How to harness IFTTT-like event Triggers with Apple HomeKit in iOS 9

To make the most out of your smart home experience you need the perfect blend of hardware and software.  Up until recently, the software you would use with HomeKit devices was limited by Apple’s iOS 8 short-comings.  Thankfully Cupertino fixed most of that with the recent release of iOS 9, but no developer has taken the time to harness all this potential power.  Now, thanks to a new app called Home by Mattias Hochgatterer, we can finally build the smart home of our dreams!

Just a few days ago a very comprehensive review of the Home app was posted on the iMore website.  Hence my review here is going to be a bit less about the big picture, and a bit more about my personal experiences.  I’ll hit down on the pros/cons of this app and where I see things going in the future.  If you’re new to HomeKit or the whole iOS 9 upgrade/changes, please check out this article, or this article, or even this article.

Now that you’ve read all those great supporting articles, let’s get our feet wet!

Life Before the Home App

For those wondering, my HomeKit enabled hardware includes:

All of these pieces of hardware include their own iOS application, each varying in different ways. Lutron has taken a very “hands-off” approach to HomeKit, allowing you to place lights/outlets/shades in specific rooms and zones.  But beyond that, you cannot create HomeKit scenes, let alone triggers.  The scenes you can create are not accessible by Siri/HomeKit.  Also, you can control only Lutron devices from within the Lutron app, save for some “Works with Nest” integration.

iHome took the same approach with their iHome Control Smart Plug Outlet, where their corresponding companion app only shows their devices.  You can place your hardware into a specific room, but you cannot see other non-iHome devices in their iOS app.  So what you get is simply a list of empty rooms, except for your iHome device.  In my case, this is just a single outlet/lamp.

With the ecobee3, let’s face it – you’re dealing with just the thermostat.  Their app is much like the Lutron app, with HomeKit integration being sort of hidden in the “settings” and not something you think about when using their app’s core competencies.

Notice a recurring theme here?  It seems most manufacturers want to add HomeKit compatibility, but don’t really care about making their app a one-stop-shop.  And that makes sense, because those are resources they would spend that will aid you in controlling your home globally, but not necessarily their device solely.

Thankfully, there is the Elgato Eve app.  They’ve gone ahead and taken things to the level all manufacturers should in my mind, and provided an app that gives you full control of the HomeKit platform.  From within their app you get a list of all rooms, all zones, and EVERY HomeKit device, not just the few devices they offer such as the ones I listed above in my hardware range.  Right within their app you can control your Lutron lights, or your ecobee3 thermostat, or view the stats on your Elgato Eve Room hardware.  You can create Scenes that utilize all of these devices, and up until recently, their app was my go-to piece of kit for managing my home.

However, since their devices don’t yet support some of the features added in iOS 9, their solid and stable app is sadly not all-inclusive.  Based on this web page, it sounds like Elgato will be joining the game soon enough, but for now their app is still not at powerful as it could potentially be in iOS 9.

Life With the Home App

Let’s say you are a HomeKit hardware owner.  You’ve had to download the companion app for each device you want to add as I listed above.  But now you have a bunch of apps that chances are only control those respective devices.  Even if you snag the Elgato Eve app, which is free and worth checking out, it still lacks Triggers.  And that is really what this article is all about — getting the most from HomeKit.  So what do you do?  How do you harness iOS 9 capabilities with your iPhone?

Thanks to the new app called Home by Mattias Hochgatterer, you get an app that is very much like the Elgato app, but with the added benefit of Triggers.  At this point you can examine the photos above, but assuming you read the iMore article, the body of this article should prove far more interesting to you than photos.

Triggers, if you aren’t already aware, are essentially a way to say “if X occurs, then I want Y to occur automatically” also known as If This, Then That.  Many people are familiar with IFTTT which provides this service for apps who have integrated with their platform.  Thanks to iOS 9 you can add this same level of function, all within the cozy safety of the secure HomeKit platform.

