Series: A Prairie HomeKit Companion
An exploration of Apple’s HomeKit home automation framework.
Article 1 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
After years of dismissing them as a gimmick, Josh Centers broke down and purchased a set of Philips’s software-controlled lightbulbs. He explains why they’re better than he expected and how to set them up.Show full article
I’ve long been a skeptic of home automation. It seemed like a gimmick that would cause more problems than it would solve. Bringing the bugs and security exploits of computers to my door locks, lights, and thermostat wasn’t an enticing prospect.
However, with Apple’s impending iOS and tvOS releases, both of which greatly enhance home automation, I decided that I couldn’t ignore the field any longer. The obvious choice for my first step was a set of Philips’s highly regarded Hue light bulbs. They’re useful, fun, and in the worst-case scenario, they will still work as regular LED bulbs.
The Hue universe can be overwhelming, so I’ll focus on setting up a starter kit with the official Hue app and just touch on some of the other possibilities.
What Are Hue Lights? -- Hue lights are wireless, software-controlled LED light bulbs. They come in two basic variants: the rather pricey Hue White and Color Ambiance and the cheaper Hue White bulbs. Philips also offers different bulb shapes, including the standalone Hue Bloom and the Hue Lightstrip Plus. They’re controlled by a Wi-Fi bridge that connects to your home network via Ethernet. Since the second version of the Hue Bridge, the Hue system has been compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, so you can control the lights with Siri.
The only thing I dislike about Hue is the high startup costs. There are two starter kits, both of which include the Hue Bridge: a $200 kit with three colored bulbs and an $80 kit that has two white bulbs. Additional colored bulbs cost about $60, while white bulbs run about $15.
If you do the math, the color kit makes a lot more sense. For $200, you get $180 worth of bulbs, making the Hue Bridge $20, while the $80 kit gives you $30 worth of bulbs, making the Hue Bridge $50. You can often find deals on the color kit (I got mine for $150), so if you’re just starting out, I recommend it. In fact, if you want more color bulbs later, it makes since to buy the color kit at a discount, and set the additional bridge aside as a backup (or sell it to someone stuck with a first-generation Hue Bridge that doesn’t support HomeKit).
Of course, you could also buy the Hue Bridge on its own, for about $60, and then buy bulbs individually, but the starter kits are a much better deal.
So what can you do with Hue lights? Here are a few possibilities:
Turn your lights on or off, or dim them from your iPhone, without having to get off the couch.
Turn the lights on before you enter a dark room, so you don’t stumble all over the place.
Activate a colored scene to add ambiance to a room.
Sync the lights with your music to turn your living room into a dance floor, via a third-party app like Light DJ.
Sync your living room lights with what’s on TV so the color of the room matches the dominant colors on the TV, with a third-party app like Hue TV.
These capabilities may sound gimmicky, and they can be, but I’ve found that the Hue lights have real value in my everyday life. For instance, if our toddler falls asleep on my wife, she can dim the lights without disturbing him. If our living room lamps are reflecting off the TV, I put them into “Movie Mode,” which dims them and turns them a calming shade of blue. I can turn on the bedroom lamp before going to bed, and I can set it to a night mode that won’t wake up my wife.
But more importantly, Hue lights are fun, and they make me feel powerful. With a voice command or a tap on my iPhone’s screen, I can completely change how the inside of my house looks. It makes me feel like a wizard, and isn’t that what technology should do?
Unfortunately, before you can don your robe and wizard hat, you must first set up the Hue lights, and accomplishing that can sound like the punch line to a light bulb joke.
Setting Up Hue -- The color starter kit contains three Hue bulbs, a Hue Bridge, an Ethernet cable, and a power adapter.
Installing the Hue bulbs is literally as simple as screwing in a lightbulb. The most difficult part is deciding where to install them. I settled on our two living room floor lamps and a bedroom light.
Installing the Hue Bridge requires a power connection and an Ethernet connection to your router — it lacks Wi-Fi. Be sure to put it in an easily accessible spot, because you must press the big button on the Hue Bridge every time you connect an app to your Hue lights. I put mine behind my TV, which is easy enough for me to access, but harder for our rambunctious toddler to reach; you can mount the Hue Bridge on a wall if you wish.
When you install the Hue Bridge, make sure it’s connected to the network properly. There are three lights on the Hue Bridge: be sure that all three are lit. I had trouble at this point, which I finally narrowed down to a faulty Ethernet cable.
Next, get the Philips Hue app for the iPhone. Make sure to download the second generation of the app, and not the first generation version, which is still in the App Store. Although you can set up your lights with the older app, I’ll focus on the newer version.
When you open the Philips Hue app, it begins searching for a Hue Bridge. When it finds yours, tap Set Up, and then tap the big button on top of the Hue Bridge. After that, follow the prompts to give the Hue app access to your Home data (needed for Siri control); you may also be prompted to update the Hue Bridge’s firmware.
The next step sets up Siri voice control, but, as I’ll explain later, what you’re actually doing is setting up HomeKit, Apple’s home automation framework. Follow the prompts to pair the Hue Bridge, and either create or select a “home.” To finish pairing HomeKit with your Hue lights, you’ll need to enter the 8-digit HomeKit code or scan it with your camera. There is one code on the bottom of your Hue Bridge, but it’s easier to scan the one on the inside of the Hue box.
Finally, you’re prompted to set up a room. At this point you may have a problem: figuring out which light is which because they all have generic names like “Hue color lamp 1.” In my case, since two out of three bulbs were in my living room, I set them all up as “Living.” This confusion isn’t a show-stopper — you can fix it later.
Now your lights are set up — well, sort of. Let’s now explore the Hue app to finish setup.
First Things in the Hue App -- The very first thing you should do is rename your lights so you can tell them apart. In the app, go to Settings (the gear in the upper left) > Light Setup. To tell the lights apart, tap the listing for one and the light will flash. After you figure where that light is, tap the “i” button to see a screen where you can give the light a descriptive name, like “Living Room Couch Corner.”
Once your lights are named appropriately, teach the app where your lights are in Settings > Room Setup. Tap the + button in the lower right, enter the room’s name, set its room type, choose whether to add the default scenes to that room (a good idea), and then select which lights go in that room. In my setup, I’ve renamed “Living” to “Living Room,” created a “Bedroom” room, and assigned the appropriate lights to each room.
Making a Scene -- Now that we have the basics settings in, let’s play with the lights! In the Rooms tab, the rooms you set up should be listed. The on/off switch for each room turns all the lights assigned to that room on and off.
Tap a room to see a screen with two tabs: Lights, where you can turn individual lights on and off, and Scenes.
What is a scene? Simply put, a scene is a light configuration. For instance, if I select the included Savannah Sunset scene, it turns all the lights in the room a shade of red, while the Arctic Aurora scene turns them a shade of blue. When you select a scene, a circular control appears with which you adjust the brightness of the lights. The photo below shows how the Savannah Sunset scene looks in my living room.
