As you probably know by now, your iPhone’s capabilities go way beyond voice calling, texting, and replying to emails. Thanks to Apple’s efforts to gradually introduce new iOS-related technologies and thanks to millions of gifted developers around the world, our iOS devices are receiving new capabilities on a yearly basis. One of those technologies is Apple’s HomeKit.
As we previously wrote, Apple’s HomeKit technology is not exactly new and has been around for several years now. However, this is a very large innovation that takes some time to reach its full potential. In 2016, we finally managed to get a couple of highly functional HomeKit devices. Furthermore, it seems like hardware and software developers are now more than willing to embrace this technology and to explore its capabilities. It will definitely be interesting to keep an eye on this technology as it develops since it has the potential to change our everyday lives.
In this article, we are going to take a look at the most exciting HomeKit gadgets that promise to make 2017 a successful year. This means that we won’t go over the basics of HomeKit and how to use it, which can be learned by reading our previously published guide. Instead, we’ll do a series of short reviews of the most exciting products.
LED Bulbs: Philips Hue 2.0 Starter Kit
Philips was one of the first companies to embrace HomeKit as well as one of a few companies that constantly invests into upgrading their product line.
The newest version of the Hue Bridge (the central device that connects the bulbs to your iPhone) works flawlessly with HomeKit but also extends its functionally to non-iOS devices like Google’s Nest Thermostat, Samsung’s SmartThings, Amazon’s Echo, and more. The new Starter Kit is priced at $200 and brings a set of brighter light bulbs. The original bulbs were able to produce 600 lumens, while the second-generation version goes up to 800 lumens, hitting 60-watt equivalence. However, the thing is that you only get that extra brightness at certain color temperatures. In other words, the second generation embraces some innovation but fails to go one whole step further. On the other hand, this doesn’t stop the Hue bulbs from being one of the best smart bulbs out there.
Just like with the first generation, you still get three Hue bulbs and the Hue Bridge, and you still need to use the same Philips Hue app on your iOS device to unlock this product’s full potential. Perhaps its biggest strength is Hue’s open approach to software, which allows third-party developers to create their own sets of controls for the light. It is Philips’ hope that developers will be able to bring new functionality as well. Even today, you get to choose from a variety of third-party apps that keep things fresh.
It is also worth noting that you can use Siri to control the bulbs. At the launch of Philips Hue 2.0, Siri was able of understanding the most basic of colors, like red, blue, and orange. However, Apple’s already given the digital assistant a vocabulary upgrade. What this means is that you can now ask Siri for other kinds of colors like teal, crimson, and gold (in addition to a score of others). Furthermore, you can ask for “light blue” for example. However, Siri doesn’t understand anything on the white light spectrum. If you ask for “soft white” or “daylight”, you won’t receive an answer.
One of the most interesting features of the first Philips Hue generation was the ability to create scenes. Now, you can use Siri for that, which lets you trigger multiple bulbs at once or change their colors at the same time. Philips has done a good job of making this happen since Hue scenes aren’t exactly programmed in the same way as HomeKit scenes. This is why you’ll need to visit your Hue’s app’s settings and pick “Siri Voice Control”. You will see your list of previously set scenes, so after tapping the ones you want to control using the digital assistant, Hue will translate them into something Siri can understand. This process is fairly straightforward and takes only a few seconds of your time.
Still, our advice is to try to get away from the Philips’ app and instead try to use Apple’s Home app (which comes preloaded on iOS 10). Using this app, you will be able to create HomeKit scene-creation protocols, without having to translate them to Siri. Additionally, you can program your Hue lights to work with other kinds of HomeKit gadgets. This is how you can create a “Goodnight” scene and instruct Siri to perform a set of operations after you say “Goodnight”. Siri could turn the light off and lock your door, for example.
Philips Hue is one of the best products when it comes to smart LED lights and should be your first option. Even though it’s usually priced at around $200, you can find it priced at $160 on Amazon.
THE GOOD: Works flawlessly with Apple HomeKit and other HomeKit-enabled devices. Creation of different scenes. Compatible with Siri.
THE BAD: Even though the second-generation brings improved brightness, this only works at certain color temperatures. Philips’ Hue app can unintuitive at times, but you can rely on Apple’s Home app instead.
Smart Lock: August
Last summer, we brought you an in-depth review of August’s Smart Lock. Since this was the first time we encountered a smart lock that is HomeKit compatible, we were more than impressed. However, the good news is that August worked hard on improving some of the kinks and now we have the second generation in our hands.
