Smart Products Made Smarter Together

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #179


As promised last week, here's my first look at HomeKit, Apple’s framework for securely controlling smart home products with your iPhone or other device. In a nutshell, HomeKit lets you control smart home products from a multitude of manufacturers using an iOS app or Siri. HomeKit enables such magic using, “scenes,” which control the settings for multiple smart appliances. So, for example, you could create a scene called, “Leaving Home,” that would lower the thermostat; turn off all the lights; lower the shades; and lock the doors. And since scenes can be time and/or location-aware, you can enable the scene automatically when you leave the house.

I should make it clear that the scene I just described assumes that you're either made of money or a true geek; either way, it requires you having all that smart stuff in your home, which I don't. It is possible with products available today, but I don't have any of them—no smart shades or smart locks, but I do have a handful of smart bulbs and smart outlets.

Moving right along, Apple’s web page for HomeKit says, “Smart products made even smarter together,” and that appeals to me. Sadly, HomeKit has been slow to catch on (it was introduced in 2014. And even today there are fewer than two dozen HomeKit-compatible products in Apple’s online store. Furthermore, since Apple doesn’t make a HomeKit app itself (yet), the software side of HomeKit has been a mess so far, with each vendor offering its own app to control its products and other HomeKit-compatible devices.

In spite of all that I’ve tested two HomeKit-compatible products I like well enough to recommend, even this early in the game. There's something magical about saying, "Hey Siri, turn on my office lights," or, "hey Siri, turn off all the house lights," and having it happen almost instantly. Expensive (so far), but worth it in my humble opinion. 

The first thing I can recommend is the Phillips Hue White and Color Wireless Starter Kit ($199.95), which is the updated version of the kit I reviewed in February 2015; the only difference is that one wasn't HomeKit-compatible. If you have the older (round) HUE bridge like I did, you can replace it with the Phillips Hue HomeKit Upgrade Bridge for $59.95, allowing you to control your Hue lights via HomeKit.

The other HomeKit-compatible product I really like and recommend is Lutron’s Caséta Wireless Smart Lighting system. Start with the Plug-in Lamp Dimmer Kit ($189.95), which includes everything you need to control up to four lamps: plus a smart bridge, two wireless plug-in lamp dimmers (with two outlets each); and two wireless pico remotes. After that, additional dimmer/remote kits go for $59.95.   

I like that the Caséta products aren’t expensive smart light bulbs, but instead use AC power cables and plugs from existing lamps. That’s a good thing, at least to me; I go through a lot of lightbulbs for some reason.   

But while controlling lights with an app or by voice is slick, it’s not always smart or appropriate. For example, neither one is much use if you’re talking on the phone or playing your guitar really loud. Fortunately, Lutron gets that and is the only vendor I know that includes a clever little pico-remote with each dimmer—they even include a little optional pedestal.

Here are my two pico remotes—the left one with its optional pedestal; the right one without.  

I like the remotes so much and use them so often that I’ve got both of them affixed to my desk with double-sided tape. I like the pedestals but every inch of desk space is precious, so I mounted mine without them: 

This is what my two pico remotes look like in everyday life. 

Alas, while Caséta and Phillips offer adequate iOS apps, neither one is my favorite for controlling HomeKit devices. Unfortunately, I’m out of space, so if you want to know which HomeKit app I liked best, and possibly learn details about Apple's just-announced Home app, you'll have to tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion. 

And that's all he wrote…