After a solid few years of running my smart home on Google’s platform, I’m starting a transition to Apple HomeKit. For several reasons, it’s not going to be a cheap or seamless endeavor. And it’s going to take some compromises on my part as well.
Why am I doing this? Part of the reason is to offer more HomeKit reviews, tips, and experiences here on the site. But the main reason is due to my recent decision to switch phones.
Long story short: After testing a de-Googled Android phone over the past few months to up my level of data privacy, I’m impressed by Apple’s recent efforts on this front. While the company still has the personal data of its users, it doesn’t rely on that information nearly as much as any other big tech company for monetization, particularly through third-parties. The new app “nutrition labels” showing what data the software collects or tracks are also useful for choosing which mobile software I want to use.
So I now have an iPhone 12 and while I could simply use Google’s apps for everything, including my smart home, that would defeat my data privacy approach. Therefore, it’s HomeKit time!
Switching is going to cost me
Right off the bat, I found that most of the connected devices in my smart home don’t natively work with HomeKit. I expected this, of course, but it was still jarring.
I have a wide range of smart bulbs from various manufacturers that aren’t HomeKit compatible. There are some from Cree, Cync (formerly known as C by GE), Samsung, Sylvania, and Wyze. I do have one LIFX bulb, a few hand-me-down Philips Hue bulbs from Stacey, and a Hue bridge so I did connect those to HomeKit.
But I’ll be looking to replace at least a dozen bulbs with HomeKit support in the near future. That will cost me a minimum of $20 per bulb, depending on the brand and features.
My smart home has a few door/window sensors from Samsung and some smart outlets, so those too will need replacing. I have three Wyze cameras, both inside and outdoor models, which will cost a pretty penny to swap out.
And then there’s my front door. We love both our Nest Hello video doorbell and our Nest x Yale smart lock. With the word “Nest” in the product names, you already know that there’s no HomeKit support for either of these. I’d expect to spend at least $400 if we replace these two devices.
Third-party workarounds to save money and ease the transition
There actually is a way to cut the spending here and it comes in the form of Homebridge, the open-source platform that adds non-HomeKit devices to HomeKit. I recently tested HOOBS, which does this using Homebridge and I may use it where possible.
I was able to add my Wink lights, for example, to HomeKit using HOOBS during my testing, for example.
The lights appear like any other HomeKit lights, support HomeKit automations, and worked well with Siri. There are 2,000 available plugins to support many non-HomeKit devices, including some from Nest. Unfortunately, current support is limited to Nest devices that I don’t have; I can’t add my video doorbell or front door lock to HomeKit using HOOBS at this time.
Still, any of my current connected devices that work with HOOBS would let me replace devices over a longer time period. Or I could simply just rely on HOOBs to add HomeKit support for my supported devices and not replace them at all.
What I’ll miss the most and what I’ll gain
There’s one aspect of HomeKit that confounds me and will be the biggest pain point: Apple doesn’t make smart displays like Google and Amazon do. We’re so used to using the ones we have for seeing who just rang the doorbell or for tapping an icon to turn off lights without using our voice.
Live video from the front door can be seen in the HomeKit world if you have an AppleTV, but we don’t plan to add one of those to our home. I guess we’ll just use our iPhones in lieu of the smart displays.
On the positive side, once we’re fully equipped with HomeKit gear, we’ll be gaining some nice features.
HomeKit Secure Video support ensures that the feed from our cameras is end-to-end encrypted. HomeKit Adaptive Lighting is already supported on the Philips Hue lights and I’ve seen it in action: Early in the morning or late in the evening the bulbs slowly transition to a warmer white than from the midday daylight color temperature.
And the HomePod mini, which we’re using as our HomeKit hub is already Thread enabled. Once we get devices with Thread support, they’ll respond faster than we can say “Hey Google… I meant hey Siri” during our transition. It also doesn’t hurt that Apple is finally allowing Spotify to be a default music service option in the next release of iOS 14. Good-bye AirPlay to the HomePods!
Is it going to be worth the cost and lack of smart displays? In the end, I think so.
We won’t be losing much if any functionality in our smart home. We’ll be able to benefit from the response time and low latency of Thread devices without having to buy a new hub.
And we’ll feel better about our private, in-home data, knowing that Apple isn’t going to offer that data to third-parties. I’ve always said once you give up that data, you’ve completely lost control over how it’s used and by whom.
I’m sure some of you have made the transition from Google, or Amazon, over to HomeKit. Was it worth it to you?