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Posts tagged with "home automation"

Scenecuts Adds Effortless Access to HomeKit Scenes in Your Mac’s Menu Bar

Scenecuts is a new utility app for controlling HomeKit devices from your Mac’s menu bar. The free, open source app, by Seattle developer Nick Hayward can control HomeKit scenes from the menu bar app’s drop-down menu, customizable per-scene menu bar icons, or the keyboard. It’s a terrific trio of options that makes controlling your smart devices immediate by freeing them from the confines of the Home app.

In its default configuration, Scenecuts adds its icon to your menu bar, and clicking on it reveals a drop-down menu of all the HomeKit scenes you’ve created in Apple’s Home app for controlling your smart devices. However, the app’s real power lies in its preferences, where you can edit Scenecuts’ drop-down menu, add individual scenes to your menu bar, and assign them to global keyboard shortcuts.

Scenecuts' preferences.

Scenecuts’ preferences.

The HomeKit scenes you want to control with a particular Mac may vary. For instance, you may only care about the lights in the room where your desktop Mac sits, but want to control any of the lights in your home with a laptop that you carry with you. Scenecuts recognizes this by providing checkboxes next to every scene in its preferences. By default, all of your scenes are available in Scenecuts’ drop-down menu, but each of them can be turned off by unchecking its checkbox, which is a nice way to tidy up a long list of scenes. I turned off a bunch of scenes to make it easier to quickly locate the ones I use most often.

Scenes turned into individual menu bar items with SF Symbols icons.

Scenes turned into individual menu bar items with SF Symbols icons.

Another series of checkboxes, which are unchecked by default, controls whether scenes are shown as individual menu bar items. The feature is a lot like the ability to drag items out of Control Center to the menu bar. You can also add an icon for any of the scenes you add to the menu bar using Apple’s SF Symbols. I immediately added separate menu bar items for the space heater in my office and the settings for my overhead lights that I use for product photography because those are two scenes I find myself wanting to trigger from my desk regularly. The use of SF Symbols is an excellent way to pick something that is meaningful and memorable for triggering scenes.

The third way to use Scenecuts to trigger scenes is by using global keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are optional but extremely handy when you’re working with the keyboard instead of a trackpad or mouse. I appreciate, too, that Scenecuts displays the keyboard shortcuts you’ve assigned in its drop-down menu. The visibility provides a little reminder that has helped me memorize the shortcuts faster than I might otherwise have.

I’ve leveled my fair share of criticisms against the Home app, especially on the iPhone, but it’s grown on me when using my Mac. There’s more screen real estate than on the iPhone, which means its tile UI is less of an issue. Still, for quickly toggling my space heater or switching off a set of lights, opening a full-blown Mac app is overkill. By surfacing individual scenes in the menu bar, Scenecuts is the perfect complement to Apple’s Home app.

Scenecuts also highlights the anemic state of Control Center on the Mac. As I explained in my Big Sur review, I like the concept of Control Center on the Mac a lot, but it’s disappointing that so much of the functionality found in iOS is unavailable. Until Apple expands Control Center to incorporate scene support, Scenecuts is an excellent solution.

You can download Scenecuts for free from the Mac App Store.


Amazon Rolling Out ‘Type with Alexa’ Feature in iOS App

Paul Lamkin, writing at The Ambient:

Amazon is rolling out a new feature within its smart home app. Type with Alexa allows you to send messages to your digital assistant using a keyboard and text messages, rather than using your voice.

The new feature, which is rolling out as part of a public preview - _The Ambient _contributor Jennifer Pattison Tuohy noticed it pop up on her phone - means you can send discreet messages to Alexa for occasions when your voice might not be the best option; think cinemas, on the train, at a funeral and so on.

Sure, you could already search within the app for Alexa Routines and smart home device controls, but the new keyboard based input also allows you to ask queries such as diary updates, calculations, news headlines and the like - as well as acting as a pretty nifty search tool for smart home routines and devices with your Alexa ecosystem.

I also noticed the public preview of this feature in the Alexa app on my iPhone, and I’ve been playing around with it since last night. My first impression is that ‘Type with Alexa’ is what I’ve long wanted from Siri: having a silent conversation with a smart assistant that can control smart home accessories, interact with web services, and play music or podcasts is terrific. Anything you can ask Alexa with normal voice commands can also be typed now, so sending a message such as “play 305 by Shawn Mendes in the kitchen” from your iPhone will result in Alexa playing that song via an Echo speaker in the kitchen. (I’m aware that Google Assistant has offered a typing mode for a long time; however, I don’t use Google’s smart home products.)

Type with Alexa.

Type with Alexa.

I could achieve something similar with Siri by enabling iOS’ ‘Type to Siri’ Accessibility setting. The problem with that option, as I mentioned several times before, is that it replaces Siri’s voice interactions: if you enable ‘Type to Siri’, you’ll no longer be able to issue voice commands and the keyboard will always be displayed instead. I’m not the first one to ask this, but I’d love the ability to have a separate conversation with Siri in iMessage in a future version of iOS.

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Managing the Internet Access of HomeKit Devices with the Linksys Velop Mesh WiFi Router System

At WWDC 2019, Apple announced that HomeKit support would be coming to WiFi routers. Not a lot was known about what that would entail, until recently, when new and updated routers with HomeKit functionality began to hit store shelves. A few weeks ago, Linksys sent me its Velop Tri-Band Mesh WiFi Router System that added HomeKit support late last month. I’ve been using the system for a few weeks now and want to share the setup process and explain what HomeKit-enabled routers offer that other routers don’t.