There are two ways to create a scene: manually or from a photo. To create a scene from a photo, go to the Scenes tab, tap the plus button and select a picture, either from Philips or from your Camera Roll. Move the image around to change the color profile, or tap Shuffle. Tap Save and name the scene when you’re satisfied.
You can also create scenes manually. In the Lights tab, tap a bulb’s icon to adjust that light by hand. You can choose from a color palette, a white palette, or from a number of task-focused “recipes,” such as Relax, Read, and Energize. In the Lights tab, the slider under each light lets you adjust the light’s brightness. Once you’ve adjusted all the lights to your satisfaction, tap the plus button in the lower right to save the scene.
To delete or rename a scene, go to the scene list and tap and hold on a scene bubble. You can reshuffle colors in a photo-based scene, but you can’t edit a manually created scene. However, you can enable a manual scene, go back to the Lights tab, make the desired adjustments, and then save a new scene.
Hue Automation -- The Hue app’s main screen has a Routines tab, and this is where you can set up automated actions based on time and location. Don’t play with these until you get a good grip on how to control the Hue lights — otherwise, you might be baffled why all of your lights come on at 3:30 AM. Here’s a brief overview of what you can automate:
Home & Away: Use this setting to control your lights automatically when you arrive at or leave your house. You need a free My Hue account to use this feature.
Wake Up: This feature turns your lights on automatically at a set time, which is useful if you have trouble getting up in the morning.
Go to Sleep: This routine turns your lights off at a set time — useful for kids who stubbornly refuse to go to sleep!
My Routines: Here you can create custom routines, such as setting scenes to activate at a particular time.
Creating Widgets -- When you’re actually using your lights and not merely playing around, you won’t want to dig around in the Hue app. This is where the app’s Notification Center widgets are essential, giving you quick access to your favorite scenes even when your iPhone is locked. These widgets are also transferred to the Apple Watch app, if you have one of those, making access to your lights even easier (assuming you can get the Watch app to work).
To set up the widgets, go to Settings > Widgets & Apple Watch in the Hue app. If you already have widgets, they are listed there, and you can tap one to edit it. To create a new widget, tap the plus button in the lower right.
Start by entering a name for the widget. Keep the name short, so it fits in Notification Center. I use a short name or abbreviation for the room name, followed by a descriptor, like “L. Bright” to brighten up the living room.
Next, choose an icon. This isn’t important, because it doesn’t appear in Notification Center. Instead, you see the scene’s icon.
Select which rooms the widget controls. You can choose the entire home, multiple rooms, or just a single room.
Finally, pick a scene. I recommend making the following widgets for each room:
Bright: The default, full brightness scene.
Dimmed: A scene for when you want to chill out a bit and get ready for bed.
Nightlight: Handy for keeping a bit of light on in a room without disturbing anyone.
Off: You want to be able to turn your lights off, right?
Widgets are my favorite way to control the Hue lights, because they’re easy to access and are reliable. However, you can also use Siri to control your lights, and it’s a much better party trick…
Activating Siri and Introducing HomeKit -- You can configure lights, scenes, and entire rooms to work with Siri in the Hue app under Settings > Siri Voice Control. Configuring a light, scene, or room to work with Siri is as easy as tapping a checkbox.
There is a catch, though: every scene linked to Siri must have a unique name. This becomes a problem if you want to use Siri to activate the Bright scene in both your living room and bedroom. Another thing to consider is how easily Siri will recognize a scene’s name.
The trick I use is to give scenes unique names like “Bedroom Bright” and “Living Room Dim, which solves both problems. For whatever reason, Siri has a hard time understanding when I say “Bright Living Room,” but has no problem with “Living Room Bright.” Go figure.
Once you have Siri set up with your Hue lights, here are some of the commands you can use:
“Turn on all the lights.”
“Dim the living room lights.”
“Turn the bedroom blue.”
“Set living room brightness to 70 percent.”
Of course, you can also activate scenes with Siri. If the scene name is easy for Siri to recognize, you can just speak it, for instance, “Savannah Sunset.” However, if Siri has difficulty understanding a scene name, the more reliable approach is to say, “Set scene Savannah Sunset.”
When you activate a Hue command with Siri, what you’re actually doing is registering that command with HomeKit, Apple’s built-in API for controlling compatible home automation devices.
In plain English, HomeKit links together all of your compatible home automation gizmos, letting you control them with Siri or a HomeKit control app. In iOS 10, Apple is introducing the built-in Home app, which you can use to configure and control all of your HomeKit devices. As a bonus, you’ll also be able to manage them from Control Center.
However, making use of HomeKit is another topic entirely. If you’ve enjoyed this overview of the Philips Hue lights and want us to write more about home automation, let us know in the comments.
Article 2 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
Interested in home automation with HomeKit, but don’t know where to start? Josh Centers kicks off a series about HomeKit, starting with its fundamental concepts.Show full article
At the end of “Getting Started with the Philips Hue Smart Light Bulbs” (1 August 2016), I touched on HomeKit, Apple’s framework for controlling home automation devices. Since then, we’ve received a lot of requests for more information on HomeKit and home automation, so in this series, I’ll explain what HomeKit is, how it works, and how to use it. I’ll also look at some of the home automation devices that work with HomeKit.
But first, let’s talk about why you might want to use home automation in the first place.
Why Home Automation? -- If you’ve never used home automation before, it can seem like a gimmick at best and a potential nightmare at worst.
Untold movies and TV shows have explored the potential horrors of home automation. Most recently, in an episode of “Mr. Robot,” a woman is driven from her home after hackers make her apartment go haywire.
Even if complete takeover of your home by revolutionary hackers is far-fetched, problems could be annoying. By definition, home automation takes place in your personal space, and buggy code or simple human error, even in Apple’s somewhat simplified offering, could have a real impact on your life. Think carefully before diving in.
But once you begin to use home automation, you start to see the everyday problems it can solve. Home automation may not change your world, but it can remove friction from your daily existence. Think about how many times a day you turn lights on and off, set your thermostat, adjust a ceiling fan, or check door locks. Even if it’s just a matter of making sure everything is as you want before bed, that’s a win. It can also compensate for the thoughtlessness of others — those people in your household who forget to turn off lights or check that the fridge is closed.
When you set home automation up intelligently, you’ll feel empowered, not overwhelmed. For Apple users, HomeKit offers the easiest, most secure way to achieve that goal.
This series will unfold over the next few weeks, but if you’re in a hurry to learn more, check out my book, “iOS 10: A Take Control Crash Course,” which has an entire chapter dedicated to HomeKit and iOS 10’s new Home app.
Why HomeKit? -- Apple’s HomeKit home automation framework gives hardware manufacturers and software developers a unified way to interact with home automation devices on iOS, tvOS, and watchOS.
Home automation isn’t new — the X10 home automation protocol has existed since 1975, and I’ve heard from readers who controlled home automation setups with Apple II computers!
