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.
Posts tagged with "home automation"
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.
Bryan Irace suggests a third path that mixes devices and services from multiple vendors:
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.
Mikah Sargent, writing for iMore, on the importance of software-based authentication for HomeKit devices that Apple officially rolled out with iOS 11.3 last week:
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.
Last week, I tried to configure something new in my studio that illustrates several of the Home app’s problems. I have several Hue lights: there’s one over the steps leading to my workspace, four recessed ceiling lights, a floor lamp, and a desk lamp. It’s a lot of lights, but my studio is in the basement, and the lights help keep it from feeling like a cave.
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.
If you've been playing around with home automation on iOS, you know that managing accessory pairing codes isn't exactly fun or convenient. While iOS 11 added support for QR codes and special NFC pairing tags, most accessory makers still stick basic alphanumeric codes on the back or at the bottom of accessories and essentially require you not to lose them. That's not ideal. HomePass aims to be a single repository where you can easily keep track of all your setup codes, sync them across devices with iCloud, and even protect them with Face ID. Instead of taking pictures of your codes and storing them in Apple Notes (which is what I've been doing), you can collect every HomeKit code in HomePass, where they'll be presented alongside device names, HomeKit rooms they belong to, and custom icons.
I've been testing HomePass for the past couple of weeks, and there are some nice touches I want to point out. First, if you grant the app access to your HomeKit data, it'll be able to see existing accessories and allow you to simply enter the code without choosing a device name or icon (you can also create new accessories from scratch). In addition, the code displayed in the Code field of a device's detail view is formatted with the same shape and font used on physical setup codes; this means you can open HomePass on your iPad and scan a code directly with the Home app on your iPhone. Lastly, you can add notes to your accessories and export everything as CSV if you prefer to have an additional backup of your accessory database.
One of the many shortcomings of Apple's native Home app is the lack of deeper organizational tools for users who own dozens of HomeKit accessories and need a better way to store their codes. Ideally, such a feature shouldn't be needed, but in my experience things sometimes go wrong and you may need to reset an accessory and add it to HomeKit again. When that happens, you don't want to go hunting for the setup code on the back of a thermostat. I highly recommend using HomePass instead, which is available at $2.99 on the App Store.
Amazon is adding voice control support to its Alexa app on Android and iOS. According to TechCrunch:
The addition of voice commands means users can speak directly to their handset the way they would an Echo — to play music, trigger Alexa skills and the like. The update is being rolled out over the course of the coming days through Google Play and Amazon’s own Appstore. A similar update is also on the way for the iOS App Store, but its timing is still up in the air, likely due to Apple’s stricter vetting process.
Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone platform for its smart assistant. That puts Amazon at a disadvantage because it precludes users from activating Alexa with a trigger word on Android phones and iOS devices. Still, the move feels like a natural extension of the services surrounding Alexa and Amazon’s Echo products.
There’s precedent for this sort of app on iOS too. Astra is a simple iOS utility that acts like an Echo device. It’s registered in the Alexa app alongside any Echo products you own. Pressing the microphone button lets you issue the same commands you can to an Echo. It remains to be seen what Amazon’s update to the Alexa app will mean for Astra, but in any event, it will be interesting to see where Amazon’s push into mobile leads.
CES is a big, messy spectacle that has everything from vaporware and products you didn’t know you needed – and probably don’t – to truly cool new gadgets. We’ve been following the announcements this week and have rounded up a collection of the most interesting and promising gear we’ve seen so far. Many of these products have not shipped yet, so we haven’t had an opportunity to try them, but these are gadgets we will be watching closely throughout 2018 and that are likely to turn up again on MacStories later this year. CES doesn't end until Friday, so be sure to check back for updates on any additional announcements that catch our eyes.
For some people, weather apps simply answer questions like ‘Do I need a coat today?’ but their appeal is much broader. Weather apps are also about science and statistics. If you enjoy the geeky data side of tracking the weather, there’s no better way satisfy that interest than by collecting measurements yourself with a weather station like the one made by Netatmo.
Weather stations, like many gadgets, run from the simple to the complex. What I like most about the Netatmo Weather Station is that it’s easy to set up and modular. That means you can start with the core system that tracks basic weather data like temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and air quality, and later, add wind speed and precipitation gauges if you want to dive deeper into tracking the weather.