Just like August’s original Smart Lock, the second-generation retrofits to existing deadbolts. As we noted in our review, it’s wise to check out the full list of compatible deadbolts before you buy, to make sure that this Smart Lock is compatible with your existing deadbolt. However, this product will typically work with most thumb-latch models from Baldwin, Kwikset, Schlage, and other widely available brands.
In case you’re familiar with the first generation’s design, you won’t be surprised by the version 2.0. Even though there aren’t any major design updates, the company has done a good job of smartening up its configuration to make the physical hardware easier to interact with. There’s an easy-grip pattern that improves the ergonomics of manually locking and unlocking the Smart Lock. There are also magnets and a slightly tweaked design to better secure the faceplate which hides the four AA batteries. As we previously noted, the plate on the original model tended to slip off when you turned the lock, which isn’t the problem anymore. Finally, the version 2.0 brings a much-improved battery life (which wasn’t actually a problem, to begin with), so now you can count on using the Smart Lock from six to eight months before having to replace the batteries.
Installation is very similar to the first generation’s installation process, so we’ll skip writing about this part. To find out more about this, please read our review of the original Smart Lock. Instead, we’ll talk about functionality.
Once installed to your door, you will have to use the official August app to set up the Smart Lock. The app will scan and find your newly installed device, and you’ll have to name it. Then, you’ll be asked to calibrate the lock, which means you need to open and close it once time each manually, so the app can learn how much the motor needs to work and how far it needs to turn to lock/unlock. And that’s it.
Upon setting up your new Smart Lock, you will be able to lock and unlock your door when you’re within its Bluetooth range, send virtual keys to your family and friends, and allow temporary access to your guests. Thanks to geofencing, August Smart Lock will automatically lock/unlock your door once you’re near them. Needless to say, you can use Siri as well.
THE GOOD: Improved design, which also means improved installation. A clear improvement over the first generation. Integrated with Siri via Apple’s Home Kit. Works with other platforms as well.
THE BAD: Isn’t compatible with every kind of deadbolt.
Smart Lighting Switch: Lutron Caseta
Yes, there is a smart lighting switch that works with your iPhone! Actually, there’s a number of different products currently available on the market, but the most reliable one is Lutron’s Caseta.
This product is available in a variety of colors and tones and comes with a modern, elegant design. It easily blends in with most home décor since it isn’t big or clunky like some other smart products. Once installed, pressing the button at the top brings the lights to full brightness, while the button at the bottom fades them out. There are also buttons in the middle part of Lutron’s body, which are used for fine adjustments. What is important to be highlighted is that the smooth, gentle fades from setting to settings make each light feel like a high-tech feature, even though this device is easy to use.
To install this device, you will need a screwdriver and a few minutes of your time. However, make sure you flip the power off at the breaker first. You will have to connect the three wires (line, load, and ground), then screw the switch into place, connect the base plate, and flip the power back on at the breaker. Even if you haven’t done this before, you will receive easy-to-follow instructions, so you don’t have to be afraid of this process. Next, you will need to plug the Lutron Bridge into your router via Ethernet cable and connect to the device using the Lutron iOS app.
Lutron’s iOS app is a nicely organized application that is very easy to use. It comes with all kinds of customizations and different themes. You can tap to control individual lights from the home screen or set up “scenes” that take one tap to be activated. As you can imagine, you can name different lights and scenes, which comes in handy if you’re planning on using Siri to control the lighting in your home.
Aside from the basic set of options, Lutron’s app provides a few extra features that are separating this product from the competition. A geofencing mode lets you set up the lights to turn on and off whenever your phone enters or exits the area surrounding your home. A “Smart Away” feature cycles lights on and off in the evenings to make it look like you are home when you actually aren’t. Additionally, the app works great with popular smart thermostats as well like Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell, and lets you adjust the temperature within the Lutron app.
Lighting control is central to the modern smart home, and Lutron’s cloud-connected light switches do the job exceptionally well. The device is easy to install, easy to program, and easy to use. On the other hand, the product is nicely designed and fits into every home without an issue.
At $190 for a two-switch starter kit and $60 for each switch after that, Lutron isn’t exactly the cheapest option out there. However, it is well-worth the price. Just like with many other smart devices, you can find frequent sales and specials, so you can upgrade your home with the smart lighting switch for around $160.
THE GOOD: Easy to install, easy to use. Well-designed Lutron app offers plenty of helpful features.
THE BAD: Requires a hardwired Ethernet connection to your router.
HomeKit Showcase: Nanoleaf Aurora
Nanoleaf Aurora is the prime example of how HomeKit-based technologies are used outside “traditional” smart products. These are triangular, color-changing LED light panels that you can control using your iOS device – which is the pitch for Nanoleaf Aurora.
