet to do so. For me I don't know how important HomeKit connectivity would be for a doorbell. The big things for me is that the doorbells sends me a notification when someone is at the door. The only perk I can see is that with HomeKit integration, the ring video broadcast can be nested inside of a notification to be viewed on the Apple Watch. For me the Ring is an amazing product. It lets me know when there is someone at my door of if there is any activity in front of it like the mail person delivering a package. What I'm most excited for (I live a sad life…) is for a package to be delivered and I can give the postal carrier instructions through the built in 2 way voice system. This is a stellar product that I will be doing a full review on later in the future. As for now my perfect workflow is to have a pizza delivered to my home, they will ring the doorbell. After verifying they are the pizza delivery, I will ask Siri to unlock the door so they can bring the pizza to me on the couch. Thanks future!




Thermostats

Ecobee3 Thermostat

A little background on this product, I do not own one but I'd really like to but unfortunately my home just isn't setup for a central thermostat. I use gas powered baseboard heaters and the thermostat that drives them just doesn't have powerful enough wiring to support a computerized thermostat. That being said the Ecobee3 is the best HomeKit thermostat I've ever seen. It lets Siri have full control over your Home's temperature as well as you can ask Siri to retrieve the current temperature. Plus the Ecobee3 looks really sleek.



HomeBridge

This is not something I expected to be writing in a HomeKit article. I recently came across some software called HomeBridge that essentially is an open platform for making non-HomeKit devices work on the HomeKit protocol. Now this is pretty complicated server software that must run on a dedicated server computer. Thankfully for me I have a network closet in my home so I just set this service up on that machine. It took me about 2 hours to install/configure.


IFTTT/WeMo

This is an incredible plugin for HomeBridge. Before HomeKit was a thing I invested moderately into the Belkin WeMo system. I have a lot of issues with the WeMo system because it's quite terrible in 2016 but it was really cool in 2013. These devices have aged poorly and I had abandoned the platform until a few days ago when I discovered HomeBridge. HomeBridge encouraged me to dig my crusty old WeMo devices out of storage and place them around my home. While there is an actual WeMo HomeBridge plugin, I decided to focus my energy on the IFTTT integration (which supports WeMo.) The downside of this method is that it always requires a network connection and it sometimes can be fairly slow. The upside to doing it this way is that you can have greater control over the WeMo devices. When the software first runs it gives you a HomeKit code which you can input into Home on iOS and Home will treat your HomeBridge server as a HomeKit bridge. Then the bridge displays all of the devices you have configured. So after I struggled setting this software up, everything worked like magic, I was able to control my dumb WeMo devices with Siri across my entire Apple product family (except Macintosh…) Other neat things about ITFFF control is that you can basically use HomeKit as a trigger system. I have yet to explore this to its full potential yet but basically when you use HomeKit to turn something on/off, HomeBridge will generate an on trigger and an off then by using the Maker IFTTT channel you can use HomeKit to trigger all sorts of fun stuff. I don't see myself buying any more WeMo devices but it's really nice that they aren't waisted now. Hats off to the HomeBridge team because you've done an incredible job and I hope Apple doesn't block it somehow with a future OS update.



Future Additions

Curtains/Blinds

As of right now there is only one company that sells blinds that can be controlled via HomeKit. This would be the Lutron. These are really nice shades and they will cost you. I've seen many DIY projects using the Raspberry Pi which allow you to add a motor to existing blinds to be used electrically. I've thought about doing this but they wouldn't be HomeKit complaint. I could however write a plugin for HomeBridge to work with my Pi blinds but that sounds like a lot of work so the many hours I'd spend wiring/soldering/programming I could just get off my fat but and open the blinds. I'd like to see an add on unit for existing blinds that would offer HomeKit support. I'd pay up to $50 for a product like this. Until then I will be stuck with opening my blinds like an animal!

Vacuum

Currently no robotic vacuums have HomeKit integration. I don't see HomeKit integration being a critical use of a robotic vacuum but it would be handy to build in vacuum triggers into HomeKit scenes. For example "Hey Siri I'm leaving" and Siri would run through my "I'm leaving" scene and also trigger the vacuum to run. It would be super cool in my opinion.


Google Home/Amazon Echo

I love my Google Home, I have vocalized this quite a bit online and I'm not ashamed to say it but as much as I love Google Home, it doesn't natively tie into Apple services so I would love to see Apple build one of these that could control HomeKit and natively tie into Apple services.



Automation

Let's talk about automation. Now that we have all of these cool gadgets installed in our homes, how can software make our lives better. Let me just paint you a picture by just using what I mentioned above.

You wake up in the morning and your lights automatically turn on with your alarm. Your window blinds rise. Your coffee machine turns itself on. News starts to play from your radio. You get showered and dressed as you dictate notes to Siri and jot down things you need to get down on your Reminders list while Siri tells you what appointments are on your calendar and what you need to get done. Siri tells you when your first appointment is and tells you what time you have to leave in order to get there on time. You leave your home and get in your car. As soon as you leave your home lowers the blinds, turns the thermostat down to conserve energy, your radio turns off, your lights turn off, your vacuum runs through the house and cleans up after you. Your door automatically locks and your coffee maker turns itself off. When you leave your last appointment your thermostat turns itself up, your tea kettle can start making some hot water and when you get home your door automatically unlocks, your lights turn on, your TV turns on, and you have hot water ready for that relaxing cup of evening tea. When bedtime comes around your lights dim to a relaxing orange hue, your lock is made sure to lock, all your appliances turn off, the blinds are sure to be down. Then when it's time to go to sleep the lights will go off.

This is not some crazy futuristic world in a SciFi movie, this is reality! These crazy homes of the future that we've been promised since the mid 60s are now a reality and it's just so cool.



Interfacing

Now with Apple's Home app it has never been easier to control your smart home. Home takes all of your HomeKit devices and puts them all in one place. You can sort them all by name, type, room, etc.. You can even group devices together. For example if you have a celling light fixture with multiple bulbs, you can group those bulbs together in home to be controlled as one entity. One of the biggest perks of HomeKit is Siri control so anything (and I mean anything) you setup in Home can be controlled with Siri and that really brings together this futuristic lifestyle. Since HomeKit is synchronized over iCloud, all of your Apple devices (except….) can import your Home date (with permission) and do cool things so if you wanted to write a HomeKit app for Apple TV you could! If you wanted to write an advanced HomeKit app for Apple Watch.. well you get the picture. I so wish I could control my home with my voice from my 27" iMac….



Convenience vs Worth It

Let's be honest with ourselves. Integrating HomeKit into our homes is somewhat complicated and expensive. So if you are interested in moving towards the future of home automation then this is the platform you want to invest your money in. But is it worth it? The Hue lightbulbs are $60 a pop, the smart plugs are $50 a piece, the Ring was $200, etc… So you really have to ask yourself if this convenience factor is worth the price of admission plus all the work it takes to setup the equipment. Then you have to set it all up in in software so it'll work the way you want it. It's not the easiest thing in the world but it's really cool and that was enough for me. I grew up with the Jetsons and things that Apple technology allows me to do fills out my childhood fantasies that just have not been accessible until now and that's why I feel Apple's HomeKit platform may be the single greatest thing they've brought to market in a long time.
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