SIDEBAR: Remember that many HomeKit devices use Bluetooth exclusively to communicate.  In those cases it may require either your iPhone/iPad be present, or that an Apple TV is in range, with your iCloud login turned on.  Consult Apple’s website for more details, if you desire automation when you aren’t at home.

In my case I tried a variety of scenarios, to see what worked and what didn’t work.  Right now the Elgato Eve Door/Window sensor is only a contact sensor, hence it would not properly work to trigger things the way you may desire.  In other words, you cannot yet use the Eve Door/Window to trigger an event, but that should change down the road.

So what does work?  Well, for one, you can use the Home app to handle Triggers based on Time (such as Sunrise, or Sunset, or a specific time of day).  Or based on your location, such as when you Arrive/Leave a specific location.  You can also build Triggers based on other factors, like the furnace turning on for example, or a specific HVAC temperature being reached.  The options are almost limitless!

During my testing I explored scenarios such as turning on my iHome outlet (either manually, or with the iOS app) would work as a Trigger that would turn other lights on/off to my desire.  Another test I conducted was to turn a light on to 50% when the Heat starting to run on my ecobee3 thermostat.  I could imagine a fun Trigger that might work such that if I had the new Philips HomeKit Hue Bridge, I could have a bulb turn Blue or air conditioning, or Red for heat, to alert me that my HVAC system was running.

But what makes Triggers far better than anything that IFTTT offers is that you can build multi-tier controls.  From within the Home app you could create a Trigger that only occurs if you’ve arrived home AND turn on a certain light.  So if someone turned on the light but you never left the house, it wouldn’t occur.  Or only allow a Trigger to work if it was after/before a certain time.  You’re able to add as many of these conditions as you want, as deep as you want, to create very unique and very specific circumstances that fit your personal needs.

During my testing I did have a few forced quit app scenarios, and the app wasn’t quite as polished as I’d overall like it to be.  These same sentiments exist in the iHome review, but given the fact that nowhere else can you create iOS 9 triggers for HomeKit, the Home app is a worthy tool for the hard-core HomeKit enthusiast.  What you can get out of it will depend both on what hardware you have, and how much time you put into it.

Life After the Home App

Sadly, I only had so many real world needs to test, and the hardware now once again becomes the limiting component.  Thanks to the Home app that Mattias created, you now need more hardware to support more options.  For example, I wanted so badly to be able to create a circumstance where if I arrived home, and opened a certain door, only then would a light turn on, and only if it was after sunset.  However, as noted above, my Eve Door sensor needs a firmware update first before it will work for that.

But down the road I imagine all the amazing options I’ll be able to create.  Once the new Philips Hue Bridge starts shipping, you’ll be able to have colors dance around based on Triggers.  With the forthcoming Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt system, you’ll be able to have doors lock/unlock based on your presence, but also lights that react to your arrival home only after you unlock/open the door.

Down the road I suspect that people like Elgato will continue to develop their app, and Triggers will become a pat of that equation.  It also seems logical to me that Apple themselves would release an app, very similar to the Home app that Mattias created.  For now, however, there is but one choice.  If you are a HomeKit user, you should down the Home app and enjoy the benefits of iOS 9, and all the smart home automation you can!

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Published by

Ari Jay Comet

Sharing my life experiences. Interacting with technology. Digital self-expression. Binary is black, white, and many shades of grey.

18 thoughts on “How to harness IFTTT-like event Triggers with Apple HomeKit in iOS 9”

  1. Is it possible to set a trigger with my Elgato Eve Room or Weather Sensor? I want to Start my Infrared Heater using Elgato Eve Energy.

    1. Right now the Elgato devices don’t seem to work properly as a trigger. But they have great customer service that replies very quickly. Reach out to Elgato and ask. During my testing the Eve devices didn’t work as a trigger due to their current firmware

      1. Has this changed or is it still the case that Elgato devices cannot trigger events? I to would like to trigger a space heater on or off based on Temp.