By comparison, HomeKit is a baby. It debuted with iOS 8, although HomeKit-compatible devices didn’t start hitting the market until iOS 9. Even then, HomeKit control was rudimentary, relying on third-party apps. iOS 10 and watchOS 3 introduced Apple’s Home app, which offers a standardized way to manage and control HomeKit devices. Standard is good, but HomeKit is far from a complete home automation solution.
Every home automation vendor provides its own software, and some of those solutions offer capabilities beyond what HomeKit provides. Some systems, such as the Philips Hue, provide a complete developer API, which makes possible apps like Light DJ, which syncs your lights with music, something HomeKit can’t do. That’s just one example — an entire ecosystem has grown up around the Hue lights.
The other downside of HomeKit is that it can’t control just any device — manufacturers must work with Apple to have their devices certified for HomeKit. Based on my discussions with vendors, that’s challenging and expensive, though as I’ll explain, there are good reasons for that. As a result, the HomeKit ecosystem doesn’t offer as many options as more established and more open standards like X10.
So why use HomeKit at all? There are several excellent reasons:
Security: Apple has arguably the best security of any large consumer-oriented tech company. Remote access to HomeKit devices is disabled by default and can’t even be turned on unless you’ve enabled two-factor authentication on your Apple ID. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more secure home automation system that’s this easy to use.
This advantage came into sharp focus recently with the DDoS attack that interrupted Internet service in the United States (see “Massive DDoS Attack Blocks Access to U.S. Web Sites,” 24 October 2016). That attack was made possible thanks to a plethora of insecure Internet of Things devices like DVRs and IP cameras.
Last year, Forbes reported on the pains hardware vendors were experiencing making HomeKit devices to Apple’s exacting standards, especially when it comes to security. However, after seeing the destructive potential of insecure Internet-connected devices, I think we can better appreciate Apple’s rigorous approval process.
Integration: HomeKit devices work with the built-in Home app in iOS 10, and your favorite Accessories and Scenes automatically appear in the third pane of Control Center. Also, you can control your devices using Siri in iOS 10, tvOS 10, and watchOS 3.
Sharing: The Home app makes it easy to manage shared access to HomeKit devices. You can add and remove people, and decide whether or not they can edit your configurations. Also, changes you make to your HomeKit setup are automatically made available to everyone with whom you’re sharing.
Interoperability: The Philips Hue app is pretty good, but it can’t control my iHome iSP5 or Elgato Eve Energy smart plugs. With HomeKit, I can set up a Scene to turn all of those devices off at once. HomeKit’s goal is to let you forget about vendors and focus on functionality. Also, since HomeKit is an open framework, developers can create HomeKit control apps, some of which are more capable than Apple’s Home app.
Ease of Use: Home automation is complicated, but HomeKit offers the simplest, most unified home automation experience on the market. Apple’s Home app may not be the most powerful home automation app, but it won’t intimidate the casual user. Most HomeKit devices are plug-and-play.
As simple as HomeKit is to use, you need to understand its core concepts to feel in control and to know what I’m talking about in future HomeKit articles.
The HomeKit Hierarchy -- First, let’s go over a bit of necessary terminology, but don’t worry, it’s relatively straightforward.
Apple organized HomeKit into a hierarchy, which gives you various levels of control over your devices.
The highest level is a Home. A Home could be your residence, but it could also be an outbuilding, an office, a vacation home, or some other multi-room structure
In the next level down, you have Rooms. A Room is, as you’d guess, a section of a Home. You can set up your living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen as Rooms in your Home.
(Technically speaking, there’s another level of HomeKit hierarchy above Rooms: Zones, which are collections of Rooms. For instance, all the rooms downstairs in your house could be a Zone. However, Apple’s Home app doesn’t yet support Zones, so I won’t discuss them much in this series.)
Next in the hierarchy are Accessories, which are the home automation devices in your Home, like smart bulbs, wall plugs, locks, thermostats, ceiling fans, etc.
Accessories offer Services, which are the functions of the Accessory. For most devices, the Accessory and Service are indistinguishable, but some Accessories offer multiple Services. For example, my Elgato Eve Room sensor provides four Services: Current Temperature, Current Relative Humidity, Air Quality, and Battery Level.
However, Apple’s Home app blurs the line between Accessories and Services, listing Services as Accessories. It also doesn’t display the Eve Room’s Battery Level Service.
If you find the difference between Accessories and Services confusing, don’t worry about it. At the moment, it’s trivia.
You can also group Accessories to make operation simpler. For instance, I’ve grouped my two Hue-powered living room lamps, so I can adjust their color and brightness together. However, if I dig a little deeper into the Home app, I can still manipulate each one separately.
The HomeKit hierarchy is a bit of a pain, but it’s essential to a smooth HomeKit experience, especially when you use Siri. I can tell Siri to turn on the laundry room light or make my living room blue, and it understands my commands perfectly. (Well, most of the time. It’s still Siri.)
The last two terms you need to know are the most important: Scenes and Automations. A Scene is a collection of actions; for instance, my Good Night scene turns off the lamps in our laundry and music rooms, and dims the lights in the living room to zero (just enough light to see at night, without actually being off). Scenes are one of the most important concepts in home automation, and I’ll cover them extensively.
As the name suggests, Automations invoke Scenes automatically according to a user-specified schedule. I’ll cover these more in a future installment. When set up carefully, Automations can remove even more friction from your life.
For instance, on weekdays my wife usually wakes up earlier than I do. At 5:30 AM, my Good Morning scene turns on the lights in the laundry, music, and living rooms, so she doesn’t have to stumble through a dark house (our laundry room doubles as her closet, and the music room — a converted garage — adjoins the laundry room). At 8:30 AM, the Good Night scene turns off all those lights because by that time, she’s usually long gone from the house. At 3:00 PM, about the time she usually gets home from work, the Good Morning scene comes on again, so those areas of the house are well lit when she walks in and wants to change her clothes or prep for a music lesson. At night, we activate the Good Night scene manually, because we don’t all go to bed at a fixed time.
I’ve put a lot of thought into these Automations, so no one’s surprised by a light suddenly turning on or off. When my wife gets up, the lights she needs are on. They turn off after she leaves, and they’re back on when she gets home. And that’s with only two Scenes!
With careful planning, your automated home can be just as seamless.
Planning Your HomeKit Home -- If you’re intrigued by the promise of HomeKit and want to start playing with home automation, I have a few recommendations.
First, communication is essential. Discuss your plans before you start buying stuff so everyone in the house has input. If your partner or roommate isn’t technical or might be bothered by the inevitable learning pains, consider starting with a single device. In the most extreme case, you might learn that home automation isn’t worth the conflict it may cause.
If you’re planning to set up automated lights and smart plugs, it’s important to discuss our habit of using physical switches. For instance, if I turn off a switch that controls a lamp with Hue bulbs, my HomeKit Scene can’t turn them back on automatically, which could leave my wife fumbling in the early morning darkness.
