If you’re this far into “A Prairie HomeKit Companion,” your HomeKit setup should be up and running, and you should have a full grasp of how to use Apple’s Home app. But Home isn’t the only game in town when it comes to HomeKit apps.
Before Home debuted in iOS 10, Apple relied on third-party developers to create graphical front-ends for HomeKit, so there are several in the App Store. Elgato’s free Eve app is lovely, but my power tool of choice is Matthias Hochgatterer’s Home app. Yes, Apple stole the name, so you have Apple’s Home app and Hochgatterer’s Home app, both used to control your home with HomeKit for home automation. Got it? Good. (Couldn’t we call them all Bruce?)
You might balk at Home’s $14.99 price tag, which makes it by far the most expensive HomeKit app on the App Store. But the power and control it offers make it well worth the cost. If Apple’s Home app is a butter knife, Elgato’s app is a beautiful Wüsthof paring knife, and Hochgatterer’s Home app is a Swiss Army knife.
Hochgatterer’s Home app can be used as a full replacement for Apple’s Home app, if you wish. It can control individual Accessories, create and activate Scenes, and manage Automations. While you can’t access it from within Control Center, it does offer widgets and an Apple Watch app. It can also work remotely if you have a HomeKit hub (see “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Automating Your Home,” 10 February 2017). Since it works via HomeKit, any changes you make to your HomeKit setup in Hochgatterer’s Home app also appear in Apple’s Home app and vice-versa (which gets you Control Center integration). I tend to use Apple’s Home app for most HomeKit work, and supplement it with Hochgatterer’s Home app for fine tuning. Here are a few ways I use it.
First, Hochgatterer’s Home app offers information about your Accessories that you can’t find elsewhere. Take my Elgato Eve Room sensor, for instance. Both Apple’s and Elgato’s apps show just three bits of info from it: temperature, humidity, and air quality. But when I choose it from the Home screen in Hochgatterer’s Home app, it gives me another reading: battery level. With Apple’s Home app, I’d start receiving error messages when the Room’s batteries were low. With Hochgatterer’s Home, I can keep an eye on the battery level and know when it’s time to change it.
Second, it provides actual data. Apple’s Home app will tell you if your air quality is Excellent or Poor, but won’t offer any other details. In the Services screen of Hochgatterer’s Home app, I can choose the Eve Room’s air quality service and see the exact measurement of volatile organic compound particulates in parts per million.
Those are both nerdy niche uses, at which the app excels. But one use everyone will find handy is fine tuning colors for the Philips Hue bulbs.
Here’s a problem you might encounter if you use the Hue or a similar smart bulb system: you walk into a room and something just looks… wrong. If two bulbs have drastically different settings, it’s easy to see what the problem is, and it can even sometimes be aesthetically pleasing if intentional. But if your bulbs are just slightly different, it can be maddening. Hochgatterer’s Home app can fix that. I hit this recently.
When I went into the Scenes screen and chose my Good Morning scene, I saw that my two living room lamps didn’t have identical settings. Both were set to 40 percent brightness, but the saturation and hue numbers were different.
Thanks to Hochgatterer’s Home app, I was able not just to see the numeric discrepancies, but also to change one bulb’s settings so it matched the other. Now when I enable that Scene, both lights are identical, eliminating that uncomfortable wrongness. Since Hochgatterer’s Home app links with HomeKit, those settings carry over to Apple’s Home app, so you don’t have to open Hochgatterer’s Home to use those Scene settings.
Here are a few other capabilities of Hochgatterer’s Home app that Apple’s lacks:
It can create and work with Zones. As you may remember from “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Core Concepts” (3 November 2016), Zones are an element of the HomeKit hierarchy not included in Apple’s Home app. So with Hochgatterer’s Home app, you can make and interact with Zones such as “downstairs” or “outside lights.”
Control Center can show only nine Accessories and nine Scenes at a time, but the widgets included with Hochgatterer’s Home app can display many more. It includes different widgets for Groups, Scenes, and Services, so you can better customize what’s shown.
These are just a few examples of the power of Hochgatterer’s Home app, but those uses alone justified the $14.99 purchase price for me, particularly in the grand scheme of my overall setup. It will probably end up being the least expensive item in your home automation system. Now that Apple provides its own Home app, Hochgatterer’s Home is no longer essential, but it remains compelling if you want the level of control it offers.