  2. Home is on my radar, but I only have hue lights. And between the native hue app — which has built in support for a geolocation trigger — and official IFTT support, it may be overkill for me. That being said, $15 isn’t too steep. I regularly pay for apps, sometimes premium prices when it’s worth it. And considering this is a controller for what are home automation products (which are inherently expensive), it’s safe to assume the people that would need this app can afford to pay $15. It’s a psychological barrier than it is anything else. It’s funny how people still find it so difficult to pay more than $5 for an app. Even when it deliver high value.

  3. I purchased the app- I love the trigger controls, though I find it very lacking, but doable. I would love an “If away,” “if home” option to trigger events. Currently I have found no way to really set triggers specific if I am home or away. The closest I have come is with triggering a light to be always on when I am home and always off when I leave, then base another trigger off the on and off scenes and include them in all my triggers. That way if I am not home, I can have one automation for the lights but when I am home, I don’t want these to change once set by me. All my triggers utilize the most efficient use of my lights to cut down on electricity costs. Also triggering is in need of a day of the week selection, like the apple alarm style. It would be nice to use my “everything at it’s brightest” setting during the week to get up at 4:30 for work, but I don’t want that on a Saturday… It would be nice to re-arrange the list of triggers and edit existing conditions without deleting and re-adding. I would also like to see the “service name” be the main display name in the home app and within the widget/apple watch app. I want to tell Siri to turn on the lamp, but “lamp” has to be the service name and that doesn’t display and can’t be duplicated ANYWHERE for any other scene, trigger or accessory name and so it just shows the accessory as “hue white light 3.” I avoid using things such as “lamp 2” because Siri never gets it right and the operation fails because siri thinks I said “lamp to.” But lastly, it would be nice to base triggers on not only scenes, but also a single accessory. Making a scene for just one light to trigger is kind of pointless and gets hard when you can’t duplicate any names.

    1. Some of what you’re asking for here isn’t a limit of the Home app, but really of HomeKit itself. Apple has a done a poor job of making HK as powerful as Wink or SmartThings at this time. It seems they are slow to roll out enhancements, probably because they know what already exists doesn’t even work that great. Which is too bad, because Apple has a reputation of having quality products.

      Long story short, you should do two things. First, you should reach out to Apple in some way, submit your feature requests, and hope they listen. Secondly, some of what you’re talking about here is layout related to the Home app, so contact the developer and he might be able to make it appear more in the fashion you want. I agree that neither the Home app nor the HomeKit experience are on-par with some of the competition. But that is what you get when you play in Apple’s sandbox.

      1. Hmmm, maybe trigger groups. Then give each group a location condition, such as home and away. It may not be supported by HomeKit, but a app based condition to sort which triggers are enabled would ideally work (in my head it sounds so).

  4. have you tried homebridge? an application that simulate many connected devices as homekit compatible? with home, in my case it works better than ifttt, when i set multi if triggers between netatmo and logitech harmony to have comfort zone in my room with AC

  5. Hi – Excellent review of Home and HomeKit. I currently use Vera for Light Controls, Doors, and Water Sensors. I do want to move over to HK simply because I believe it will be the best long term, secure solution. You have done a really thorough job – it answered some of my questions. The one thing I can’t seem to find a definitive answer on – is the storing of triggers. I understand triggers are stored on the iOS device you create them on. They also are monitored in the background by the system and fire when the are supposed to. From what I have read – the triggers are stored in the Home database and therefore do not replicate to other iOS devices.

    That would seem to present an issue if the iOS device with the triggers is not on the network.

    I have an ATV4 – and I can set it so it doesn’t sleep. Is it possible that triggers are stored there and execute as needed? It of coos is connected to the home network and also has wifi and BT. In my case the ATV4 is on ethernet – but, I would’t think that matters.

