This week’s show kicks off with our favorite topic: bringing context into the smart home. This time it’s iRobot and its new operating system that aims to bring the smart home together. From there we discuss a merger between satellite IoT companies and a new idea for building a privacy-centric smart home from the folks at Carnegie Mellon. In more enterprise news, BT wants to stop being a telco and become a “tech-co” with a focus on digital transformation, while a group of chipmakers want to create a consortium to buy Arm. In smaller news bits we’ve got some more unsettling news around John Deere tractors, a smart blinds retrofit from Somfy and the end of Amazon’s Cloud Cam. We’re not mad. Kevin also reviewed Ecobee’s newest and fanciest thermostat and came to a surprising conclusion. In our IoT Podcast Hotline we answer a question from someone who is switching to HomeKit.
Our guest this week is Ron Rock, CEO and co-founder of Microshare.io, who discusses why his company started building pre-packaged IoT solutions and selling the data, as opposed to trying for some horizontal IoT platform. He also talks about the next big use cases for enterprise IoT after COVID. First up is figuring out how to best use corporate real estate in a hybrid work environment and how to rightsize corporate real estate holdings post-pandemic. His third use case is my favorite. He talks about why ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) demands are driving companies to adopt IoT solutions across a wide variety of use cases and industries. We end with a bit of conversation about new building standards and how he expects those standards to develop in the next three to five years. It’s a fun show.
JD Roberts says
Good answer to Ron’s question on a new post-Insteon platform.
HOMEKIT AND ZIGBEE
One thing I would add is that there are already several major brands that use a hub/bridge to bring zigbee Devices into Homekit and work very well. And probably not coincidentally, I think all of those have already announced that they will also be supporting Matter by updating that bridge/hub.
The best known of these is undoubtedly Phillips hue. When you have a hue bridge your Hue brand devices connected to it will also work with HomeKit, and work very well. Some third-party “friends of hue“ devices will also be brought into HomeKit, like the RunlessWire battery free switches. Other third-party devices like Innr won’t, though, so read the descriptions carefully. (And, yes, hopefully matter will fix all of this.)
To be honest, I can’t remember whether the wiz smart bulbs from Hue are going to be updateable or not or if you’d have to buy new models of those, but the existing Zigbee models should work with Matter once they are updated, and work with HomeKit both before and after a Matter update.
And there are other major brands that use this architecture as well, such as IKEA and Aqara, both of which have a hub or a gateway that can bring Zigbee devices into HomeKit.
There is a caveat on IKEA, as Stacey recently covered: they have announced that their current Tradfri gateway will NOT be updated to work with Matter. Instead, they are going to introduce a new Dirigera Hub this fall, and that’s the one that will be matter compliant. But the interesting thing is that existing IKEA zigbee end devices like buttons and switches and sensors will work with the new Dirigera hub. It’s just the gateway itself that is not going to be upgraded. They also said that they are planning on a three-year end of life on the existing gateway once Dirigera is available.
Aqara and Philips Hue are both going to upgrade some of their existing hub models to work with matter through an over the air update. So that’s nice.
All of which is to say: as a network engineer, I like zigbee for all the reasons any engineer likes zigbee: excellent power management for battery operated devices and good mesh for typical home sized networks. And often low cost battery powered devices. So I think it would be fine to buy any of these three brands now that work with HomeKit and feel pretty confident that they will work with Matter once we get there. With the understanding that for IKEA, you will probably have to replace one low cost hub for another.
Again, it’s not that zigbee devices currently work with HomeKit. They don’t on their own. But there are several major companies with zigbee hubs that have added HomeKit integration to those specific hub models. So they can bring at least some of their Zigbee devices over to the HomeKit app.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF HOMEKIT
Homekit has some great features, but they’ve limited the official Apple app to kind of the plain vanilla, least common denominator, won’t confuse anybody stuff when it comes to setting up automations. Which is fine, because you have other options for doing that.
First, you should definitely investigate Shortcuts. Apple bought this company a couple years ago, so it’s now an official Apple feature, it’s just that you get to it outside of the basic Apple HomeKit through its own app. There’s a ton of fun stuff in here, like setting up an automation based on a text from a specific person or being connected to a specific Wi-Fi network. There’s just so many times I’ve answered a Home Automation question with “this would be easy if you had shortcuts…“ So anyway. If you like doing more complicated stuff, start researching shortcuts.
Next, you will probably want to get a third-party app to open up some of the more advanced features of HomeKit. One typical example is to create an automation trigger based on light levels. Even if you have a light sensor, and even if it reports light levels to HomeKit, you can’t create that automation in the plain vanilla Apple home app. but you can in a number of other third-party apps.
Two of the most popular are the one from Eve, which is free. It’s designed to go with their own devices, but one of the great things about HomeKit is you get access to all your HomeKit devices in any manufacturer’s app who has signed up to do that. And Eve is one of those. So it’s a very popular download.
