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:
- Lutron L-BDG2-WH Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge
- Lutron P-PKG1W-WH Caseta Wireless In-Wall Dimmers (have a bunch!) (plus some on/off switches & outlets)
- ecobee3 Smart Wi-Fi Thermostat with Remote Sensors
- Elgato Eve Room Wireless Indoor Sensor
- Elgato Eve Door & Window Wireless Contact Sensor
- iHome Control Smart Plug Outlet
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!