Thread has a problem. It was supposed to be the low-energy, wireless protocol that lets all of your smart home devices talk to each other no matter who built them. However, in practice, devices from different makers don’t play very well with each other, often resulting in multiple Thread networks, largely defeating the purpose of the standard.
Thread Group’s plan to fix the multi-network problem is to standardize how border routers share credentials with border routers from different manufacturers. In a blog post released at CES this week, the group says these changes should make it easier to add a new Thread border router or Thread device to an existing network. The result will be “a single, larger ranging Thread mesh network, including multiple Border Routers, which in turn can increase the reliability of all the devices in it.”
That sounds great, but like any standard, it’s likely to take a while to filter through to the devices you use in your home. Still, it’s progress and a reason to be optimistic that eventually, your smart home devices may play nice with each other no matter who makes them.
After what already feels like a week of CES, it’s the official day one of the conference. There have been a ton of announcements already. As anticipated, gaming is very big this year, with new handhelds, laptops, and other devices announced. Interesting new approaches to hybrid computers, ASUS’s first NUC, and a handful of smart home devices have been announced already, too, so let’s dig into the latest.
Ever since Apple’s OSes were updated in the fall, I’ve been intrigued by the Home app’s new Clean Grid Forecast feature that predicts periods when the energy you use is ‘More Clean.’ The feature immediately reminded me of Clean Energy Charging, which works with Optimized Battery Charging, to charge your iPhone during periods when the electricity generated in your area is cleanest.
However, Clean Grid Forecast also raised more questions in my mind than it answered, like ‘What does More Clean mean?’ and ‘How does Apple know if the energy is cleaner?,’ and ‘How much cleaner is it anyway?’ These are the kind of answers that GridStatus.io, a website that offers electrical grid data, set out to answer by comparing Apple’s ‘More Clean’ periods with publicly available energy generation data.
A couple of weekends ago, after we put up our Christmas tree, I broke out Hue’s Festavia lights, which the company recently sent me to test. Ever since we moved in late 2022, we’ve had a generic string of big-bulb white lights hanging around the perimeter of the second-floor balcony that I controlled with the help of an outdoor smart plug. The setup provided a little extra light and atmosphere whenever we sat outside in the evening, which I enjoyed. However, I was also curious to see how I could take the setup further and add some holiday cheer with a set of the Festavia lights. So, instead of putting the lights on our tree, I replaced our existing balcony lights with the Hue lights.
Matthias Hochgatterer’s Home+ 6 for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch is one of the most powerful HomeKit apps around, offering automation based on functionality exposed by Apple’s HomeKit framework that its own Home app doesn’t even use. The app also does a terrific job of surfacing sensor data that is buried deep in the Home app, like details about the air quality in your home if you have a sensor that monitors that.
Home+ 6.2 includes a new Smart Group dedicated to battery health.
With version 6.2 of Home+, Hochgatterer has added a new section to the app that reports the remaining charge for any battery-operated HomeKit accessories, such as window and door sensors. The new section, which color codes its battery icons according to the remaining charge, is accompanied by a new set of small, medium, and large-sized widgets that can be customized to show all of your battery-operated devices or a subset picked by you. Like the smart section in the main app, the rings around each device icon are color-coded, making it easy to pick out any with low batteries.
The accessories and scenes widget has added room identifiers.
Home+ also offers device widgets that have added the name of the room to which they’re assigned, making it simple to tell accessories apart in the widget. However, the accessory and scene widgets are not compatible with iOS and iPadOS 17’s new interactivity. Tapping an accessory or scene will trigger it, but the Home+ app opens in the process. Having gotten used to iOS and iPadOS 17’s interactivity, I hope Home+ adds support for it in the future.
Version 6.2 is a small update for Home+, but one I appreciate all the same. Battery data is too buried in the Home app, and with Home+’s new widget and smart section, I now know I have a Hue dimmer switch that needs my attention. Plus, if you haven’t checked out Home+ in a while, it’s worth exploring its automation tools, which are some of the best available in any HomeKit-based app.
