Not Sure HomeKit Makes Home Automation Easier

Home finally workingWhen the Hue Light system came out a few years ago, Steve really wanted to dip his toes into the home automation fun. We got the Hue Hub and plugged it into our router, and installed the three bulbs into a few lamps. It was pretty much a party trick, changing the colors from white to red to blue to mess with each other and guests in our home.

When the SyFy channel connected the TV show The Expanse to Hue, Steve was thrilled to have something for his Hue bulbs to do. It’s actually a pretty cool use. The lights change according to what’s going on during the show – dark and creepy in dark and creepy scenes, bright in brightly lit scenes. He loves it.

But like most people, we’re getting pretty worried about IoT security. Even though we had the Hue bridge and bulbs on our completely separate, dedicated router from our real computers, and even though we have NAT-PMP turned off, we still would rather be more secure.With iOS 10, Apple finally introduced a centralized tool for managing your IoT devices called Home. We knew that Hue had come out with a new version of their hub that was HomeKit compatible and would let us use our existing bulbs so this seemed the right time to dip our toes a little deeper into home automation. Now our Hue devices could play on the big girl network and we’d be super secure because of the hardware encryption. Plus, with Apple Home as the interface, we knew that we’d have a simple and easy way to configure the device.

Well, that’s not exactly how it worked out.

Let’s start at the beginning, skip most of the middle gory bits and then circle back to the end of the story. I bought Steve the new Hue bridge as a present and he was super excited to set it up. We fight over things like this but it was HIS present so he got to do it. He unplugged the old hub from the Airport router, and plugged the new hub into the Netgear X8,

Home add accessory by barcode scanHe opened the Home app on his iPhone and tapped add accessory. Immediately the Home app saw his new shiny hub and asked him to scan the official HomeKit number on the bottom. Boom, done. It just works. Well time to play with the bulbs! But Home said he had to go to the manufacturer’s app to play with the bulbs.

He launched the Hue app and while it could still see the hub, it couldn’t see any of the bulbs! Steve went off to the Googles and discovered that to switch hubs, you must NOT unplug the old hub until you’ve transferred over from the old hub. Oh good grief. He tried to back up in the process but he got frustrated after an hour or so and gave up.

Fast forward a couple¬†weeks until this week when I decided to take another run at it. After a bunch of poking and prodding and resetting I got the two hubs to talk to each other and transfer the data from one to the other. This data is merely the name of the three lights, and the name of the hub. Maybe Steve’s Hue user account is in there somewhere, too. The two devices blinked lights back and forth at each other as though they were transferring terabytes of secret information and finally finished.

Now the Hue App can see the new Hue hub and it knows the names of the bulbs. I was even able to blink them on and off during the setup. Ok, great. Back to the Home app.

Around this time I discovered that once you declare a Home with the Home app, the Apple ID of the user who originally set it up owns the home. The owner can invite other people into the Home though, so I used Steve’s Home app to invite me by my Apple ID. Ok, great. Except when I tap on Add Accessory, Home doesn’t see the darn Hue hub! You have got to be kidding me!

After even MORE Googling and fiddling around, I reset the Hue bridge by poking a paper clip into its reset button and FINALLY the Home app could see the bridge again.

Home could not edit roomSo let’s just say that all of this pain and anguish was because the Hue hub transfer was problematic. I can get on board with that. We’ll blame Hue. But after I successfully added the Hue to Home, it came up telling me that additional setup was required and I had to go back to the manufacturer’s app!

I don’t even remember what voodoo I had to go do over on the Hue app but eventually I went back to the Home app. It now showed my Home with two bulbs in “default room”. I tapped on Rooms changed Default room’s name to Family room. I took a photo of it like it invited me to and I tapped Done. Home then said, “could not edit room ‘family room'”. What the heck??? Then why did you give me a gosh darned field where I could name it that???

