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.
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.
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.
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.
But one of the nagging problems with HomePod is the way Siri, regardless of the current time of day, will respond loudly at whatever volume you’ve previously set.
Whether it’s the middle of the night or super early in the morning, it’s all too common to ask Siri something and the answer shouted backed at you, only because you listened to music loudly sometime yesterday. Hopefully nobody wakes up, you curse at how dumb your supposedly “smart” speaker can be, and frantically try to turn it down.
Thankfully, iOS 13.2 provides a route to a solution by adding HomePods and AppleTV to scenes and automations – the HomePod didn’t fix this on its own, but, with a Home Automation, you can make it “smart” enough yourself.
As I explained when iOS 13.2 came out, you can put together these automations by using the ‘Adjust Audio Only’ option after selecting a HomePod or compatible AirPlay 2 speaker in the Home app. I just set this up for my three HomePods and Sonos One, and, sure enough, at 11:20 PM, volume was set to 15% on all my speakers (it should be raised back up to 50% tomorrow at noon).
In theory, I would like to turn this automation into a shortcut and add a Pushcut notification to confirm the volume change (and optionally shuffle a playlist by choosing a HomeKit scene from the notification’s actions). There’s a bug that prevents me from doing this in the latest iOS 13.3 beta, but I’ll keep it in mind for the future.
Following the announcement of AirPods Pro earlier today, Apple also released iOS, iPadOS, audioOS, and tvOS 13.2. Among various features (which we’ve detailed in a separate story here), one of the key improvements in this suite of software updates is extended flexibility of the HomePod’s music playback abilities.
In fact, by updating to the latest version of Apple’s software, you’ll gain a variety of new audio-related functionalities for HomePod, ranging from the ability to wave an iPhone atop the speaker to hand off audio to brand new integrations with the Shortcuts app as well as HomeKit scenes and automations. In this post, I’m going to go over all the different ways you can control audio playback on Apple’s Siri-integrated speaker, explain new shortcuts that can be built with these features, and share some first impressions based on my initial tests with today’s changes. We’re going to cover HomePod’s other new functionalities such as multi-user support and ambient sounds later this week. Let’s dive in.
What Apple’s Home app lacks in flexibility and power-user features, Mathias Hochgatterer makes up for with his similarly-named app Home+ 4. The app, which adds a ‘+’ in its name with this update to avoid confusion with Apple’s app, is as capable as ever, but with a reimagined design that adopts new iOS 13 features and adds even more flexibility for automating your HomeKit devices.
HomeRun 1.2 was released today from developer Aaron Pearce, the latest evolution of the Apple Watch app for controlling HomeKit scenes from your wrist. Its last big update introduced the ability to create custom complications on the Watch, which was a fantastic addition because it enabled users to implement the complications that work best for them personally. Today’s update extends the theme of user customization and programmability, but takes it to a whole new level – exceeding anything I’ve seen from another Watch app before now.
Version 1.2 of HomeRun revolves around one main feature – daily routines – which takes a couple different forms. In each manifestation, however, daily routines equip users to program which actions the app surfaces on their wrist during the course of a normal day.
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.