As I noted yesterday, the launch of the developer beta of iOS 12.2 has brought the necessary underlying APIs for manufacturers of smart TVs seeking to integrate their television sets with HomeKit. Originally announced at CES 2019, the initiative encompasses both the HomeKit and AirPlay 2 technologies, which the likes of Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Sony will roll out (albeit to varying degrees) in their upcoming smart TVs over the course of 2019. Thanks to the HomeKit Accessory Protocol and the work of enterprising third-party developers, however, it is already possible to get an idea of what the HomeKit part of these integrations will be like by installing unofficial plugins that add HomeKit compatibility to existing TV sets via software.
Thanks to developer (and homebridge contributor) Khaos Tian, I've been able to test native HomeKit integration with my 2017 LG TV running webOS, which does not currently support HomeKit out of the box and which, according to LG, will not receive an official software update for HomeKit support in iOS and tvOS 12.2. In this post, I'm going to share my first impressions of HomeKit's new TV features in the iOS 12.2 beta, describe how it all works in practice, and share some suggestions for changes I'd like Apple to implement by the final release of iOS 12.2.
Now, as someone who's been running homebridge and the homebridge-webos-tv plugin for the past few months (and I promise I will write about this eventually), I'm excited about the idea of having a native interface for controlling my TV from the Home app (and, ideally, Siri too). As you can see, the plugin I'm currently using can only "fake" controls in the Home app by adding switches. It can get...confusing:
Configuring homebridge plugins (left) requires working with a JSON document.
But it works. I've been running homebridge and this plugin without issues for months now, and I've gotten so used to asking Siri to change inputs on my TV, I can't imagine not having these integrations anymore. A recent update to homebridge-webos-tv even added support for individual channel input and more remote control buttons. For this reason, assuming that the folks at LG don't change their mind and ship a HomeKit software update for older TV sets, I think I'm going to experiment with a dual setup for webOS TV support in HomeKit: some controls based on the official HomeKit API, and others provided as custom switches – both based on homebridge plugins. But that's a story for another time.
HomeRun is a simple Apple Watch utility for controlling HomeKit scenes from your wrist. Where Apple’s Home app for the Watch can be clunky to navigate, especially if you have more than a couple HomeKit devices set up, HomeRun makes controls easily accessible for all your scenes. And today, with version 1.1, HomeRun has introduced custom complication creation, making it possible to have different launcher complications for each of your configured scenes.
Inside the HomeRun app on iPhone, the Complications screen in version 1.1 appears largely the same at first glance, but once you start tapping around you'll discover that Watch complications are now fully customizable. Visit the detail view for a specific watch face and you'll be able to update any and all complications for that face with custom colors and icons to accompany your selected scenes. The Series 4 Watch's Infograph face, for example, presents options to customize both the corner slot and circle slot complications.
Creating custom complications works just like setting up scenes for the main Watch app itself, with the same set of colors and glyphs available in both places. That means the excellent assortment of glyph options for scenes are all accessible as complication icons as well.
When it launched last month, HomeRun enabled adding scenes as complications to your watch face, but you had to use the app's icon for each complication. Custom complications were a natural next step for the app, and I'm thankful we didn't have to wait long for them to arrive.
HomeRun is a simple, elegant utility for triggering HomeKit scenes from your Apple Watch. Through a combination of color and iconography, HomeRun developer Aaron Pearce, who is the creator of other excellent HomeKit apps like HomeCam and HomePass, creates an effective solution for accessing HomeKit scenes from your wrist. It’s a user-friendly approach that’s a fantastic alternative for HomeKit device users frustrated by Apple’s Home app.
Apple’s Home app is hard to use on the Apple Watch. First, when you open Home on the Watch, it’s not clear what you’re seeing. Home presents a series of card-like, monochrome scene and accessory buttons that you scroll through one or two at a time. Although the app doesn’t say so, these are the favorite scenes and accessories from the Home tab of the iOS app. That makes the list customizable, which is nice, but the app should do a better job identifying where the user is in relationship to the iOS app.
Second, although you can rearrange your Home favorites to reorder them on the Watch too, you can only see two scenes or one accessory at a time. Depending on how many favorites you have, that limits the Watch app’s utility because a long list of scenes and accessories requires a lot of swiping or scrolling with the Digital Crown.