Ok, FINE. Default room it is. I went to Rooms, and tapped on one of the bulbs and the light went off. Ok, tapped it back on. Then for some reason it occurred to me to force-press on the light. That popped up a new screen saying 100% brightness and an option to change the color or go into details. Details sounded fun. In there I found I could rename the light, and guess what else I could do? I could change the name of the ROOM!

The only thing I can figure is that default room is just where things land when they come into your Home, and then you have to move them to a new room. So renaming default room didn’t make sense. I guess.

Anyway, I’ve spent about 4 hours on this darn thing and I’ve just gotten to the point where I can turn my lights on and off with HomeKit. Now I’m hoping to finally get to spend some time actually finding out what you can do with HomeKit. And figure out how to get the Apple TV to talk to it so I can control my home from outside the network. That’ll be fun I’m sure.

I really thought that using the Home app from Apple to manage our home automation would make all of this nonsense easier but it seems to me that it made it even more complicated than it was before. Now instead of one app with too many fiddly bits, I have two apps with lots more fiddly bits. If two engineers with masters degrees find that Home didn’t make things easier, I’m not sure how normal people will ever get this stuff to work.

5 thoughts on “Not Sure HomeKit Makes Home Automation Easier

  1. TLI_Mark - November 2, 2016

    I’ve somewhat avoided home automation because I wasn’t sure it did anything for me for the cost. When my wife saw the Home app after the iOS 10 update she was surprised I hadn’t tried this out and encouraged me to go get lights to automate. She was particularly interested in have porch and driveway lights to be on automatically or turn on from the car when we arrive. I invested in Hue bulbs for that task, our bedroom and and the living room.

    I enjoy having this all, but must agree 1000% with Allison’s review. It has not be nearly as easy as I thought it should be and the Apple Home app is not reliable. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to revert to the Hue app to figure out what is on/off and control them properly. The set up is clunky and not intuitive at all. I have set up things not knowing how or why I did it, and not able to set up things that seem very logical and easy. I can’t wait for a good update to the Home app.

  2. Norbert Frassa - November 2, 2016

    I didn’t have as many problems but I learned that using the Apple TV as the hub is tricky. Home could not find it. I turned on the option on my iPad and then it also found the Apple TV so I can remotely control my lights when away

  3. NeatFreakGeek - November 2, 2016

    I love it. I like that I can swipe up and my nine Hue lights are there… easy… Idid try to add some automation in the home app as I am home after dark three nights a week and I wanted a couple of the lights to come on at 4pm, both for security and because my dog was home alone in the dark. It’s not the most intuitive of things to set up and the first night I came home to find my house (and dog) in the dark. When I investigated further it was because I had set the lights to come on the nights I was home not the night’s I wasn’t…. tonight I came home and was relieved to find the house had lights on and the dog was happy!!

  4. Niraj - November 20, 2016

    I like the Philips Hue v2. Worked great before iOS 10.

    I still like the Philips Hue after upgrading to iOS 10. In fact, an iOS 9 iPhone still works with the Hue Gadgets in the pull down screen. Along with the Home widget working in the bottoms-up screen.

    Agree the name of Default is a curveball, especially for us technical folks. I presume normal people will be just fine with it.

    I connected the Apple TV to HomeKit by enabling two-factor authentication. That’s a prerequisite. Then I was able to turn on the lights for the dogs when we were out of town.

    Next step is to add other vendors into the mix, such as light switches and electrical outlets. I believe that’s when the magic of HomeKit will shine as an integrator of many devices.

    I also feel more secure with Homekit’s security in the mix. Our privacy is secure within the house. However, don’t be fooled, the individual companies still have to do their own security within their clouds (Hue, IFTTT, etc.)

  5. podfeet - November 20, 2016

    Now I know who to bug when this doesn’t work, Niraj!

    I already have 2FA on my iCloud account, as does Steve. I think it’s attached to his, which means for this we use his account but for all our apps we use mine… the mess goes on and on!

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