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Posts tagged with "HomeKit"

Philips Hue App Adds Siri Shortcuts Support

Promised earlier this year, the Philips Hue app now supports Siri Shortcuts allowing users to trigger scenes created in the app.

The Hue app received a major update earlier this year, which significantly improved the creation of scenes. Users can pick from pre-built scenes created by designers to evoke a particular mood or create their own using photos or a color picker to control the color and brightness of a group of Hue bulbs.

With the new Siri Shortcut support, those scenes can be triggered using Siri and incorporated as actions in custom shortcuts using Apple’s Shortcuts app. I have several Hue bulbs in my studio. They aren’t the kind that supports a wide range of colors, but I can adjust the brightness and warmth of each bulb. To test the Hue's new shortcut functionality, I created a scene called Focus Mode that turns the brightness up to 100% with a cool blue cast.

After using the scene, the Siri & Search section of the Settings app suggested I add my new scene as a Siri shortcut, which is how many apps approach Siri shortcuts. Frequently-used scenes will also be suggested on the lock screen, Siri watch face, and search.

There’s an alternate, better route to setting up a Hue shortcut though. Inside the app, if you tap on a scene, a pencil icon appears in the corner. Tapping on it gives you the option to add the scene to Siri, as well as edit, rename, or delete it. Other developers have added the ability to add Siri shortcuts in their app’s settings, but I especially like Hue’s approach. If you’re in the Hue app creating a scene, that’s the natural spot to add it as a Siri shortcut too.

With a Hue Siri shortcut in place, you can also use it as an action in custom shortcuts you create in Apple’s Shortcuts app. I set up a simple shortcut that turns on the lights in my studio and enables a smart electrical outlet that controls an air filter. Now, as I finish my morning coffee, I can say ‘Hey Siri, start Workday’ and the lights and filter come on as I head downstairs. The same sort of shortcut can be created to control lights using Shortcuts’ HomeKit support added with iOS 12, but having similar functionality built into the Hue app is a useful alternative if that’s where you’ve set up your scenes.

The Hue app is available as a free download on the App Store.


HomeCam 1.5 Adds Shortcuts to View Live HomeKit Camera Feeds in Siri, Search, and the Shortcuts App

I previously covered HomeCam, a HomeKit utility by indie developer Aaron Pearce, as a superior way to watch live video streams from multiple HomeKit cameras. In addition to a clean design and straightforward approach (your cameras are displayed in a grid), what set HomeCam apart was the ability to view information from other HomeKit accessories located in the same room of a camera and control nearby lights without leaving the camera UI. Compared to Apple's approach to opening cameras in the clunky Home app, HomeCam is a nimble, must-have utility for anyone who owns multiple HomeKit cameras and wants to tune into their video feeds quickly. With the release of iOS 12, HomeCam is gaining one of the most impressive and useful implementations of Siri shortcuts I've seen on the platform yet.

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Apple Updates AirPort Express Firmware with AirPlay 2 Support

Apple has released version 7.8 of the firmware for compatible AirPort Express WiFi routers to add AirPlay 2 support. Although there had been hints in iOS betas that the latest iteration of Apple’s peer-to-peer streaming technology was coming to the Express routers, its addition still came as a surprise since the routers were discontinued in April.

One of my favorite features of the AirPort Express is an audio out port that works with a 3.5mm analog or digital cable. Add an amplifier and speakers, and you’ve got a nice music streaming setup.

The Griffin 20 and first-generation Airport Express.

The Griffin 20 and first-generation Airport Express.

As soon as I heard about the new firmware, I had to try it. I have a Griffin 20 that was designed for use with the first generation AirPort Express that looked more like a MacBook power brick than an Apple TV. Unfortunately for Griffin, Apple changed the form factor of the Express in 2012, the same year its amp was released.

My outdoor AirPlay 2-connected speakers.

My outdoor AirPlay 2-connected speakers.

Still, I used the Griffin 20 and a first generation AirPort Express to drive speakers on the outside of my house for years. It was a simple way to enjoy music outside. It came with the downside that the original iteration of AirPlay had buffering issues, so I usually needed to leave my iPhone inside the house to stream. More recently, my six-year-old Express started to become flakey too.

Step one was to update a long-neglected AirPort Express.

Step one was to update a long-neglected AirPort Express.

I couldn’t update the first-generation Express to the new firmware, but I had a newer second-generation model in a box in my basement. I dusted it off, plugged it in, and updated the firmware using the Airport Utility app. I had to fiddle with my overly-complicated network setup to get it to work properly, but it didn’t take long before the Express was working.

I changed the Express' name and added it to the Home app.

I changed the Express' name and added it to the Home app.

The final step was to go into the Home app and add the Express as a new accessory. Because it predates HomeKit accessories, I couldn’t scan a code to add the Express. Instead, I added it manually using the ‘Don’t Have a Code or Can’t Scan?’ button in the Home app. Now, I have music playing perfectly synced on our back patio using the AirPort Express and in our living room using my HomePod and Apple TV. I also have the convenience of picking my outdoor speakers from the sources list in Control Center and using Siri to move music to those speakers without the buffering issues I experienced with the first version of AirPlay.

Music, everywhere.

Music, everywhere.