    Any thoughts? Thanks!!

    1. Rob,
      You are correct that the iOS device where the triggers are stored needs to be on “a” network. But it does not need to be at home. When I tested my ATV3 remote access never worked. My ATV4 worked instantly without issue. Easiest way to test that is turn off wifi on your iPhone and try to use Siri to turn lights on or off at home. Make sure you use the right sentence structuring. I.e. “Turn off the lights at home” etc

      In my case I have a trigger created using the Home iOS app that turns outside lights on if after sunset and arriving home. Because I’m not yet on wifi it uses remote access via ATV4 and works flawlessly. Again test remote access above.

      Note: even when your ATV4 goes to sleep it is still awake. Doesn’t matter wired or wireless. I always put my ATV4 to sleep when done watching tv. Commands for HomeKit still work. Because again asleep doesn’t actually fully sleep the device. It remains awake enough to receive commands for HomeKit or perform software updates. You don’t need to configure anything special. You can test this too by again turning off wifi on iOS device and trying that way.

      Now here is the rub- let’s say my wife turns on my master bedroom Lutron Caseta lights. I have a trigger that by turning the switch on (which turns on cans overhead) it also turns on a Philips Hue light strip in that room. That works even if my phone is not at home. But again my phone has to have an LTE or 3G connection. If my phone is in airplane mode then the trigger won’t occur. And for it to work when my phone isn’t home we needed the ATV4. Some people made a work around by having a iPod somewhere that contains the triggers. Not my ideal answer but it works.

      You SHOULD find total satisfaction with the setup by having the Apple TV. But again. Just be aware of the limits. Hope this helps. Let me know what other questions you may have!

      1. Thanks. One thing I’m still unsure of is if triggers are replicated to all your iOS device that have the app (Say “Home”) installed and active. I said this “From what I have read – the triggers are stored in the Home database and therefore do not replicate to other iOS devices..” I really meant to say are not stored – and then of course not replicated.

        Anyhow – still confused on that issue. Except – you talk about a work around (iPod) somewhere – which if it had the triggers there too – it could fire them if you were away and your phone was not connected to the network. That would be an OK workaround for me – we have unused iOS devices that could be used.

        In the WWDC back in September when they announced iOS 9 – they said you would no longer need an ATV to address devices remotely – that it would work thru the cloud. I watched two of the videos from the developer’s side of WWDC on HK – and they said the same thing. They had some sort of “extender” (it showed WiFi & BT symbols) in three of the slides they used – and it didn’t seem to be an ATV. Perhaps that will be something we may see – or maybe they will update ATV as an extender – or put it into a new Airport Extreme.

        I think Apple has been “slow rolling” HK because of some issues, late accessory introductions, etc. But, I think it will be the way to go. Plus new accessories are already coming out. Based on your experiences I’m going to get a few HK accessories to experiment with.

      2. Sounds good! Experiment and see what you find. But be aware there are options & iterations and develops may or may not use them. Let me explain.

        Right now most HomeKit actions propagate through local not the cloud. But they could use the cloud. So right now a trigger occurs because it sends a local signal, and then the Apple TV replicates that signal remotely to your iOS device as needed. But now developers CAN propagate those through the cloud. This touched down on what you said. Thus far I am unaware of anybody who is actually using this feature sadly.

        In the future tho the Apple TV as a “remote access gateway” will be gone. For now it is an ideal answer.

        As for replicating on other devices, I haven’t had any way to test this. I have no other personal devices using my iCloud other than OS X devices. But I have heard the same issue. The triggers are stored solely on that device. However, when you upgrade your phone those triggers DO carry over. I’m not entirely certain how that works. Please do report back here if you test further. What I’ve read does mirror your findings that triggers and scenes store only singularly to the iOS device on which they were created. However scenes I create are accessible to my wife whom I’ve shared my HomeKit with. So who knows!! Good luck testing!!

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