iHome App Review: Half a HomeKit App

The best way to look at the iHome management app is as a necessary evil if you happen to have any iHome devices (primarily the iSP5 switch). If that is the case, you will need the iHome app to set up the switch and manage any firmware updates.

Beyond that, the app itself isn’t very useful as a HomeKit system manager.

iHome iOS App

The app is aware of your HomeKit rooms, zones, scenes and (to a limited extent) triggers. However, the only devices that appear in the app are power switching devices – it doesn’t recognize or display things like Hue lights, sensors, thermostats, etc.

iHome management app: device and room listings only show power control switches.

While the app ostensibly supports trigger and scene management, any scenes you have built in other apps that include non-switch devices will show those devices as a blank line in the scene editor. I would be very cautious about actually editing your scenes from within the iHome app as it is unclear what it will do with these non-switch devices.

For triggers, the iHome app supports basic time based HomeKit triggers and has support for Nest driven triggers. I don’t have a Nest device, so I wasn’t able to test or investigate the options for Nest integration, but for systems that use both HomeKit devices and Nest devices this feature might be appealing as it is the only manufacturer supported app I am aware of that would allow for integration between the two systems.

iHome Scenes and Triggers
iHome App Scenes and Trigger creation: As you can see, the app doesn’t display non-switch devices properly, with just blank rows for those devices in scenes you have created in other HomeKit apps.

The app also supports integration with the Wink platform, so you can add your iHome switches to your Wink setup either from within the iHome app, or from within the Wink app.

iHome Devices

The HomeKit compatible switches that iHome sells are nice, functional switches. At this time, the iSP5 is the only switch product available from iHome, but they have announced the iSP8 that will be released at some point this year. The iSP8 will also incorporate power consumption monitoring and tracking, and it will come with a physical remote control for the switch.

My main issue with the iHome iSP5 switches is that they don’t recover gracefully from network resets. Every time I reboot my router I’ve found that the iHome switches will disconnect from the router and won’t reconnect unless you power cycle the iHome switch manually, which typically means unplugging it and plugging it back in. Two of my switches are located behind the entertainment center bureau, so every time I need to reset these I have to pull the whole bureau out and reset them, which is a major pain.

That said, the switches have a nice form factor and are easy to set up. Relative to the other HomeKit switches I have tested to date they are generally a solid option.

Bottom Line

Once you use the iHome app to set up your iHome switches you won’t be using it again for any HomeKit system management, as it doesn’t support the majority of your HomeKit devices. I do recommend opening it up occasionally to check for firmware updates on the iHome switches, but if it wasn’t for that you could probably get away with deleting it from your phone after you set up the switches.

Crowdfunded SmartHome Projects

Many of today’s more popular SmartHome products and platforms even (SmartThings) got their start on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.

I recently spent some time on those sites browsing for SmartHome projects on them that might be of interest to readers of Life on Silicon, and this article highlights a handful of the more interesting projects on those sites today.

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series highlighting crowdfunded projects for SmartHome products, so if you are aware of any crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter, IndieGoGo or similar platforms that I haven’t listed here (or if you have a project yourself you’d like to see listed), feel free to use the form on the blog’s Contact page to reach out to me and let me know about it. I’m going to try to do an update with new crowdfunded SmartHome projects every couple of months or so, and will try to include any recommendations in future editions.

Fishbit Aquarium Monitor: Controller, Monitor and App
Fishbit Aquarium Monitor: Controller, Monitor and App

Fishbit Aquarium Monitor

The Fishbit is a monitor and controller for high-end aquarium setups. The full version (with monitor and controller, you can get just the monitor device or just the controller device) will provide aquarium environment monitoring via an app, and the controller is an app controlled power distribution unit for your aquarium devices, like lights and heaters.

Continue reading “Crowdfunded SmartHome Projects”

SmartHome Tech at Mobile World Congress

This year’s Mobile World Congress is wrapping up in Barcelona, and while the focus of the event is on mobile devices and technology a few items were announced that bleed into the SmartHome space.

LG announced a robot called the LG Rolling Bot, which might make it into actual production someday. The LG Rolling Bot lives in your home and can be controlled by your smart phone. The bot can control your TV (presumably with an IR blaster), has an 8MP webcam and two-way audio. Oh, and it has a laser pointer that can be controlled remotely. So yes, it is essentially an overgrown remote controlled cat toy. It will also be able to control other home appliances, likely LG smart appliances, but who cares? It’s a cat toy.

LG Rolling Bot
LG Rolling Bot (image by TechCrunch)

Meanwhile, Sony announced what appears to be a version of Amazon’s Alexa on steroids. As part of the Xperia line of Sony products, which currently includes phones and tablets, the new device is a voice controlled SmartHome hub of sorts. There isn’t much information available yet, and Sony’s own website only includes one image of the device (in a collage of other upcoming Xperia devices), so it looks like we’ll have to wait to see exactly what it can control to determine if it will be a real competitor to Alexa’s well integrated platform.