The solution to this problem is to install smart switches that can work with your home automation system and be activated manually (which is also helpful for guests). Elgato just released the first HomeKit-enabled wall switch, the Eve Light Switch. Philips makes a couple for use with the Hue bulbs — the Philips Hue Dimmer Switch and the Philips Hue Tap Switch. iDevices announced a couple of HomeKit wall switches months ago, but they have yet to appear on the market. At first, you’ll probably have to get used to using your iPhone or Apple Watch to control lights. I haven’t personally used any of these smart switches yet, so I can’t currently offer a recommendation. (If you have, let us know in the comments!)
When the decision makers in your home understand and agree to home automation, the next step is figuring out where to begin. I recommend starting small with some sort of light control, either the Philips Hue system or a smart plug like the iHome SmartPlug or Elgato Eve Energy.
Everyone I know who has tried Hue loves it (including our own Jeff Carlson, who regularly curses me for hooking him on home automation), but with starter kits ranging between $80 and $200, it’s an investment. However, if you want to start with a simple smart plug to control a lamp, the iHome iSP5 costs only about $30, while the Elgato Eve Energy goes for about $50. The benefit of these smart plugs is that you can use them with any appliance that plugs into a standard power outlet, so they give you a lot of room to experiment.
Once you decide on your initial HomeKit investment, the next step is figuring out where to use it.
Again, take it easy at the start so you and your family can get a feel for the experience. There are so many possibilities that it can be tempting to jump in with both feet. Fight that temptation. Before I got my Hue bulbs, I didn’t think there was any point in having just a handful of automated bulbs. After I started playing with them, I realized that I didn’t need many to have a functional setup, since our most-used lights are the two floor lamps in our living room.
So think about where automation could have the most impact in your home. If you go for the Hue bulbs, the living room is an obvious place to start. But maybe there’s a certain light that your family members always forget to turn off, or a basement light that you’d prefer to turn on before you venture down the stairs. If you have a smart plug, you might even want to use it to turn a space heater or fan on and off at certain times.
The keys to an intelligent smart home are communication and thoughtful planning. Nail those, and you’ll find that home automation makes your home a more pleasant, comfortable place that doesn’t require you to run around changing settings and turning things on and off. The tips, techniques, and products that I’ll discuss in the rest of this series are just means to that end.
Article 3 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
In this second installment of our HomeKit home automation series, Josh Centers walks you through setting up HomeKit Accessories and how to divide your Home into Rooms.Show full article
In “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Core Concepts” (3 November 2016), I discussed the general principles of HomeKit automation, such as Accessories, Rooms, and Scenes, and offered a general overview of HomeKit. In this installment, we’ll explore some of the details involved in setting up the software, and then we’ll put it all together in “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Controlling Accessories” (16 January 2017). If you’re impatient, I have a compact guide to HomeKit in “iOS 10: A Take Control Crash Course.”
General Advice -- Before you begin, you need at least one HomeKit device. In “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Core Concepts” (3 November 2016), I recommended two categories of HomeKit device:
A smart plug, such as the Elgato Eve Energy or the iHome SmartPlug. You plug one of these inexpensive smart plugs into an electrical outlet to turn it into a smart outlet. Then you can turn any device plugged into it — a lamp, heater, or fan, for instance — on or off by controlling the plug.
A smart lighting system, such as the Philips Hue. The Hue system is much more expensive than a smart plug, but it offers capabilities that a smart plug and lamp combo can’t, such as dimming and color changing. For more on the Hue, see “Getting Started with the Philips Hue Smart Light Bulbs” (1 August 2016).
I recommend these devices for two reasons: they’re immediately useful and they’re not scary. A smart lock or a thermostat is a big investment that might require professional installation, but anyone can install bulbs and plugs. Plus, if you program your lamp incorrectly, it could annoy you by turning on or off at the wrong time, whereas a mistake with a smart lock or thermostat could result in you being locked out of a cold house.
Remember that not every home automation gizmo is HomeKit-compatible — Apple must approve all HomeKit devices, which is an expensive and time-consuming process for manufacturers. Apple publishes a full list, and if you have any doubts, check the box for the “Works with Apple HomeKit” badge.
Finally, when you first launch the Home app, you’ll be prompted to create a Home, name it, and choose a background photo. Don’t stress about these choices, because you can easily change them later. The name “Home” and the default background picture are sufficient. You can set up multiple Homes, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that you have only one.
Setting Up Accessories -- To take advantage of Home, the HomeKit control app built into iOS 10, you have to add your HomeKit Accessories to it. As I explained in “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Core Concepts,” Accessories are the actual home automation devices.
First, power on your Accessory. The next step depends on your device. You have to set up Hue lights in the Hue app itself and then add them to HomeKit from the app, as I explained in “Getting Started with the Philips Hue Smart Light Bulbs.” However, you can set up many standalone devices, such as the Elgato and iHome plugs, directly in the Home app. Here’s how to do that:
In the Home or Room screens, tap the plus button in the upper right.
Tap Add Accessory.
If everything is working correctly, your Accessory should appear on the Add Accessory screen. Tap it.
Next, you’ll be prompted to either type in or scan the device’s HomeKit code. That code can be found either on the device or in the box. Some devices, like those from Elgato, provide their codes on convenient cards. Be sure to save those codes, ideally in a secure vault like 1Password, because you need them every time you set up the devices.
The final screen offers a number of options:
Identify Accessory: Tapping this button activates your Accessory so you can spot it in the real world, often with some sort of blink or flash. This is handy if you’re not quite sure which device in your house you’re working with. That might seem ridiculous, but just wait until you’re setting up multiple smart bulbs with names like SMARTBULBFN2187.
Accessory Name: By default, this is the factory name of the device, like “Eve Energy 810D.” I recommend changing it to something more descriptive, like “Music Room Lamp.”
Location: From here, you should choose the Room in which your Accessory will live. The default is — get this — Default Room, which is sort of a waiting room for your Accessories. If you haven’t yet set up a Room, you can do so from the menu — just give it a name and choose a picture (the default is fine).
Type: This field describes the type of Accessory. You can leave it alone.
Include in Favorites: Enabling this switch makes it so the Accessory appears in the Home screen of the Home app, as well as in the Home pane of Control Center. Unless you have a lot of HomeKit Accessories (one TidBITS reader told me he has 75!), I recommend leaving this switch turned on.
Setting Up Rooms -- Now let’s talk about Rooms. As you might recall from “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Core Concepts,” Rooms are the second level in the HomeKit hierarchy, under Homes. HomeKit Rooms, of course, should match up with the physical rooms where you have Accessories. I have Rooms like Bedroom, Living Room, and Laundry Room. You get the idea.
You access Rooms in the Rooms screen of the Home app. In that screen, tap the hamburger button to see and switch among a list of your Rooms. To add a Room, tap that hamburger button, choose Room Settings, and tap Add Room.
