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Posts tagged with "home automation"

iOS 11.3 and HomeKit’s Software Authentication

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.

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It’s Time for a Complete Home App Makeover


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.

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HomePass Can Store All Your HomeKit Setup Codes

Developed by Aaron Pearce (the creator of Homecam, one of my favorite iOS apps this year), HomePass is a handy utility for iPhone and iPad to store HomeKit setup codes.

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.


Voice Control is Coming to the Alexa App Soon

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.

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A Roundup of CES Home Automation and Apple Accessory Announcements

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.

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Track Hyper-Local Weather Conditions With the Netatmo Weather Station

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.

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Automating Your Holiday Lights Inside and Out

It’s easy to get carried away with elaborate and expensive home automation projects when you’re just starting out. A better place to begin though, is with a simple, temporary setup that doesn’t cost a lot but will still give you a glimpse of some of the conveniences of home automation without making a big commitment. When I heard that iHome had introduced a reasonably-priced outdoor smart plug, I knew immediately that it and some holiday lights would make an excellent home automation starter project.

This is by no means a Clark Griswold-level undertaking. My family’s holiday decorations are fairly simple. In the front yard, we put up lights in the bushes and on the columns on either side of our front door. Inside, we have a Christmas tree in our living room with lights. The first step was to put up the outdoor lights the weekend after Thanksgiving on what turned out to be a mercifully warm day.

After the lights were up and working, I plugged them into the iHome’s iSP100 Outdoor SmartPlug, which I connected to an outdoor outlet near my front door. The iSP100 is about as simple as you can imagine. It has a short cord attached to a plastic box that holds its electronics. One end plugs into a standard US outdoor electrical outlet, and the other end takes two or three-pronged electrical devices.

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Don’t Lock Yourself Out of Your Smart Home

A cautionary tale by Serenity Caldwell on smart home devices and having physical backups:

Two days after I installed my latest smart lock experiment, I jokingly said to my husband "We're going to be in trouble if our internet goes down. I don't know where the key is to this lock anymore."

"Worst case, we'll get our parkour on and break a window," he responded.

As I sit at my kitchen table writing this story after having to crawl through said window, I find his reply far less funny.

I'd like the moral of the story I'm about to tell you to be "Don't joke about things you don't want to happen." In reality, it is this: Your smart home devices can fail or make mistakes, and when they do, you better have an alternative.

I locked myself out of my apartment a couple of times (I’m terrible at remembering keys), but we have no smart locks installed. While the idea of Siri unlocking the door for me is tempting, I’m afraid I’d end up in a worse situation than Serenity somehow.

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