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abode iota Review: A Flexible HomeKit Security Solution

For years, I had a traditional security system in my home that cost hundreds of dollars each year for the monitoring service that went with it. I ditched that system about two years ago in hopes of finding a cheaper, smarter solution, but I’ve had mixed success.

The products I’ve tried in the past have been plagued by unreliable hardware and limited functionality. That’s why I was interested in trying abode’s HomeKit-compatible iota Security Kit when they offered to send me a test unit. After several weeks with the kit, which is available in the US and Canada, I’ve been impressed with both the reliability and flexibility of the hardware.

The iOS app doesn’t match the quality of abode’s hardware, but the issues with the app are mitigated by a solid web app and HomeKit compatibility that provide alternative ways to control the system. I’d certainly prefer a better iOS app. Still, even as is, the combination of abode’s hardware and the services offer a flexibility that other systems I’ve tried just can’t match.

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HomeCam 2 Brings Auto Cycling of Camera Feeds, Improved Data Layers, and More

HomeCam by Aaron Pearce, which consolidates all of your HomeKit-compatible cameras into a simple, streamlined UI, has been updated to version 2.0 across the many platforms it supports. I’ve been a fan of the app since it debuted, and this update is an excellent refinement of the app’s original concept.

The value of HomeCam lies in its elegant UI that focuses first and foremost on your HomeKit video cameras. Apple’s Home app displays feeds from HomeKit cameras in one of two places. You can add them as favorite devices, so they show up at the bottom of the Home tab. Otherwise, though, your cameras only show up in the rooms to which they are assigned where they compete for space and attention with other accessories and scenes and aren’t live until tapped. I’ve been testing HomeCam with two Logitech Circle 2 cameras and an abode iota security kit camera, and the app’s design and availability on a wide variety of devices adds a level of flexibility to monitoring multiple cameras that isn’t possible with Apple’s system app.

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Portal Review: Immersive Ambient Noise with Philips Hue Integration

Ambient noise apps exist to help you focus or sleep, primarily. They provide a calming effect and complement mode-switching, whether that’s switching to a specific work project, switching from awake to asleep, or some other purpose. Portal, the ambient noise app that bears no relation to Facebook, works well for these purposes – in fact, focus and sleep are two of the three pillars Portal highlights in its name. However, the third pillar – escape – is what speaks most to the app’s distinct strength.

Portal doesn’t just offer a pleasant soundtrack to work or sleep by. As its name implies, its purpose is more specific and holistic than that, providing an escape portal into another environment entirely. Portal employs 3D soundscapes, Philips Hue integration, and imagination-inspiring visuals to make you truly feel, as much as possible, like you’ve escaped to a new place.

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CES: A Tour of the Most Interesting (and Strange) Tech Announcements

CES has been going strong all week with announcements of new gadgets: home automation gear, TVs, computers, and lots more. Many mobile phone makers and some big industry players sit out CES, but there is still plenty of news from companies big and small with new products and technologies to show off.

A lot of what gets hyped at CES is prototypes and concept devices that will never ship or will get delayed. Still, every year I find that CES is fascinating to study for the industry trends it reveals and the handful of gadgets I discover that I’d like to try.

After combing through hundreds of headlines and press releases, I’ve compiled a roundup of some of this week’s most compelling announcements. Feel free to skip around to the categories that you find most interesting using the table of contents below.

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Apple, Google, Amazon, and the Zigbee Alliance Announce Project Connected Home Over IP

In a press release today, Apple announced that it is part of a new working group with Google, Amazon, and the Zigbee Alliance called Project Connected Home over IP. According to Apple’s press release:

The goal of the Connected Home over IP project is to simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers. The project is built around a shared belief that smart home devices should be secure, reliable, and seamless to use. By building upon Internet Protocol (IP), the project aims to enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services and to define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification.

Apple says smart home device makers IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian will also contribute to the project. The group wants to make it easier for manufacturers of smart home devices to integrate with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant and will take an open source approach to the development of the joint protocol.

This is fantastic news. To date, many smart home devices have adopted support for some, but not all, smart assistants. It has also become all too common for companies to announce support for certain assistants was coming to their products only to delay or abandon it altogether. With a unified approach across the three major companies with smart assistants, support will hopefully be more consistent in the future.


Automating a Dyson Fan with HomeKit and Push Notifications

A few weeks ago, following a long research process, my girlfriend and I finally decided to buy a Dyson fan for our apartment – specifically, the Pure Hot + Cool model. We’ve been keeping an eye on this product for a while as a potential solution to purify air as well as heat our (small) apartment; unlike other Dyson fans, this one combines cooling and heating modes in a single compact, good-looking product that we’ve placed on top of an IKEA BESTÅ cabinet in our hallway. So far, we’re liking it a lot.

Whenever I buy a new appliance these days, one of my priorities is to ensure that it can become part of our HomeKit setup, either via native HomeKit support, custom integration via homebridge, or, if all else fails, a smart plug. As far as native HomeKit fans are concerned, I couldn’t find anything here in Italy that combined cooling and heating functions in a single product. Modern Dyson fans do not come with official HomeKit support either, but they can communicate over Wi-Fi using a proprietary service called Dyson Link. This service can be controlled via an iPhone app (which comes with a virtual remote and stats collected by the fan’s built-in sensors) or Amazon’s Alexa assistant. As I was researching the Pure Hot + Cool, I discovered a homebridge plugin that, with minimal configuration, allows you to add a Dyson fan along with its sensors and different modes to your Home setup as a series of accessories and sensors. And since I’m already using homebridge to bring HomeKit compatibility to various devices around the house (including two TVs), adding a new one wasn’t a hard decision at all.

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