This week's sponsor


Manage and Protect Your Apple Devices in Minutes

Posts tagged with "HomeKit"

Apple Announces HomePod Available to Order This Friday, In Stores on February 9

Today in a press release, Apple announced that its HomePod device will be available to order beginning this Friday (January 26) for the previously announced price of $349, and will ship for a release date of Friday, February 9. HomePod will be available in two color options: White and Space Gray.

HomePod was first unveiled last June during Apple's WWDC keynote, with an announced ship date of December. It wasn't able to make that date, receiving a new 'Early 2018' estimated release in mid-November. Historically, that kind of designation has meant anytime up through April is possible. Fortunately, prospective HomePod buyers won't have to wait quite that long.

As Apple's first entry into the smart speaker market, HomePod is the company's answer to popular products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Unlike those other devices, however, HomePod is being marketed more as a premium-quality speaker, primed for music playback, than as a digital assistant hub. Siri is certainly an important component of the device, but at least for now, its role is being somewhat downplayed. At WWDC Phil Schiller announced that at launch, the HomePod's version of Siri will only support a limited number of domains.

While these domains cover the majority of Siri's normal functionality on iOS devices, some notable categories missing that would make sense for the HomePod include calendars, audiobook playback using iBooks, and Notes. With the HomePod's release so early in the year, it's possible we'll receive word on additional domains at WWDC this June. Until then, what you're getting with HomePod is exactly what Apple announced onstage: a powerful home speaker with Apple Music integration, which also happens to be a HomeKit hub that includes Siri, but in limited capacity.

One standout piece of news in today's announcement is that the HomePod's multi-room audio capabilities won't be available at launch, but instead will come later through a software update. This seemingly supports previous rumors that AirPlay 2's development may have been what led to HomePod's initial delay.

Update: The HomePod page on Apple's website confirms that not only is AirPlay 2's multi-room support delayed until later this year, but so is the previously demoed capability to have two HomePods pair together for offering stereo sound.

The HomePod website also provides new details on how users will be able to interact with HomePod in non-voice ways. In addition to using the 'Hey Siri' trigger phrase, you can also touch and hold the top of the HomePod and talk to Siri. There are also controls for audio playback tied to different sets of taps on the HomePod's surface, as shown below.

Apple and the Alexa Ecosystem

I recently read two interesting takes on the ever-growing Alexa ecosystem as it relates to Apple that made me think about the future of Siri and HomeKit. Here's M.G. Siegler on Amazon's plan to put Alexa everywhere:

The Echo Dot was the number one selling device across all of Amazon during the holiday shopping season. (The Fire TV stick with the Alexa-enabled remote was the second-most popular product.) Again, no absolute sales numbers beyond “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices” — more than we usually get, by the way — but no matter: tens of millions is impressive enough.

I’ve been thinking about this recently not just in the context of putting Echoes in hotels, but also relative to Apple. As we’re all well aware, Apple had to delay their foray into the space, the HomePod, into 2018. But not only did they miss the all-important holiday shopping season, I’m increasingly thinking that they may have missed the boat.

Believe me, I know how dangerous this line of thinking is with regard to Apple. Apple is almost never the first-mover in a market. Instead, they prefer to sit back and let markets mature enough to then swoop in with their effort, which more often than not is the best effort (this is both subjective in terms of my own taste, and often objective in terms of sales). But again, I increasingly don’t believe that this will be the case with their smart speaker.

Amazon has entered the speaker and home automation market with Alexa-enabled devices in two ways: first with their own Echo products, then with a growing roster of third-party manufacturers that are baking Alexa into their devices and almost treating Amazon's assistant as a "standard" feature like WiFi or Bluetooth. There's a fascinating parallel between Amazon Web Services – a suite of components embedded in the majority of modern websites and web apps – and Alexa Voice Service – a suite of voice APIs now embedded in hundreds of automation devices, general-purpose accessories and appliances, and web services.

Here's Ben Bajarin on what Alexa's presence at CES tells us about the ecosystem surrounding Apple:

While many Apple defenders want to dismiss the momentum we are observing with the Amazon ecosystem on display here at CES, while Amazon is similarly not present just like Apple, I believe it is a mistake to do so.

It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.