It’s a shame the AirPort Express was discontinued. Not every situation justifies the expense of a HomePod. Nor are those devices practical outdoors or in other environments. Fortunately, the AirPort Express remains an option for now if you already own one or can find a used or refurbished one for sale.


Signify Introduces New Indoor and Outdoor Lighting Options

Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) has been steadily expanding its Hue lineup of smart lighting products for some time now. Best known for its LED light bulbs, which support HomeKit and other home automation systems, the company also offers a wide range of lamps and light fixtures designed to accommodate a wide range of environments. As previewed for The Verge, the most recent expansion of its product line expands its smart lighting options both inside and outside the home.

Outdoors, Signify announced weatherproof light strips that come in 7-foot and 16-foot models for $89.99 and $159.99. Inside, Signify has added the Ascend collection, which incorporates Hue bulbs and a uniformly-shaped light cover that is offered as a tabletop lamp ($129.99), pendant fixture ($179.99), sconce ($99.99), and floor lamp ($179.99). In addition, Signify introduced the Being pendent ($249.99), a ring-shaped ceiling fixture, the simple Enchant pendent light ($99.99), and a circular, lighted mirror ($249.99) and ceiling light ($179.99) designed for bathrooms.

Most of the new lighting options will be available in October, but the Enchant pendant light and bathroom lights will go on sale August 20th.

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iOS 11.3 and HomeKit’s Software Authentication

Mikah Sargent, writing for iMore, on the importance of software-based authentication for HomeKit devices that Apple officially rolled out with iOS 11.3 last week:

Up to this point, commercial accessories were also required to incorporate Apple's hardware-based Authentication Coprocessor in order to obtain HomeKit certification. The coprocessor handled Apple's strict rules for encryption and security for HomeKit-enabled accessories. Apple takes HomeKit security seriously — the company says all HomeKit sessions are end-to-end encrypted and mutually authenticated (authenticated by all parties). Each communication session also includes something called "perfect forward secrecy," meaning that encryption keys aren't reused — a new key is generated for every session.

These strict rules meant most companies had to build accessories specifically with Apple's HomeKit requirements in mind. It was a beneficial rule for consumers in terms of privacy and security, but it also meant — at least at the beginning — fewer available HomeKit-enabled accessories. Companies who already had smart home products on the market would need to rethink their products if they wanted to offer HomeKit-enabled accessories. That changes as of iOS 11.3.

I was under the assumption that HomeKit software authentication was already available since Apple announced it at WWDC '17 (in fact, I covered it in my iOS 11 review here). As Sargent notes on Twitter, however, accessory makers only received support for software authentication with iOS 11.3, which explains why we haven't heard of major "HomeKit software updates" yet. Assuming that Apple's certification process for HomeKit accessories is still going to take weeks, I'm curious to see if software authentication will at least make it easier for third-party manufacturers to consider HomeKit integration.

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Erasing Complexity: The Comfort of Apple’s Ecosystem

Every year soon after WWDC, I install the beta of the upcoming version of iOS on my devices and embark on an experiment: I try to use Apple's stock apps and services as much as possible for three months, then evaluate which ones have to be replaced with third-party alternatives after September. My reasoning for going through these repetitive stages on an annual basis is simple: to me, it's the only way to build the first-hand knowledge necessary for my iOS reviews.

I also spent the past couple of years testing and switching back and forth between non-Apple hardware and services. I think every Apple-focused writer should try to expose themselves to different tech products to avoid the perilous traps of preconceptions. Plus, besides the research-driven nature of my experiments, I often preferred third-party offerings to Apple's as I felt like they provided me with something Apple was not delivering.

Since the end of last year, however, I've been witnessing a gradual shift that made me realize my relationship with Apple's hardware and software has changed. I've progressively gotten deeper in the Apple ecosystem and I don't feel like I'm being underserved by some aspects of it anymore.

Probably for the first time since I started MacStories nine years ago, I feel comfortable using Apple's services and hardware extensively not because I've given up on searching for third-party products, but because I've tried them all. And ultimately, none of them made me happier with my tech habits. It took me years of experiments (and a lot of money spent on gadgets and subscriptions) to notice how, for a variety of reasons, I found a healthy tech balance by consciously deciding to embrace the Apple ecosystem.

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Philips Hue Outdoor Lights Arrive This Summer

Philips has announced the launch of a major expansion in Hue lighting products into the great outdoors. Just in time for the season of neighborhood BBQs, the assortment of outdoor Hue products includes standard lighting units for mounting on your home's exterior, along with a couple products uniquely suited for occupying the grounds surrounding your house.

The new Lily product is a spotlight for highlighting different areas of your landscaping; it will be available in a 3-pack for $279. The Calla bollard is ideal for placement along a pathway, or at central gathering places in your yard; it will retail for $129. Both of these products feature the full range of color options available with many other Hue lights, while the wall-mounted lights will be limited to a white range and start at $49.

Hue's outdoor products will work similarly to its existing lineup of indoor lights, with the Hue bridge acting as a hub for them all, and full HomeKit support. They are scheduled to release in the U.S. and Europe in July.

Philips has established a strong reputation for its Hue products as the go-to smart lighting option, and for those invested in that ecosystem already, it's great to see new and diverse products continue to be made available.