HomeRun avoids this by eliminating text and relying on color and iconography to distinguish between scenes. The app is also limited to triggering scenes, reducing potential clutter further. The approach allows HomeRun to display up to 12 scenes on a single screen of a 44mm Apple Watch compared to the two scene buttons that Home can display. If you set up more than 12 scenes, they are accessible by scrolling.
I previously covered HomeCam, a HomeKit utility by indie developer Aaron Pearce, as a superior way to watch live video streams from multiple HomeKit cameras. In addition to a clean design and straightforward approach (your cameras are displayed in a grid), what set HomeCam apart was the ability to view information from other HomeKit accessories located in the same room of a camera and control nearby lights without leaving the camera UI. Compared to Apple's approach to opening cameras in the clunky Home app, HomeCam is a nimble, must-have utility for anyone who owns multiple HomeKit cameras and wants to tune into their video feeds quickly. With the release of iOS 12, HomeCam is gaining one of the most impressive and useful implementations of Siri shortcuts I've seen on the platform yet.
Competition among companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon has led to a vast array of high-quality device and service choices for consumers. However, numerous options cause some people to pick one company and go all-in on its products and services for simplicity, while others remain on the sidelines waiting for a winner to emerge.
Just as the lack of deep Google and Amazon integrations on iOS hasn’t stopped most of us from using the Google Maps and Kindle apps on our iPhones, mixing and matching devices and services from different vendors can be a completely viable strategy depending on your particular home and familial needs. Of course, there are downsides – heterogeneous setups are more complicated, redundant, and inconsistent – but what you lose in simplicity, you gain in flexibility and optionality. And I hate to break it to you, but there’s likely never going to be a “best” setup much like how Google’s services are likely never going to integrate with iOS as deeply as Apple’s.
Irace’s point is more relevant now than ever as smart home devices, voice assistants, streaming services, and other technologies multiply every year. The fierce competition among today’s tech giants means no one company is going to have the best approach to any one product category. The key to mixing and matching though is understanding which devices work together and where services overlap, so you can piece together a combination that suits your needs.
Up to this point, commercial accessories were also required to incorporate Apple's hardware-based Authentication Coprocessor in order to obtain HomeKit certification. The coprocessor handled Apple's strict rules for encryption and security for HomeKit-enabled accessories. Apple takes HomeKit security seriously — the company says all HomeKit sessions are end-to-end encrypted and mutually authenticated (authenticated by all parties). Each communication session also includes something called "perfect forward secrecy," meaning that encryption keys aren't reused — a new key is generated for every session.
These strict rules meant most companies had to build accessories specifically with Apple's HomeKit requirements in mind. It was a beneficial rule for consumers in terms of privacy and security, but it also meant — at least at the beginning — fewer available HomeKit-enabled accessories. Companies who already had smart home products on the market would need to rethink their products if they wanted to offer HomeKit-enabled accessories. That changes as of iOS 11.3.
I was under the assumption that HomeKit software authentication was already available since Apple announced it at WWDC '17 (in fact, I covered it in my iOS 11 review here). As Sargent notes on Twitter, however, accessory makers only received support for software authentication with iOS 11.3, which explains why we haven't heard of major "HomeKit software updates" yet. Assuming that Apple's certification process for HomeKit accessories is still going to take weeks, I'm curious to see if software authentication will at least make it easier for third-party manufacturers to consider HomeKit integration.
I'm a big fan of HomePass and Homecam, the two HomeKit utilities created by indie developer Aaron Pearce to store accessory setup codes and view live feeds of HomeKit cameras, respectively. I covered both apps a few times on MacStories this year, and I'm glad to see two substantial updates released by Pearce today that address all my complaints from previous versions.
I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with home automation gear since late last year: lightbulbs, light strips, electrical plugs, and door sensors, among other things. Most of the devices I’ve tested support Apple’s HomeKit APIs and those that don’t, I plan to integrate with Homebridge. That means I’ve also spent a lot of time in Apple’s Home app, and despite poking around in every corner of the app, I still find it frustrating and hard to use.
I set the lights up as a group in Home and trigger them with a motion sensor. As soon as I open the door to the basement, the lights come on. I added a Hue switch on the wall as a shortcut for turning the lights on and off too.
I recently got an Elgato Eve door sensor for my back door. I figured it would be nice to know when my wife and son got home in the afternoon if I'm working away with the door closed, listening to music, and don't hear the back door open. I can get alerts from the sensor on my Apple Watch and iPhone, but I thought it might be fun to also turn the Hue light on my desk red when the door opens as a visual cue. That turned out to be harder than I anticipated.