As I mentioned, our ability to measure any platforms ecosystem from what we observe at CES, is the main reason so many are paying attention to what is happening with Amazon’s Alexa platform. Google Assistant is certainly more present than it was last year, however, when you look at how third parties are talking about-and marketing-their support of these assistants they are putting significantly more effort into talking about Alexa than Google Assistant. Which is a telling signal. Again, to reiterate this point, third parties used to market, and spend energy talking about their integration with iOS or support of iPhone/iPad with the same rigor they are now talking about Amazon’s Alexa. This can not be ignored.

You could argue that most Apple-compatible gadgets and accessories announced at CES used to appear in tech blogs only to be forgotten a few months later because they were fads, vaporware, or ultimately not essential to the growth of the iOS ecosystem, and that the same will happen with Alexa-enabled devices we've seen this year. The difference, I think, is that this new generation of home automation products is an ecosystem in itself with higher value than, say, the iPad keyboards or stylii we used to see at CES. Alexa hasn't "won", but it has momentum among third-party companies making products that are or will soon be in our homes, sharing the same space of our TVs, routers, consoles, and mobile devices.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.


IKEA’s Trådfri Lighting System Adds HomeKit and Alexa Support

After a miscommunication in August, IKEA has added Alexa and HomeKit support to its Trådfri smart lighting system, which it originally promised back in May. The lighting system includes a gateway, remote controls, and LED lightbulbs that can be mixed and matched in different configurations at prices that are competitive with rival systems. For example, two Trådfri bulbs, a remote, and the required gateway costs $79.99 compared to two similar Philips Hue bulbs and a gateway for $69.99. Each gateway controls up to 10 lightbulbs using one of IKEA’s remotes, an iOS app, Amazon’s Alexa App, Apple’s Home app, or your voice via Amazon and Apple’s smart assistants.

The addition of Alexa and HomeKit support means the Trådfri lighting system can be integrated with smart home accessories from other companies and controlled with any Alexa or Siri-enabled device. The IKEA Trådfri app, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store, lets users control their Trådfri lights, customize settings like the warmth of the the light, and set timers.

The release of HomeKit-enabled devices has accelerated this year. An increasing number of manufacturers like IKEA are also hedging their bets by integrating Alexa support alongside HomeKit support, which is good for consumers who benefit whether they’ve chosen one system over the other or assembled a hybrid Alexa/HomeKit environment.

Logitech Circle 2 Camera Now Supports HomeKit

Earlier this summer Logitech released a new home security camera called the Circle 2. The camera is sleek and can be adapted to work well in different areas of the home thanks to a variety of accessories like a window mount or plug mount. Today, thanks to loosened restrictions for HomeKit devices Apple introduced alongside iOS 11, the Circle 2 is receiving HomeKit support through a software update.

At the time of its release, Logitech announced that HomeKit support would be added in a future update, but there were conflicting reports on exactly how that would work. Today in the press release where Logitech confirmed that HomeKit support has now arrived, they clarify that it is only available on the wired model of the camera. According to a Logitech PR rep who spoke with 9to5Mac, the wired requirement is one imposed by Apple, so it is unlikely to change anytime soon for owners of the wireless model. Instructions for setting up the wired Circle 2 with HomeKit are available in a support document.

The wired Circle 2 camera is available now from many retailers for $179.95, and Logitech notes that Apple stores will begin selling the product in October.

HomeKitty: A Crowdsourced HomeKit Database Written in Swift

Recent days have seen an increasing number of HomeKit accessories released, making it more difficult to keep up with all the products currently on the market. Enter HomeKitty.

HomeKitty is a new site created single-handedly by developer Patrick Balestra as a hub for all things HomeKit. It was written entirely in Swift, and contains basic information about every currently available HomeKit accessory. Thanks to the site’s categorical listings, you simply select a category of device – such as lights, outlets, or thermostats – to view all available products of that type.

Alongside a product’s image, HomeKitty displays its name, price, maker, and a link to either the product’s official manufacturer site or its listing in the Apple Store – that’s it. Rather than include detailed listings and ratings/reviews for HomeKit products, HomeKitty keeps things clutter-free and serves as a sleek, easy-to-navigate database that can help point prospective shoppers in the right direction.

HomeKitty was designed to serve as a crowdsourced site, so anyone can submit a product for inclusion in its database. Once approved, the product will be displayed alongside existing entries; currently over 80 products are listed. For now, every listing is restricted to products currently available for purchase, but in the future Balestra plans to add announced-but-unreleased products as well.