Instead of promising to make your life a bit easier or to make reduce your electricity bills, this product simply wants to be fun. It wants your smart home to express itself, which is perfectly fine if you have some extra money and if you’re willing to play with HomeKit.
At $200, you will receive nine triangular light panels. As you can see, this starter kit doesn’t come cheap. However, it isn’t outrageously expensive if we compare it to the three-bulb Philips Hue starter set. Just like Philips’ Hue bulbs, Aurora panels work with HomeKit which lets you toggle your lights and devices right from your phone’s Control Center or by using Siri commands.
You can connect any panel to any other triangular panel using a connector chip to join their sides. Power flows through all of them from the base attachment, which can handle up to 30 panels. If you want more than the starter kit’s nine panels, you will have to pay $60 for each pack which includes three additional panels.
Setting up the system is a bit of a delicate process. The panels nor the connection aren’t as sturdy as you would expect. The panels are using sticky tape to keep everything snug and secure. Nanoleaf doesn’t even provide a step-by-step guide on how to set the system up but instead tries to rely on your creative side. Since there are three sides to every panel, it’s up to you to connect them into some kind of a shape. However, once you set everything up, the real fun begins. The panels are quite bright, the hues are vivid, and the color-changing scenes look great. The structure looks like something out of a science fiction movie, which makes me sure that there are a lot of potential customers out there.
Just like you would expect, you can program your own scenes and name them. This way, you can use Siri to issue commands and trigger different colors and scenes. Nanoleaf’s app also lets you see and control other HomeKit smart lights, which also includes color controls for Philips Hue bulbs. Group bulbs like those into the same room as your Aurora panels, you’ll be able to use Siri to issue commands regarding a number of different smart bulbs. This is one of the biggest benefits of developers deciding to use HomeKit standardization.
Even though Aurora panels aren’t something that you must have, they are fun and they look great. Yes, they are pricey, but they are well-worth it. They take the novelty of color-changing smart lights and run further with it than Hue.
THE GOOD: Bright, colorful, easy to install and cool to look at.
THE BAD: Not really practical. They won’t fit in with every aesthetic.
Smart Thermostat: Ecobee3
Smart thermostats aren’t anything new when it comes to new-age smart devices. There are a lot of great options out there, but our strong suggestion is Ecobee3. However, we will suggest its lighter variant, which is more affordable but brings more than enough of helpful features.
The Ecobee3 features a 3.5-inch glossy black digital display with a touchscreen interface. It is very easy to use and comes with an intuitive system. All you need is to tap on the various options to change the temperature, view the forecast, set schedule and tweak other options.
When it comes to installation of every thermostat, it’s advisable to consult a professional prior to trying to install it yourself. However, there are many of you who are already familiar with this process, so getting the Ecobee3 Lite up and running is very straightforward. However, note that you’ll need to have a C wire to power the digital display since this product doesn’t come with a rechargeable battery (like Nest does, for example). This means that you’ll need to investigate a bit, but it will pay off in the long term. It should take around 15 minutes to install the Ecobee3 Lite or more, depending if you need to use a power drill to create new holes.
After you install and power the device on, you can start using it immediately. However, you will also want to connect it to your iOS device for remote access, which is the reason why we’re interested in using it in the first place. Upon downloading Ecobee’s app, you will see that the process of setting everything up is fairly simple. The app is nicely designed and tries to explain different options in an easy manner. You will be able to make adjustments and check the status of your Ecobee thermostat anywhere if your phone has a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Needless to say, you can use Siri to input voice commands and make changes on the go. However, if you want to use Siri, it is advisable to use Apple’s HomeKit app which is now natively available on iPhone that runs iOS 10.
For $169, you will get a highly reliable thermostat that features a responsive, simple to use the system. However, if you don’t plan to use HomeKit nor Siri, you might want to go for a less expensive app-enabled model.
THE GOOD: Easy to use. Intuitive on-screen controls. Works with HomeKit and Siri.
THE BAD: It doesn’t come with any activity-tracking sensors.
Smart Thermostat #2: Honeywell Lyric
In addition to the Ecobee3 Lite, we’d also like to highlight another great thermostat and that is the Honeywell Lyric. This is a beautiful design product built on Honeywell’s extensive experience at the forefront of thermostat technology. It excels at temperature control and energy management with numerous additional smart features.
The Lyric’s programmable thermostat works with the majority of 24-volt HVAC systems. The installation is fairly simple, just like with the Ecobee3 Lite. In case you don’t have any experience with this, it’s advisable to consult a professional.