Last week, I wrote about the Sonos Move in MacStories Weekly. I love the Move’s portability and rich, warm sound, which make it perfect for use in multiple places around my house and outside. In fact, I’ve enjoyed the Move so much that I’d begun looking at Sonos soundbar and subwoofer options, anticipating that the original HomePods I use with my living room media setup would eventually need to be retired.
Then, Apple released the HomePod (2nd Generation), which iterates on the original version. I had hoped that Apple would make a soundbar of its own, so when all we got was a HomePod, I was disappointed. That pushed me further into the Sonos camp, but with my original HomePods going strong, my window shopping has been just that: window shopping.
However, after watching Stephen Roble’s latest video comparing the new HomePod to its predecessor and the Sonos Beam and Arc soundbars paired with subwoofers, my interest in soundbars has waned. Robles evaluates the HomePods from a bunch of different angles, from music and movies to smart home integration, making a compelling case for a pair of the new HomePods as the best value for someone who wants a multipurpose device.
When I think about it, that’s exactly my use case. My pair of original HomePods are the only speakers on the main floor of our house. I AirPlay podcasts and music to them, use them to control HomeKit devices, and for watching TV and playing games on my PS5 and Xbox.
I’m still disappointed Apple didn’t announce more than a new HomePod last month. I’d like to see the company explore new home-centric devices that address use cases beyond speakers. Still, for audio, it’s hard to argue against the HomePod.
I’ve been through dozens of additional press releases and stories from CES and have collected all of the smart home, electric vehicle, and gaming news that has caught my eye since yesterday’s story on displays and TVs.
Nanoleaf, which introduced some of the first Thread-compatible lightbulbs I’ve tried, made several announcements at CES this week. Nanoleaf is jumping into synchronized TV backlighting with the Nanoleaf 4D, a camera-based setup that synchronizes the colors displayed on your TV with light strips attached to its back. Unlike Philips Hue, which offers a similar system powered by its separate Play HDMI Sync Box, the Nanoleaf’s camera sits on top of your TV, where it picks up the colors of whatever is playing. Nanoleaf 4D is expected to ship in Q2 2023 and start at $99.99, according to The Verge.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Home app since moving to North Carolina. I moved right after WWDC, so I’ve disassembled, reassembled, and reconfigured my home automation setup, all in the midst of testing the latest iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS betas. What I’ve learned is that the Home app’s new design is much better for navigating a large collection of smart devices than before, but the app’s changes don’t go far enough. The app’s automation options are still too rudimentary, which limits what you can accomplish with them. Still, the update is an important one worth exploring because it promises to relieve a lot of the past frustration with the Home app.
One question that’s fair to ask about Home’s redesign is: Why now? The app’s big, chunky square tiles have been a feature of the app since the start and criticized just as long. The issues that I suspect have spurred the change are two-fold. First, the square tiles of the app’s previous design were too uniform, making it hard to distinguish one device from another. Second, they wasted space. That was less of a concern on a Mac or bigger iPad, but no matter which iPhone you used, Home could never display more than a handful of devices. Both issues have been problematic for a while, but with the Matter standard poised to bring more devices into the Home app, the issues were bound to get even worse without a redesign.
Say goodbye to Home’s sea of square tiles.
Since Home was first released, Apple has tweaked the iconography available in Home and added a row of status buttons along the top of the app, but the big space-wasting tiles endured. That led me to control my HomeKit devices with Siri most of the time. That’s not a bad way to control devices, but it’s not as reliable as tapping a button. Plus, the app is just more convenient than Siri in many situations, like when I’m already using my iPhone for something else or when it’s early in the morning, and my family is still asleep. That’s why I was so glad to see Apple rethink how Home uses valuable screen space and the way devices are organized.
The Consumer Electronics Show was back this week as an in-person event in Las Vegas for 2022 despite the current COVID surge, which caused many large companies to pull out of the show or scale back their plans. Still, that hasn’t stopped companies from announcing a wide variety of products planned for the next year and beyond. New TV technology and home automation are big again this year, as are new takes on existing tech.
After sifting through the headlines and press releases, I’ve compiled a roundup of some of this week’s most intriguing announcements. Feel free to skip around to the categories that you find most interesting using the table of contents after the break.