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.
Philips has released an update to Hue, the companion app for its line of smart lightbulbs. The user interface will be familiar to existing users, but the update introduces a refreshed design that looks better than the prior version and surfaces features that used to be harder to find. Philips has added a bunch of new built-in lighting scenes too.
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.
I'm a big fan of HomePass and Homecam, the two HomeKit utilities created by indie developer Aaron Pearce to store accessory setup codes and view live feeds of HomeKit cameras, respectively. I covered both apps a few times on MacStories this year, and I'm glad to see two substantial updates released by Pearce today that address all my complaints from previous versions.
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.
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.
I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with home automation gear since late last year: lightbulbs, light strips, electrical plugs, and door sensors, among other things. Most of the devices I’ve tested support Apple’s HomeKit APIs and those that don’t, I plan to integrate with Homebridge. That means I’ve also spent a lot of time in Apple’s Home app, and despite poking around in every corner of the app, I still find it frustrating and hard to use.
I set the lights up as a group in Home and trigger them with a motion sensor. As soon as I open the door to the basement, the lights come on. I added a Hue switch on the wall as a shortcut for turning the lights on and off too.
I recently got an Elgato Eve door sensor for my back door. I figured it would be nice to know when my wife and son got home in the afternoon if I'm working away with the door closed, listening to music, and don't hear the back door open. I can get alerts from the sensor on my Apple Watch and iPhone, but I thought it might be fun to also turn the Hue light on my desk red when the door opens as a visual cue. That turned out to be harder than I anticipated.
If you've been playing around with home automation on iOS, you know that managing accessory pairing codes isn't exactly fun or convenient. While iOS 11 added support for QR codes and special NFC pairing tags, most accessory makers still stick basic alphanumeric codes on the back or at the bottom of accessories and essentially require you not to lose them. That's not ideal. HomePass aims to be a single repository where you can easily keep track of all your setup codes, sync them across devices with iCloud, and even protect them with Face ID. Instead of taking pictures of your codes and storing them in Apple Notes (which is what I've been doing), you can collect every HomeKit code in HomePass, where they'll be presented alongside device names, HomeKit rooms they belong to, and custom icons.
I've been testing HomePass for the past couple of weeks, and there are some nice touches I want to point out. First, if you grant the app access to your HomeKit data, it'll be able to see existing accessories and allow you to simply enter the code without choosing a device name or icon (you can also create new accessories from scratch). In addition, the code displayed in the Code field of a device's detail view is formatted with the same shape and font used on physical setup codes; this means you can open HomePass on your iPad and scan a code directly with the Home app on your iPhone. Lastly, you can add notes to your accessories and export everything as CSV if you prefer to have an additional backup of your accessory database.
One of the many shortcomings of Apple's native Home app is the lack of deeper organizational tools for users who own dozens of HomeKit accessories and need a better way to store their codes. Ideally, such a feature shouldn't be needed, but in my experience things sometimes go wrong and you may need to reset an accessory and add it to HomeKit again. When that happens, you don't want to go hunting for the setup code on the back of a thermostat. I highly recommend using HomePass instead, which is available at $2.99 on the App Store.
Homecam displays a live grid of all the HomeKit-enabled cameras in your house. That's it. Instead of having to look for cameras in specific rooms or at the bottom of the main accessories list in Apple's Home app, you can launch HomeCam and see them all at once. Then, you can tap on a camera to watch live footage in full-screen, and optionally add a camera to the Today widget as well. Soon, you'll also be able to control accessories in the room where the camera is located.
Homecam's widget is particularly impressive as it can also display live footage from each camera without having to load the main app – and it works both over WiFi and with remote access on cellular connections. I can't recommend Homecam enough if you own multiple HomeKit cameras and have been looking for a quick way to switch between them.
While my story focused on iOS, Homecam is also available on the Apple TV, where it takes advantage of the big screen to let you keep an eye on even bigger real-time video feeds from HomeKit cameras around the house. And today, Homecam for tvOS received a substantial update with a feature I hope Pearce will soon bring to the iOS version as well: room-based accessory details and controls.
In the new Homecam for Apple TV, you can long-press on the Siri Remote to bring up a menu that lists controls for sensors, switches, and lights located in the same room as the camera. This allows you to, say, monitor your sleeping baby and progressively dim the lights, or remotely check on the state of any appliance connected to a smart plug. In addition, Homecam can now pull in details from sensors (for temperature, humidity, and air quality) and overlay them on the full-screen video, so you can see what the temperature is, turn the fan off, and visually confirm that it worked.
I've been testing this Homecam update for the past couple of days, and, while I continue to fundamentally dislike the Siri Remote's fiddly touchpad, it was fun to watch the dogs sleep on the sofa and wake them up by changing the color of the lights or turning the TV on and off (yes, we did apologize to them with treats afterwards). Pairing a live video feed from a HomeKit camera with data layers and controls from the same room makes perfect sense, and I hope this feature makes it to the iOS app soon.