Accessories are always in a Room, even if it’s just the generic Default Room. As you set things up, you’ll want to move Accessories from one Room to another. To do this, tap and hold an Accessory (or use 3D Touch if your iPhone supports it), tap its Details button, and then choose Location to pick a new Room from the list.
Why are Rooms so important? Two reasons: they organize your Accessories in a logical manner and to support Siri. I can tell Siri to turn on my Living Room lights, and all the lights associated with that Room turn on.
Once you’ve set up one or more Accessories and Rooms, and put the Accessories in the appropriate Rooms, you’re well on your way to automating your home or office.
Just as Accessories are tied to a Room, so are Scenes, which are collected actions for your Accessories. In the next installment of this series (see “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Controlling Accessories,” 16 January 2017), I’ll discuss additional Accessory options, controlling your Accessories, and creating and using Scenes.
Article 4 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
In this installment of A Prairie HomeKit Companion, Josh Centers moves past setup and explains how to manipulate your HomeKit Accessories. He also tells you how to set up Scenes to save time.Show full article
In “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Setting Up Accessories and Rooms” (16 January 2017), I explained how to set up Accessories and Rooms, which are the fundamental building blocks of HomeKit, Apple’s system for home automation. But that article was a bit of a tease, since it left you hanging with a set-up system that you hadn’t used. In this installment, I’ll explain how you control your Accessories with Apple’s Home app, as well as Control Center, Siri, and even your Apple Watch.
Controlling Accessories in the Home App -- To access an Accessory (which, you’ll remember, generally maps to a particular device), go to the Rooms screen, tap the hamburger button, and choose the Room that contains the Accessory.
In the Room’s listing, you’ll see all the Accessories associated with that Room. For things like smart bulbs and smart plugs, you can tap the Accessory icon to turn it on or off. That’s simple to say, but it’s actually one of the key uses of the Home app, since it gives you remote control over any Accessory that turns on and off. (For some other devices, like room sensors, tapping their icons will have no effect because they’re always on.)
To work with Accessories in additional ways, either press and hold or 3D Touch an Accessory icon. That brings up a screen that shows more details and controls. For example, a room sensor shows its current status, a smart plug has a simple on/off switch, and a smart bulb offers a brightness slider.
If a smart bulb supports multiple colors, a Color button appears too; tapping it brings up buttons that let you choose a color for the light. Tapping Edit in the center of a button brings up a detailed color wheel. Choosing a color there replaces one of the circles in the main color selector with that color. The Color screen also has a Temperature tab, which is the same thing, but with various degrees of white light.
Frustratingly, Apple’s Home app doesn’t let you copy your color selections between devices, so if you want to be sure that all your bulbs have the same color, you’ll need a third-party HomeKit app with finer control, like Matthias Hochgatterer’s Home app. But if you’re dealing with lights that should work together anyway, you can group them, which you do from the Details screen.
It’s All in the Details -- When you tap and hold or 3D press a HomeKit Accessory, you can also access its Details screen, which presents a few Accessory options, like name and location. You might remember some of these options from initial Accessory setup, as I detailed in “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Setting Up Accessories and Rooms.”
I want to focus on two options in the Details screen. The first is the Include in Favorites switch. You should enable this for any Accessory you plan to use with any regularity because it adds a shortcut for that Accessory to the Home screen of the Home app, to Control Center, and to the Home app on the Apple Watch. Note that Control Center won’t display more than nine Accessories at a time, so it pays to be picky.
The second is the Group with Other Accessories option, which combines your Accessories so that they act as one — their individual Accessory icons will be replaced by a single new icon. This is useful if you have multiple smart bulbs in a single light fixture or multiple lights in the same room that you want to be in sync. I use it to group our living room floor lamps to keep their brightness and color settings the same.
To group Accessories, tap Group with Other Accessories. On the next screen, give your group a name and select the other Accessories to add to the group. Tap Done when you’re finished.
The icons for those Accessories will be replaced by a single icon for the group. To ungroup Accessories, go to the Details screen for the group and tap Ungroup Accessories. Remember, if you plan to use the group frequently, don’t forget to set it as a favorite!
If you want to adjust one Accessory in a group independently, go to the Details screen for the group and tap Accessories to reveal individual icons for the Accessories. From that screen, you can adjust each Accessory on its own.
Setting Scenes -- Tinkering with Accessories constantly gets tiresome. Thankfully, HomeKit offers shortcuts, called Scenes, that combine actions together. For example, you could have a Scene called Good Morning that turns on all of your lights, a Scene called I’m Leaving that turns off your lights and turns down the thermostat, and a silly party Scene that turns your living room red.
To create a Scene, tap the plus icon in the upper-right of the Home or Rooms screens and choose Add Scene. Home will suggest some Scene names, or you can create your own name by tapping Custom.
Once your Scene is named, tap Add Accessories, and then tap individual Accessories to add them to the Scene. Tap Done to move on.
Next, you’ll be taken to a screen with the Scene name, and the Accessories included in the Scene. Adjust the Accessories as you normally would. For instance, tap a smart bulb icon to turn it on in the Scene, or press and hold to adjust its brightness and color.
Finally, at the bottom are options to Test This Scene, which activates it temporarily; Add Accessories, where you can modify the Accessories included in the Scene; and Show in Favorites, which I recommend enabling for essential Scenes.
Suggested Scenes -- I recommend three Scenes to everyone: Good Morning, Good Night, and Scenes to quickly adjust the brightness in your primary living areas.
For instance, I have three favorited living room Scenes for adjusting brightness: Living Room Bright, Living Room Dim, and Living Room Night, which set my living room Hue lights to 100 percent, 40 percent, and 0 percent (very dim, but not off), respectively. With these Scenes, I can easily dim the living room to watch a movie, but also quickly brighten it up if I need to find the remote or change my son’s diaper.
Adjust these scenes as you see fit, but I recommend using my names, as they’re easy to identify and Siri has no trouble understanding them.
When configuring the Good Morning and Good Night Scenes, the settings will depend on your Accessories and living situation. Think carefully about what to activate and why.
My Good Morning Scene does three things. It turns on the smart plug that controls the lamp in the laundry and music rooms and sets the living room lamps to 40 percent brightness. During the Christmas season, it also turned on the plug that controlled the Christmas tree lights. My Good Night Scene does the opposite, though it dims the living room lamps to 0 percent instead of turning them completely off.
These Scenes are set up in such a way to light up the house sufficiently to navigate in the morning, without being painfully bright. Even though we have Hue bulbs in our bedrooms, these Scenes don’t touch them at all. Why not?
I set Good Morning to activate automatically during weekdays. If my wife and son get a surprise snow day, I don’t want them getting a rude awakening at 5:30 AM if I forget to turn the Automation off.
I often want to control the bedroom lamp independently when I go to bed, either turning it on so I can find my way around or leaving it off if my wife is sleeping.