Perhaps the most attractive feature is the Lyric’s ability to get information about humidity, temperature and outdoor weather to make your home comfortable. After all, this is a smart thermostat and this is where its intelligence can be noticed the most.
You can set a schedule that adjusts to a seven-day cycle so your system is only active when you are home. This helps reduce energy usage, which is something you should notice shortly after installing this amazing smart thermostat.
Another important thing is that the Lyric unit has a variety of onboard sensors that help optimize your heating system. The unit is designed to frequently check your equipment for potential issues and sends you Smart Cues when it’s time to do routine maintenance. It also checks live weather conditions and prepares your home for temperature changes. A motion sensor detects when you approach and lights up the display for easy viewing.
Another thing that always pops up in user reviews of the Honeywell Lyric is the company’s technical support. Since this isn’t the most intuitive device out there when it comes to installation and setup (if you’re a newbie), good customer support is essential. The company provides direct support through three major channels: email, phone, and live chat. Company representatives are helpful when you need to troubleshoot the device as well.
THE GOOD: Highly advanced product. Numerous sensors that give real-time readings.
THE BAD: Installation isn’t as simple.
HomeKit-enabled Camera: Withings Home Plus
Withings’ Home Plus camera comes priced at $200. Yes, it’s expensive but it’s made for those who really care about having the most technologically advanced security camera. It comes with a wide array of competitive features – 1080p video resolution, live streaming, and motion detection capabilities. On top of that, it even has additional sensors for detecting volatile organic compounds in the air.
When it comes to keeping your home secure, you can count on several helpful features. Thanks to its motion-sensing abilities, the Home Plus camera will send a notification to your iPhone, but will also send a recording to the cloud. You can review recorded events using the official app, where you have access to short clips. You can also create a time-lapse to watch 48 hours’ worth of footage in minutes.
The Home Plus model also detects sound and air quality issues. Thanks to a recent firmware update, all three sensors are adjustable which greatly helps with false alarms. As you can expect by now, the camera will also send a notification if your air quality falls outside of normal range.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of Withings’ Home Plus camera is its ability to learn. Over time, it will start to remember certain events. This way, if something happens that it doesn’t recognize as ordinary, you will be alerted. However, this option can be fine-tuned where you can choose to receive all alerts or only smart alerts.
When it comes to HomeKit compatibility, you can count on using Siri to control your camera. You can create a scene that will arm Withings, turn lights off, lock your doors, and adjust your thermostat. Once again, this is an amazing example of how Apple imagined different devices to work within one ecosystem and the Home Plus device makes sure to use that.
THE GOOD: Nicely designed. Plenty of helpful features. Amazing HomeKit integration.
THE BAD: Highly priced. Takes time to learn how to use the app.
HomeKit for Outdoors: iDevices Outdoor Switch
When we think of smart automation, we usually think about smart lights, blinds, thermostats and similar devices. However, there is a HomeKit-enabled device that allows you to control devices that are usually found outdoors and that is iDevices’ Outdoor Switch. This device serves as a smart extension cable. Let’s take a closer look.
When it comes to installation, it only takes a couple of minutes of your time. You need to plug the switch into a wall outlet, and then you need to connect some other device(s) to it. There is a free iDevices app that can be used to check on this device as well as to see other HomeKit compatible products. You can organize different products by zones and rooms, which also means that you can set up different “scenes”. One of the surprising features is the device’s ability to identify how much power certain devices use. This goes for devices that you plug into the Switch. You can review daily, weekly, and monthly reports. Even though this kind of energy reports are informative and somewhat helpful, this is currently just a gimmick.
What also needs to be noted is that the Outdoor Switch brings the dual outlet. In difference from the first generation, the new Switch provides the amperage and dual outlet to power 2,500 incandescent holiday bulbs, let alone more efficient LED bulbs, porch or pool lights. However, you can’t toggle these plugs individually, so plugging two products for distinct purposes doesn’t work. In other words, you can plug in any kind of an electronic device, but there’s only one on/off switch.
THE GOOD: Simple and fast installation. Can be very handy, especially during the winter season. Provides reliable energy reports.
THE BAD: Cannot toggle the plugs individually.
As we hope you realized by now, today’s market is full of highly useful HomeKit products that are designed to modernize your home. There are not novelty devices since they have the power to save you some money on utility bills and to make it easier to control different aspects of your home.
The only downside is that it can be quite expensive to buy several HomeKit devices at once. However, it’s a good idea to try with one product and to see if you can master different HomeKit and Siri controls. By introducing yourself to only one new HomeKit product, you are gradually entering the world of smart devices.