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.
Last week, MacRumors reported that beginning with iPadOS 16, the iPad would no longer be able to serve as a hub for your HomeKit accessories. MacRumors’ story was based on strings found in the iPadOS beta and was picked up by other websites, including The Verge.
However, it seems that’s not quite right. According to Apple spokesperson Catherine Franklin who contacted The Verge, the iPad will retain its current ability to operate as a home hub, but won’t be compatible with the Home app’s upcoming new architecture. That’s a shame, but at least users who rely solely on an iPad as their home hub won’t lose the features they currently have.
Alongside these releases, the Home app will introduce a new architecture for an even more efficient and reliable experience. Because iPad will not be supported as a home hub with the new architecture, users who rely on iPad for that purpose do not need to update the Home architecture and can continue enjoying all existing features.
Franklin also said that the upgrade to the Home app’s new architecture will be available in the app’s settings in a later iPadOS 16 update. No details on the new architecture were provided, although, during the WWDC keynote, a presenter mentioned that it is more efficient and reliable, allowing the Home app to handle many more accessories than before.
One aspect of what is going on with the Home app’s mysterious new architecture is undoubtedly the upcoming Matter standard. Matter, which incorporates Thread’s mesh network protocol to improve device connectivity and support over 250 devices at once, is slated to be released this fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple is building functionality on top of Matter for HomeKit devices too, but whether that’s the case and what it might entail remains to be seen.
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.
Apple’s fall OS updates will include a variety of HomeKit and home entertainment features. Unsurprisingly, some of those changes can be found in the company’s Home and TV apps, but this year, those apps only tell part of the overall story. To get the full picture, you need to zoom out from the apps, where you’ll find an interesting mix of new smart home device and entertainment features sprinkled throughout each platform.
Let’s start with HomeKit devices. This year, many of the changes coming to Apple’s OSes relate to two important categories: video cameras and door locks. Controlling both types of devices will become easier this fall, thanks to deeper integration with the upcoming OS releases.
WWDC keynotes cover a lot of ground, hitting the highlights of the OS updates Apple plans to release in the fall. However, as the week progresses, new details emerge from session videos, developers trying new frameworks, and others who bravely install the first OS betas. So, as with past WWDCs, we’ve supplemented our iOS and iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 coverage with all the small things we’ve found interesting this week:
I’ve long considered HomeRun by Aaron Pearce a must-have app if you’re into HomeKit automation. With version 2, which is available for the iPhone and iPad and is out today, HomeRun adds all-new ways to access HomeKit scenes with in-app grids and Home Screen widgets, along with an updated Apple Watch complication editor. Although the initial setup process can be a bit laborious, investing some time in a setup on multiple devices pays off, allowing you to trigger scenes in many more ways than is possible with the Home app.
Eve Systems has announced the availability of an update to its Eve Energy Smart Plug and Power Meter, which now supports HomeKit over Thread. Thread is the technology that began appearing in HomeKit devices late last year with the introduction of the HomePod mini. It’s a mesh networking system that allows devices to communicate with each other in your home without first communicating with a central hub or over the Internet. Thread-enabled devices also tend to be more responsive and use less power than devices that only use Bluetooth or rely on WiFi connections.
Because the new Eve Energy is a smart plug, it has a continuous source of power that allows it to act as a Thread router like the HomePod mini. That’s significant because the more edge routers you add to a Thread system, the more robust the mesh network becomes. However, there have been few devices other than the HomePod mini that could act in that capacity.
Eve Energy’s Thread radio acts as a border router for connecting other Thread devices in your home.
As a HomeKit device, the new Eve Energy plug can be controlled by Apple’s Home app or the Eve for HomeKit app. The device also reports the energy used by whatever it powers, giving users a way to assess the power consumption of their appliances and any power-hungry electronics.
I haven’t had a chance to try the new Eve Energy yet, but I hope to in the coming weeks. I’ve owned a couple of earlier-generation Eve Energy smart plugs, and both have worked better than other smart plugs I’ve tried in the past.
With the announcements over the past several months, it’s clear that Eve Systems is committed to building Thread into their products, which I’m glad to see. Thread support is still relatively rare to find in HomeKit devices, but the pace seems to be picking up. I’m eager to see how a larger, mixed Thread network of devices performs compared to older Bluetooth and WiFi-based ones.
I’ve experimented with a lot of HomeKit devices over the past few years, and I often think about how I would set my home up if I were starting from scratch. That is exactly what Quinn Nelson of Snazzy Labs has done with his new home:
Nelson’s video shows off some fantastic HomeKit devices, but more important than the gear is his approach to home automation. There are a lot of important lessons in this video. However, the two that resonated with me the most based on my experience are the benefits of sticking with one platform to reduce complexity and the importance of having manual options for smart devices. More often than not, I’ve regretted it when I’ve lost sight of those two principles.
Like Nelson, I’m a big fan of the Lutron Caséta line of HomeKit lighting products. We installed a light switch in our living room about two years ago, and I haven’t had a single issue with it ever. Now I just need to try to resist the urge to see what it would cost to replace my bedroom shades with the fancy Lutron Serena shades Nelson also showed off.
Aaron Pearce, the developer behind some of my favorite HomeKit apps like HomeRun, HomeCam, and HomePass, has a new utility that is out today for the iPhone and iPad called HomePaper that solves a very specific problem: boring Home app wallpapers. The room and home settings of Apple’s Home app let you assign a photo or one of nine colorful backgrounds as wallpapers. The trouble is that photos of a room in your home are often too distracting to serve as wallpapers, and Apple’s other choices are too limited and similar to each other. That’s where HomePaper comes in.
The Home App’s wallpaper choices are limited.
Pearce’s app combines the best of both kinds of default Apple wallpapers by taking a photo, desaturating it, and overlaying a colorful gradient. You could do something similar in a photo editor, but HomePaper automates the process with a simple app that lets you experiment with different looks, arriving at one you like quickly and easily, the hallmark of a great utility. The result is an image that helps visually differentiate homes and rooms from each other like a standard photo would but with an additional burst of color and style.
HomePaper provides many pre-built gradients as well as the ability to create your own.
HomePaper makes creating great-looking wallpapers effortless with a huge set of pre-built gradients that you can pair with an image in your photo library or by taking a picture with your iPhone or iPad’s camera. You can also pick the two colors for the gradient yourself using the iOS system color picker. When you’ve chosen or created a gradient you like, tap the download button in the bottom left corner of the screen to save it to your iCloud Photo Library, where it’s available to add to the Home app.
HomePaper is by far the simplest of Pearce’s apps, but it’s no less useful. I had settled on a single generic Apple-provided background that was the same for all my rooms because the choices didn’t inspire me to mix them up, and there was too much friction involved in creating my own. With HomePaper, though, I spent a few minutes snapping photos around my house and then applying gradients, achieving results that look great with minimal effort. The Home app looks nicer now when I open it, but it’s also easier to tell one room from another at a glance, which makes HomePaper a wonderful addition to my HomeKit apps.
HomePaper is free to download, allowing you to make one wallpaper. A $0.99 In-App Purchase unlocks the creation of unlimited wallpapers.