I use Good Morning and Good Night as general-purpose Scenes throughout the day. I activate Good Night after my wife leaves for work and then Good Morning before she gets home. Nothing is happening in either bedroom, so there’s no reason to mess with those lights.
All that said, I don’t recommend that you create Scenes right away. Instead, experiment with your Accessories and figure out which settings you like and which devices you use most. Setting up Scenes will be easier once you have a sense of what you’re doing regularly.
But if you just want to create some goofy Scenes to turn your living room blue or whatever, go for it! That’s part of the fun of home automation. (If I ever install a HomeKit-equipped thermostat, I’ll probably create a Game of Thrones-inspired scene that turns my lights blue and drastically lowers the temperature. Because I’m a huge dork.)
Once you’ve created a Scene, you can find it in two places in the Home app. If you set it as a favorite, it’ll be available from the Home app’s Home screen (and in Control Center). Otherwise, look in any Room with which the Scene is associated. If a Scene is split between multiple Rooms, you can find it in any of its Rooms.
Control with Control Center, the Apple Watch, and Siri -- Jumping in and out of the Home app every time you want to turn on a light is more work than flicking a switch on the wall. Thankfully, Apple offers some quicker ways to activate your Accessories.
I usually use Control Center on my iPhone to manipulate my HomeKit devices. In iOS 10, Apple redesigned Control Center with multiple pages, and if you have any HomeKit devices favorited, swipe to the left twice to reveal an additional Control Center page that lets you control both Accessories and Scenes.
In the Home page of Control Center, a button in the upper right lets you switch between controlling favorite Accessories and Scenes. Tapping an Accessory or Scene turns it on or off. As with the Home app, you can press and hold or 3D Touch Accessories in Control Center to see more advanced settings like brightness and color.
Control Center can display only nine Scenes and nine Accessories, so while you should favorite the items you use the most, you also want to be selective.
If you own an Apple Watch, the Home app built into watchOS 3 also lets you control favorite Accessories and Scenes. I recommend adding it to your Dock for quick access. Tapping an Accessory or Scene activates it, while the … button lets you adjust things like brightness — which you do with the digital crown. That said, I don’t use the Apple Watch Home app often, as I find it unreliable. It frequently throws No Response error messages for all of my Accessories. Like many Apple Watch activities, I can perform the same task on my iPhone more quickly.
Of course, you can also control HomeKit with Siri, which is a big win when it works. If everything is set up correctly, you can use a number of commands, such as:
- “Turn all my lights on.”
- “Turn off the bedroom lamp.”
- “Set the thermostat to 72 degrees.”
- “Make my living room blue.”
- “Good morning.” (Activates the Good Morning Scene)
- “Set Scene Good Morning.” (Does the same thing as above, which is useful if Siri doesn’t recognize the Scene name on its own.)
For the most part, Siri controls work well, even with Hey Siri on the Apple Watch (though my watch usually takes longer to recognize the command). You can even use these same Siri commands with the fourth-generation Apple TV, assuming it’s running tvOS 10 or higher and it’s signed into the same iCloud account as your other HomeKit devices.
That’s about all you need to know about controlling HomeKit devices for now. In the next installment of this series, I’ll explain how to set up a hub so you can operate your HomeKit devices when you’re out of the house and how to set up Automations to make your devices work on their own.
Article 5 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
In this installment of A Prairie HomeKit Companion, Josh Centers explains how to put the automation in home automation.Show full article
At this point in our “A Prairie HomeKit Companion” series, you should be up and running with HomeKit home control. We first covered installing and setting up your Accessories and then discussed how you could control them individually and create Scenes to control them in groups. In this installment, I’m going to show you how to use Automations to toggle Accessories or Scenes when certain triggers fire.
Before you can automate HomeKit, you must have a device that can act as a hub: either a fourth-generation Apple TV or an iPad running iOS 10. The hub is necessary because something in the house has to be present to trigger Automations. Setting up a HomeKit hub confers an additional advantage: it lets you control your Accessories while you’re away from home.
The Hubbub About Hubs -- Why can only Apple TVs and iPads work as HomeKit hubs? Why not AirPort base stations, which are already hubs of a sort? The reason is likely that the Apple TV and iPad both support Bluetooth, which controls many HomeKit devices. Why can’t you use a Mac as a hub? Your guess is as good as mine.
An iPad is slightly easier than an Apple TV to set up as a hub, and chances are better that you have one, so I’ll start there:
In Settings > iCloud, make sure that you’re signed into your primary iCloud account.
Also under Settings > iCloud, make sure that iCloud Keychain and Home are enabled.
Go to Settings > Home and enable Use this iPad as a Home Hub.
It’s that simple! But here’s the trick: if you want your Automations to work while you’re out and about, your iPad must stay home! If you take your iPad hub with you, the Automations won’t work, because your hub isn’t connected to your home Wi-Fi network.
Therefore, if you own a fourth-generation Apple TV, it makes a better hub than the iPad, because it’s unlikely that you’ll take it out of the house. However, the trick here is that two-factor authentication must be enabled on your iCloud account. Note that this is different than Apple’s older two-step verification scheme, and if you have that enabled, you’ll have to disable it first to enable two-factor authentication. Apple explains this process in a support article, and I give easy, concise directions in “iOS 10: A Take Control Crash Course.”
Once you’re past that hurdle, using your Apple TV as a HomeKit hub is as simple as making sure that you’re signed in to your primary iCloud account under Settings > Accounts. You also need to have iCloud Keychain enabled on an iOS device or Mac.
Then, under Settings > Accounts > iCloud, you should see a HomeKit header, and under that, you should see Home: Connected. If you don’t, make sure everything is signed in properly.
The other way to check on your hubs is via the iOS Home app. First, if a hub isn’t responding, you’ll see that in the status messages on the Home screen. To see the status of all your hubs, tap the arrow in the upper left. Under Home Hubs, you’ll see your hubs and their statuses.
To test if your hubs will work as you expect while you’re away from home, turn off Wi-Fi on your iPhone temporarily. Then, while you’re connected just via cellular data, try controlling your HomeKit Accessories. If your hubs are working properly, everything should work just as it does when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.
Finally, note that when it comes to HomeKit reliability, the more hubs, the better. I recommend setting up as many as you can, because if one disconnects or flakes out for some reason, you’ll have backups to ensure your Automations keep running. I’ve found HomeKit to be much more reliable since I added a second hub.
Once your hubs are set up, you can control your HomeKit devices from anywhere in the world! That works exactly the same as it does when you control HomeKit devices inside your home. You can also set up Automations because the hub will always be available to invoke them.
Automatic for the Home -- The hardest part of setting up HomeKit Automation is getting the hubs in place. Then it comes down to figuring out what you want to do.
Just as with other aspects of home automation, be sure to communicate with your housemates and proceed carefully. If you set up an Automation to turn off the lights when you leave the house, you could leave your spouse and kids in the dark when you run to get ice cream.