Another one for power users that I really like is Home+ 5. (It’s now in its fifth generation.) This will cost you about $15, but if you’re a power user, it’s totally worth it. This exposes every available feature in HomeKit. I’m not saying it’s the most intuitive app, or the easiest to use, but that’s what the plain vanilla apple Home app is for. This is the one you get if you want to really push HomeKit to its limits. Plus the way it handles groups is great.
You don’t have to use any third-party apps, you can just use the official Apple home app and Apple Shortcuts app, and a lot of people just starting out find that’s all they need. But most people coming from other platforms are looking for a little more, and that’s when you start getting into these third-party apps.
GET A $99 HOMEPOD MINI
You can’t create any automations in HomeKit unless you have an Apple device that works as a hub. And your iphone isn’t one of those. So your three choices are an Apple TV 4 or higher, an iPad running iOS 15 or higher that’s plugged into the wall all the time, or an iPod mini. You’re going to want the iPod mini even if you never use it as a voice assistant. Not only is it the least expensive of the three, it has the most technical capabilities in this regard. So that’s my recommendation. If you want to start out just repurposing an existing iPad that you have, you can, but remember that it always has to be plugged in, once it goes to battery it stops acting as the automation hub.
If you like YouTube videos, Shane Whatley has a great channel that’s dedicated to HomeKit practical tips. He posts a new video every week and there’s a lot of excellent stuff there. Including some on using shortcuts. He has videos on just getting started, on creating automations, on using Aqara devices with HomeKit, just all kinds of practical stuff. If you like how-to videos, give his a try.
If you want advance notice of new devices coming out, there’s a website called HomekitNews.com which does great deep dive reviews of new HomeKit devices. Really thorough. This is mostly hardware reviews down to the specifications level, and if you like those, you’ll like this.
There are also lots of HomeKit beginner guides out there, so you can just pick one from your favorite site or look around to find one whose voice matches what you’re looking for.
THE OBLIGATORY HOOBS REFERENCE
(Yes, I know Kevin is laughing right now. And rightly so. But, you know, as an engineer, I have to mention it. it’s in the bylaws.)
If you have, or see, a few really cool devices that you’d love to have, but they don’t work with HomeKit and you’re not sure if they’re ever going to work with Matter, what can you do?
Well, once upon a time some smart people figured out that they could use the hue bridge simulator code to trick HomeKit into thinking the other devices were lightbulbs connected to a hue bridge. Pretty much any device, from a garage door opener to a camera to a smart switch that didn’t otherwise work with HomeKit. (Yes, even Insteon devices, although you still have to have a working Insteon hub.)
it was a violation of the Hue developers license, which intended the simulator only to be used for testing devices that would eventually be connected to a hue bridge, but so far nobody has seemed to care. So the free software “homebridge” was born. And just like with Insteon, a lot of individual programmers started creating “plug-ins“ for homebridge to create specific integrations. And they often charge money for those to cover their time.
Anyway, so far so good, except the process of setting up homebridge and installing plug-ins was technically pretty complex and not what a lot of people wanted to get into.
HOOBS is a commercial product which preinstalled homebridge on a tiny computer and added software to make it easier to install plug-ins. Hoobs stands for “homebridge out of the box“ meaning you could take it out of the box, plug it in, and you would have a working version of homebridge. Of course it’s not quite that simple, but compared to any other method, it’s pretty simple. and that turned out to be worth $250 to a lot of people who just wanted to be able to bring their ring devices or insteon devices or smartthings devices into HomeKit.
Note however that HOOBS is NOT a hub. You still have to have an Insteon hub or a ring account or a smartthings hub to actually control those devices. HOOBS is just a bridge which lets you fool HomeKit into thinking those are Hue devices and therefore bring them into the HomeKit app. Oh, and you still have to have something acting as a HomeKit hub as well.
I have no idea if you would be interested in that kind of thing. Most people aren’t, but the people who are, really are. Especially people who are switching to HomeKit after already having invested in a bunch of other stuff. I should say I have no idea what’s going to happen once Matter arrives as far as devices brought in through Hoobs. But, like I said, obligatory mention. Feel free to forget I ever said anything about HOOBS if that’s not something you’re interested in.
Well, I hope at least some of that is helpful. Good luck!
JD Roberts says
Correction: anywhere I said “iPod mini” I meant “HomePod mini.” My bad.
JD Roberts says
Update: at WWDC21 on June 7 it was revealed that under iOS 16, coming out this fall, only a HomePod mini or Apple TV 4+ can be set up a# HomeKit hubs. You will no longer be able to use an iPad as a hub. Makes sense, since unplugging the iPad and running it on battery would cause automations to stop working, something that confused a lot of people.