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Posts tagged with "HomeKit"


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.


It’s Time for a Complete Home App Makeover


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.

Last week, I tried to configure something new in my studio that illustrates several of the Home app’s problems. I have several Hue lights: there’s one over the steps leading to my workspace, four recessed ceiling lights, a floor lamp, and a desk lamp. It’s a lot of lights, but my studio is in the basement, and the lights help keep it from feeling like a cave.

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.

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HomePass Can Store All Your HomeKit Setup Codes

Developed by Aaron Pearce (the creator of Homecam, one of my favorite iOS apps this year), HomePass is a handy utility for iPhone and iPad to store HomeKit setup codes.

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 for Apple TV Adds Room-Based Accessory Details and Controls

I first covered Aaaron Pearce's Homecam app last week, noting how this is the app you need to have if you own multiple HomeKit cameras and want a dashboard to monitor them all at once.

I wrote:

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.

Homecam for iOS and tvOS is available on the App Store at $4.99.

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HomePod Review Roundup

Initial orders of Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker will arrive on doorsteps and in Apple stores beginning Friday in the US, UK, and Australia. Today, reviews were published by several media outlets that have had about a week to test the HomePod. Apple also invited several journalists for a tour of its audio labs in Cupertino with Phil Schiller, hardware VP Kate Bergeron, and senior director of audio design and engineering Gary Greaves.

The consensus of the first wave of reviews is that the HomePod sounds fantastic. Apple has brought its engineering expertise and computing power to bear in a way that reviewers say produces remarkable sound for the HomePod’s size and price.

However, Siri’s limitations and the lack of support for third-party music streaming services also mean that the HomePod’s voice assistant features lag behind those of the Amazon Echo and Google Home. As a result, the HomePod’s appeal will likely be limited to people who already subscribe to Apple Music, use iOS devices, and care about high-quality audio.

Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch:

Apple’s HomePod is easily the best sounding mainstream smart speaker ever. It’s got better separation and bass response than anything else in its size and boasts a nuance and subtlety of sound that pays off the 7 years Apple has been working on it.

As a smart speaker, it offers best-in-class voice recognition, vastly outstripping the ability of other smart speakers to hear you trying to trigger a command at a distance or while music is playing, but its overall flexibility is limited by the limited command sets that the Siri protocol offers.

Buy a HomePod if you already have Apple Music or you want to have it and you’re in the market for a single incredibly over-designed and radically impressive speaker that will give you really great sound with basically no tuning, fussing, measuring or tweaking.

Nilay Patel sums up what that means for everyone else:

The Apple engineers I talked to were very proud of how the HomePod sounds, and for good reason: Apple’s audio engineering team did something really clever and new with the HomePod, and it really works. I’m not sure there’s anything out there that sounds better for the price, or even several times the price.

Unfortunately, Apple’s audio engineering team wasn’t in charge of just putting out a speaker. It was in charge of the audio components of a smart speaker, one that simply isn’t as smart as its competitors.

That’s really the crux of it: the HomePod sounds incredible, but not so world-bendingly amazing that you should switch away from Spotify, or accept Siri’s frustrating limitations as compared to Alexa.

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