The future is in my house.
Over the last couple of months I have slowly been adding connected home equipment to my house. At first it was just a test using Amazon’s Echo. But over time, it has become more useful. With Apple’s Homekit becoming usefully finally, I have dabbled at expanding the set up. I suddenly see a usefulness for it, but it is not necessary.
For a set up, I have an Insteon hub with some light switches and a Philips Hue Homekit compatible bridge and lights. I have an Eve weather station as well. Initially, I used the Amazon Echo and Alexa, but swapped out the Hue hub for the Homekit one. More on that later.
I have outside lights on switches for Insteon, the front porch bulbs are Hue bulbs, and inside I have a number of Hue products including kitchen lights, light strips, lamps, and more.
At sunset each night, the front porch lights come on automatically. At 11pm, they dim themselves to keep the porch lit, but reduce the light shining into the house. At 6:50a.m. each morning, a light over the kitchen sink comes on as do the lamps in our living room while the outside lights go out.
At 11:30pm, any lights left on inside the house turn off by themselves. With the addition of the Ecobee thermostat tied to the Eve weather station, when the temperature drops (as it did last night) below a certain point, the A/C flips over to the heater mode.
Likewise, now when I come home late, the kitchen lights turn on when I get to the driveway. If we are out of town, I can control the lights and thermostat. When I head outside to take the trash I can say “Hey Siri, turn on the backyard lights” and the lights come on.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Most Homekit and Connected Home products come with a hub. That device plugs into your wireless router and then controls its own devices. I have a hub for the Insteon products and a hub for the Philips Hue products. Each takes a port on the wireless router. However, I have an Airport Express expanding my wireless so I have the Insteon hub plugged into that and the Philips Hue hub plugged into the main Airport Extreme wireless router.
Alexa vs. Siri
I actually liked the utility of Amazon’s Echo with Alexa better than Apple’s Homekit with Siri. Why? Well, I have a wife with a Samsung phone, two kids with no access to Siri, and me. Everyone could speak across the room to tell Alexa to turn on or off lights. I am the only one with Siri.
When I traded in the Philips Hue bridge that came with the original lights for one that is Homekit compatible, suddenly the Amazon Echo stopped working with it. I cannot get Alexa to work with any Homekit compatible bridge. It’s just not happening. This is a step back unless Apple releases something like Amazon’s Echo that just sits in the living room waiting to play music or answer questions.
The Homekit compatible Insteon hub likewise does not work with Amazon’s Echo and Alexa.
Also, Siri is slower to respond than Amazon’s Echo. Sometimes Siri is immediate. But often there is a delay. Amazon’s Echo was far more responsive.
The Amazon Echo app on my iPhone also integrated nicely and let me control everything. With Apple’s Homekit and Siri, there is no software. I had to go out and search for software to make everything work well and organize stuff.
Oh, and one big thing — the Amazon Echo never failed to do as I asked. Siri regularly is unable to do things and must be asked twice.
Siri and Software
The whole thing was a frustrating experience though and is surprising since Apple was involved. For example, I have four small can lights in the kitchen ceiling into which I placed Hue Luxe bulbs. I have larger cans in most of the ceilings, but these four are small and will not fit a full sized can spotlight.
With the Amazon Echo, I lumped all four of these lights together as “kitchen ceiling” and could say, “Alex, turn on the kitchen ceiling.” It worked well.
With the Home app, again really one of the best Homekit iOS apps out there, I could not connect those four together and assumed Homekit did not have a feature. I wound up having to create a scene called “kitchen ceiling on” and another called “kitchen ceiling off” to get those four lights to work together.
When I bought the Elgato Eve weather station, I downloaded that service’s Eve app. Turns out Home just did not have the “service groups” feature in the app (not that I could find). With the Eve app, I can take the four kitchen ceiling lights, connect them as a single service group called “kitchen ceiling” and it works well.
No one needs an Amazon Echo or a Apple Homekit set up. But it has solved a number of problems in our home. For example, we routinely forget to turn off lights when we go upstairs. The lights we always forget to turn off are the ones we use the most and are now Philips Hue bulbs. They come on when we come downstairs in the morning and turn themselves off at night.
Our backyard gets very, very dark at night. That’s where the trashcans are. I often take out the trash, realize the lights are off, and have to either use my iPhone flashlight or go back inside to turn the lights on. Now I just say, “Hey Siri, turn on the back yard lights.” Done.
Additionally, I often come in late from Atlanta. My wife and kids have gone to bed and the house is dark. Now, when I pull in the driveway my office lights and kitchen lights turn on. Once I head upstairs, I just say “Hey Siri, turn out the lights” and off they go.
Finally, we have an odd setup headed into our kitchen. Once we get down the staircase and turn left into the dining room, we pass no light switches until we make it halfway through the kitchen. Now, I just tell Siri to turn on the kitchen lights as I’m headed downstairs.
Not having a voice command setup for lights is no big deal. We’ve gone more than a century without it. And there are times when I think it is all ridiculous, e.g. sitting in my office telling Siri to turn on the lamp instead of reaching over and turning it on myself.
I maintain that the key to the connected home is controlling the plugs and switches, instead of the bulbs, but that is a more expensive proposition. Still, it has proven useful in the house already. Lights we used to forget to turn off now go out on their own. When the lights turn out, it is a good reminder for me that it is time to go to bed.
My wife and kids have zero use for the system now that Alex won’t work because of Apple’s Homekit. But hopefully that will change or Apple will realize it needs something like the Echo that is not just an Apple TV.
In any event, while I cannot believe how craptacular Apple’s whole non-existent Homekit software and help is, once you figure it out it is pretty cool. The future is in my house.