To HomeKit or Not to HomeKit?

introducinghomekit-feat-e1433955239818-150x150As you have probably noticed, the content on this site is focused primarily on HomeKit related apps and devices. While we recognize that there is a great big world of home automation beyond HomeKit (and that HomeKit is, at this time, actually quite limited), we do plan on maintaining a focus on HomeKit related devices and tools.

The reasons for this decision are fairly simple. The primary reason is that our own setup is HomeKit based. HomeKit also provides an excellent platform that allows novices to integrate many disparate devices from multiple manufacturers into one system. This in turn allows you to manage your entire home automation setup (assuming all of the devices are HomeKit compatible) from one app or tool.

This is a significant improvement over the historical approach to home automation and integration. Previous to HomeKit (and other similar platforms like Works With Nest and Google’s Weave) a DIY home automator would have had a very difficult time integrating all of their devices into one setup. The result would most often be the need to use multiple apps to manage all of the devices installed, and an inability to control everything with integrated scenes and triggers.

Beyond our setup being HomeKit based, we are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem in general, with iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, Apple TV, an Apple Watch etc. all part of our home network. Using primarily Apple devices makes it easy to configure and manage a HomeKit based automation scheme, so it just made sense for us to focus our home automation device purchase on devices that support HomeKit.

That said, we understand HomeKit doesn’t currently support everything you might want to have in your setup. As noted in a previous post, dimmer switch options are currently unimpressive with HomeKit. Sensors that can activate scenes as triggers are also an issue (Eve makes some great door/window open/closed sensors, but they still can’t trigger scenes, yet). Motion sensors in particular that support HomeKit aren’t very common yet, and the ones that are available are prohibitively expensive (really ConnectSense, $170 for a device that typically costs $30-50??).

To that end, we are also exploring technologies that will allow DIYers with a bit more technical skill to integrate non-HomeKit devices into their HomeKit configuration for control and management, including building scenes and triggers that utilize non-HomeKit devices. (More on that will be coming very soon.)

In terms of the devices wiki that we are building out on the site, we do intend to focus first on entries about HomeKit compatible devices. This will allow us to cover a breadth of devices across multiple categories quickly, and in the long term we will build out the depth within individual categories by listing devices that aren’t HomeKit compatible. In that case, we will also focus on devices that can be integrated into HomeKit systems via the bridging technology mentioned above.

HomeKit is still in it’s early stages, and it will be exciting to see it evolve in the short-term and long-term. It’s a great platform that makes DIY home automation much more accessible than it has been in the past.

App Review Update: Elgato Eve, Now with Triggers

Elgato released an updated version of their HomeKit management app yesterday, available in the iTunes App Store.

There is one major new addition to the app which changes some of the content of the review posted recently of the Eve app, primarily the addition of limited trigger management to the app.

When the app was reviewed, it did support scene creation and management, but it did not support any automated triggering of scenes. HomeKit overall supports scene triggers based on time of day, the user’s phone location (geolocation) and the current state or change in state of a characteristic of a device in the HomeKit setup. Many HomeKit management apps that support triggers for HomeKit scenes don’t support all of these options (a review of a HomeKit management app built by a developer that does not also provide HomeKit compatible hardware but does support all of the trigger options is in the works).

The most commonly supported HomeKit scene trigger, and the one that you will find in most manufacturer developed apps at this time, is time-based. The new Eve app from Elgato adds support for time-based triggers.

To access the trigger configuration in the Eve app (which has been combined with scene management), first tap on the settings gear in the upper right hand corner of the main view, then select “Automation” at the bottom of the list. The first view in Automation is where scenes can now be managed in the Eve app, and selecting “Timers” will take you to a view where you can manage time-based triggers. If you have built out time- based triggers for your HomeKit configuration in another app they will appear here, but geolocation and characteristic based triggers in your HomeKit configuration won’t be displayed in the Eve app.

Triggers in Eve
Triggers, or “Timers,” in the Elgato Eve HomeKit app. First, tap the gear in the upper-right corner to access settings, the select “Automation,” and finally select “Timers.”

Adding a timer is also fairly easy. At the bottom of the timer view is an “Add Timer” button. That will take you to a view where you select whether your timer should act once or repeat (if you choose repeating you will also need to set the repeating frequency), and the date and time you want the timer to execute. Next, you select a scene you want the timer to trigger (the scene needs to already have been created in your HomeKit configuration either in the Eve app or another HomeKit compatible app that supports scene management). Finally, give the trigger a descriptive name so you can recognize it later and you’re all set. Once you have created the trigger you can also tap into it to edit these settings or to toggle whether or not the trigger is enabled (disabling a trigger will allow you to keep a trigger handy for when you need it, but it won’t run while it is disabled even if the conditions for the trigger are otherwise met).

Trigger Creation in Eve
Creating a trigger in the Eve HomeKit app. First, choose the date and time for the trigger to run (and whether or not it will repeat). Second, select the scene to execute. Third, name the trigger.