It’s easy to go overboard on Automations, so I recommend keeping them simple. My wife wakes up at 5:30 AM, so I have my Good Morning scene set to light up the house for her. I then have my Good Night scene set to trigger at 8:30 AM, because I don’t need the lights by that point. And then at 3:00 PM, Good Morning comes on again, so the house is lit up when she comes home from school.
I’d like to set up an Automation to turn outside lights on and off at appropriate times of day. We like to keep our exterior lights on at night for security reasons, but I often forget to turn them off during the day, which wastes power and reduces bulb lifespan. Our encased porch light could probably hold a Hue bulb safely, but Philips doesn’t make outdoor flood lights like we have on the side of the house, so I’d need to install something like Elgato’s Eve Light Switch to automate those lights.
If you had a HomeKit-compatible thermostat, you could also create an Automation to set the temperature down when you drive away in the morning and back up when you leave work.
That should give you a few ideas for useful Automations. What you want to avoid is making it seem like your house is haunted — lights turning off or on at seemingly random times, spooking everyone in the house.
Setting Up Automations -- Once you set up a hub, the Automation screen in Home becomes available. In it, you can see existing Automations and set up four different Automation types: My Location Changes, A Time of Day Occurs, An Accessory Is Controlled, and A Sensor Detects Something. The steps for configuring them are roughly similar.
First, you tap Create New Automation in the Automation tab and then configure the trigger — the conditions that will cause the Automation to be invoked. Then you choose which Accessories and Scenes to turn on or off.
My Location Changes: I’m not wild about geofence triggers that go off when you arrive at or leave a specified location. They’re fine if you live alone, but if you share your house with others, they can create all sorts of problems unless everyone has the same schedule. For instance, there’s no way to configure the lights to turn off only if my wife and I both leave the house.
However, geofence triggers do have their uses. For instance, you could set up your outdoor lights to turn on when you approach your house. If you had a HomeKit-enabled garage door, you could even have it open automatically as you drive up.
To set up a location Automation, tap Create New Automation in the Automation tab and then My Location Changes.
At the Location Automation screen, first choose a triggering location. This can be your home, a recently accessed Maps location, or a location you find in a search. Then choose whether to trigger the automation when you arrive at or leave the location. Finally, the map lets you adjust the trigger’s sensitivity. The red pushpin marks the spot, and you can drag the blue dot to adjust the trigger radius around the spot. Tap Next when you’re satisfied.
Once you’ve defined the location, choose Scenes and Accessories to activate. Tap Next.
The final screen lets you review your options and offers a few more tweaks. You can set the location trigger to work only after sunset. If you added any Accessories to the Automation, you can choose whether to turn them on or off; you can also press and hold on the Accessory button to make adjustments like brightness and temperature, just as you normally would when controlling it.
If you’re unhappy with any of the settings, tap Back to go back in the process and change things. If you’re satisfied, tap Done to finish.
A Time of Day Occurs: Setting a Time Automation works almost the same way, except at the Time Automation screen you choose the days and times when the trigger should go off. Two time options are sunrise and sunset, which are determined automatically based on where you live.
An Accessory Is Controlled: With this option, you can set HomeKit to activate something when you control an Accessory. For instance, if you turn on a light bulb, you could set smart plugs in the room to turn on lamps as well. I haven’t found a use for this option yet, but you might.
You start by choosing one Accessory that will trigger the automation. Next, choose whether to trigger the automation when the Accessory turns on or off. Then, choose Accessories and Scenes to activate with the trigger, and proceed as normal.
A Sensor Detects Something: In theory, you could set this to trigger actions when say, a smoke alarm or water detector is activated. However, even though I have an Elgato Eve Room sensor, which monitors air quality, temperature, and humidity, this option is grayed out. That’s unfortunate, because it would be great to use these sensors alongside a HomeKit thermostat to balance the temperature in my house better. If you know of a sensor that works with this trigger, let me know!
Editing Automations -- Once your Automations are set up, you can view them from the Automations screen in Home. Tap one to see its settings.
It’s important to see how to disable an Automation, which is the first switch on the Automation settings screen. If you have a day off or know that you’ll be too sick to go to work the next day, you probably don’t want your lights coming on at 5:30 in the morning.
You can also change the triggers for the Automation and what Scenes and Accessories will be set by the automation.
Finally, there’s an option to delete the Automation. I seldom do this unless I’m just playing with test Automations that I don’t intend to keep. Instead, disable an unwanted Automation first, and then delete it later if you don’t miss it.
HomeKit home automation is incredibly powerful, and it’s even better when you configure it to be truly automated. But as always, with great power comes great responsibility, so be careful what you set, discuss your Automations with other family members, and keep things simple so they’re easy to manage.
This concludes our coverage of the Home app, but we’re not done with HomeKit. Next time, I’ll tell you about a more powerful HomeKit app that gives you additional control over your devices.
Article 6 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
Apple’s Home app is easy to use, but an older app with the same name gives you more control over your HomeKit home automation.Show full article
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.
Article 7 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
After a tornado scare, Josh Centers whipped together a warning system using the IFTTT automation service and his Philips Hue bulbs.Show full article
The other morning, I was rudely awakened when my wife, a teacher and the household weather hawk, started panicking about a tornado watch, which means that conditions are ripe for twisters. It soon became a tornado warning, which means that one is imminent. Not the best news to get first thing, particularly before coffee.
Tornados are no joke, especially here in Tennessee. A severe tornado in 2008 destroyed part of my town and killed several people. It was so bad that then-President Bush visited to survey the damage.
After that, the town installed a warning siren, but this time it was drowned out by the noise of high winds and pouring rain on the roof. Thankfully, I had a battery-powered radio tuned into a weather station and the local TV news to stay up to date on the storm’s direction. It didn’t end up hitting us, but I would have liked a little more warning.
When it comes to winds so powerful they can toss around cows, you can’t have enough warnings to take cover. You know how in Star Trek, when something bad is going down, the entire bridge turns red? That gave me an idea of how I might use the Philips Hue light bulbs (see “Getting Started with the Philips Hue Smart Light Bulbs,” 1 August 2016).
Apple’s HomeKit automation framework is great, but limited in what it can do. For its line of Hue bulbs, Philips provides its own API with many more capabilities, such as integration with the Internet automation service IFTTT (see “IFTTT Automates the Internet Now, but What Comes Next?,” 20 December 2013).
I initially thought about using the Philips Hue Severe Weather Alert applet, but the National Weather Service considers all sorts of things “severe” that fall well below the level of “There’s a tornado coming!” So I went looking for a more customizable solution and found it in the form of IFTTT’s Weather Underground integration.
It doesn’t include severe weather alerts, but it can use wind speed as a trigger. I made an IFTTT applet that turns on all my Hue lights and makes them red when the wind speed nearby exceeds 60 miles per hour (hurricane wind speed starts at 73 miles per hour, so I set it to 60 to be safe). Unfortunately, IFTTT no longer allows sharing of applets, so here are the steps to make your own:
From the IFTTT Web page, click your username in the upper right to reveal a drop-down menu and choose New Applet.
Click +this in the sentence, choose the Weather Underground service, and then choose the Wind Speed Rises Above trigger. When you first connect Weather Underground to IFTTT, it prompts you for your location.
On the next screen, specify the trigger wind speed and the units. Keep the wind direction on Any, and click Create Trigger.
Next, click +that, choose the Philips Hue service, and select the Change Color action. Under Which Lights, choose All Lights, and under Color Value or Name, enter Red. You can use any standard color you like, or even specify a color hex code to be precise.
Click Create Action to finish.
Now, when wind speeds reach 60 miles per hour near you, all your lights should turn red. The next question is, how can you test this setup without an approaching hurricane or tornado?
I created another applet to try the actions first. It used a simple text message as a trigger, and when I activated it, it turned on all my colored Hue lights and made them red. My white Hue lights also turned on but obviously didn’t change color. I then created an applet to test Weather Underground’s triggers — it turned my living room lights blue when Weather Underground reported that it was sunset. It fired at 5:40 PM on the dot. So both the Weather Underground triggers and Hue actions worked. Feel free try other triggers and actions to test instead.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend using this system as your only tornado or hurricane alert, since there are a lot of “moving parts.” If your power or Internet service cut out, as would be likely in high winds, this system wouldn’t work. Plus, latency could cause it to not work in time. (IFTTT says it could take up to an hour for an action to trigger, although my tests above worked much more quickly than that.) Unfortunately, I won’t know for certain how well this system works until we get high winds again. However, I’m willing to bet that I’ll see it in action before the spring is over.
What if you don’t have Hue bulbs, or would like an additional warning that you’ll see even if you’re not home? Create the same IFTTT automation, except change the “that” part to the SMS action and choose Send Me an SMS. The default message tells you the wind speed, but I prefer something a bit more to the point.
Although this is a good real-world example, I’m sure you can come up with other ways to use IFTTT with Hue bulbs. For instance, Philips provides an IFTTT automation that turns your lights blue when it’s raining. As amusing as that might be once or twice, I avoid such automations for fear of “haunted house syndrome” — things happening in your house seemingly at random. But if you’re interested, spend some time exploring IFTTT to see what other triggers inspire you.
Article 8 of 8 in series
by Josh Centers
Amidst the chaos of a house move, Josh Centers takes a break to tell you about two HomeKit-compatible smart outlets that are easy to take with you wherever you may go.Show full article
The Centers clan is in the midst of a move. We outgrew the old prairie home — my current office often looked like an outtake from the show “Hoarders” — so we’re moving on to greener pastures. But the hustle, bustle, and boxes (so many boxes) make it difficult to review HomeKit accessories properly until we get resettled.
That’s why I’d like to talk about one of the simplest types of home automation accessory you can buy: the humble smart outlet. Smart outlets are an excellent way to get started with HomeKit because they’re cheap, simple, and easy to reposition. Just plug a smart outlet into an ordinary wall outlet, plug an appliance into the smart outlet, do a little software setup, and you’re done.
Before you invest in a smart outlet, be aware of their limitations. All they do is toggle power on and off to any connected appliances. They won’t dim your lights or adjust the output of your heater. They work best with devices that activate when plugged in, especially those with “hard” switches like electric heaters, fans, lamps, and window air conditioning units.
Unsure if a particular appliance will work with a smart switch? Plug it into a power strip and turn on the device. Then turn the power strip off and back on. If your appliance kicks back on, you know that it will work well with a smart outlet.
Which smart outlet should you buy? I’ll discuss two that I own: the Elgato Eve Energy and the iHome iSP5. The kind folks at Tin Drum PR provided me with the Eve Energy — it retails for about $50 — while I purchased the iHome iSP5 from Walmart for about $40. iHome also offers the fancier iSP8, which includes a physical remote control, for about $50.
The Eve Energy and the iHome iSP5 are similar devices, but if you see them side by side, you immediately notice the size difference. The face of the Eve Energy is square — about 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) wide and long — and 1.125 inches (2.86 cm) thick. The iSP5 is about 2.75 inches (6.98 cm) wide, 1.375 inches (3.49 cm) tall, and 1.4375 inches (3.65 cm) thick. In other words, the iHome is about half as tall but a little thicker than the Eve Energy. Depending on your particular situation, one may fit better than the other. Even though the Eve Energy is larger overall, its thinner profile makes a better option in tight spaces such as behind bookcases.
Both smart outlets feature a manual power button. The iSP5’s button, which you press to turn the outlet on and off, is tucked away in the upper-right corner. The Eve Energy’s button is right on the front, but you must hold the button down for a few seconds to turn it on and off.
As far as setup and operation goes, both set up quickly in Apple’s Home app, which I covered in “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Setting Up Accessories and Rooms” (16 January 2017). Both smart outlets also offer their own apps, but I usually don’t like to fool with them. They seldom provide any important advantage over Apple’s Home app and generally make things more complicated. The entire point of HomeKit is that you have a central interface for all of your home automation items, regardless of vendor. As far as using the smart outlets in Home, it’s a simple as tapping the icon to turn them on or off. Of course, you can also use them in Scenes and Automations.
However, Apple’s Home app lacks one nice feature available from both Elgato’s Eve Energy app and the iHome Control app: power consumption monitoring. iHome’s app requires an online account, but Elgato’s doesn’t, so if you’re interested in that feature, I recommend the Eve Energy. In fact, iHome Control won’t even record those statistics until you create an account, but Eve Energy will quietly gather them in the background with no intervention necessary. I also find Eve Energy much better than iHome Control overall because it’s a full-service HomeKit controller. In contrast, iHome Control seems to work with only a few of my HomeKit devices.
The main functional difference between these two smart outlets is that the iHome iSP5 relies on Wi-Fi, whereas the Eve Energy communicates via Bluetooth. The iSP5 is the winner here because Wi-Fi has much better range and responsiveness than Bluetooth. Elgato announced the Eve Extend Bluetooth range extender at CES 2017, but it has yet to materialize.
Overall, I recommend the slightly cheaper iHome iSP5 over the Elgato Eve Energy unless Bluetooth is preferable to Wi-Fi in your environment, you’re particularly interested in power consumption monitoring, or the iSP5 is too thick for a tight space.
If you’re curious about HomeKit automation, you can’t go wrong with a smart outlet like the iHome iSP5. It’s cheap, easy to set up, simple to uninstall, and a breeze to operate. Not only that, but these outlets are versatile, working with many different plug-in appliances. They may not be as much fun as the Philips Hue lights, but they’re easier on the bank account (see “Getting Started with the Philips Hue Smart Light Bulbs,” 1 August 2016).
That’s all from the Prairie HomeKit Companion for now. I’ll check in again soon once I’ve had a chance to experiment with an entirely new house layout.