Apple's HomeKit full of promise, falls on execution
Image: Sarah Tew/CNET
It’s been almost 18 months since Apple unveiled its home automation platform, named HomeKit. It took a year for the first products to hit the market, and though the first few trickled in, they’re now coming at a rapid clip.
Most of the products seem to work as advertised, but the platform itself leaves much to be desired.
I’ve tried several different HomeKit items, including the $40 iHome iSP5, a smart plug that can be controlled through an app or with Siri voice commands. In my office, I plugged a small box fan into it that I turn on when it gets a bit too warm. Within HomeKit, I named it “Fan.”
I can use the iHome app to control the fan, turning it on or off. I can also use that app to organize HomeKit items into rooms (Like Office or Living Room) and Zones (combing Rooms into groups like Upstairs and Downstairs).
The app works fine, but once you get outside of that, things start getting more frustrating. Tell Siri to “Turn on my fan,” and around half time time she won’t be able to complete the task. If I ask her a second or third time, she can usually get things working properly—but it’s absurd that I have to ask more than once. It’s gotten to be a running joke in the house that I need to ask Siri twice to turn the fan on and off.
I’ve also tried Lutron’s $230 Caseta Wireless lamp control kit. Unlike the iHome box, which connects directly to W-iFi, the Lutron setup uses a Smart Bridge, which connects via Ethernet, to talk to light switches and remotes.
Like the iHome setup, when using the Lutron app, everything works very well. Lights dim, and the included remotes work as advertised. You can set up lights into rooms and zones. You can tell Siri to “Set Living Room to 50%.”
But the greatest appeal of HomeKit is the potential, at least, to be able to delete all those different home automation apps. I have a whole folder of them on my home screen, controlling thermostats, garage doors, lights, fans, and more. I want them all gone.
But, annoyingly, you can’t do that. Why? Each HomeKit-enabled product sets up a little differently, and because there isn’t an Apple-created HomeKit app to organize it all.
As an example, there’s a new Philips Hue app that supports HomeKit with an updated control bridge. The Philips Hue app lets you set up light bulbs and create scenes (groupings of lights, colors, and brightness) that can then be controlled by Siri.
But you can’t use the Philips app to set up Hue bulbs in the Rooms and Zones that HomeKit uses to subdivide a house. You have to use one of the other apps, like the ones from Lutron or iHome. But if you have a house full of Philips Hue bulbs, how does it make sense to use an app from another third-party to set them all up?
It doesn’t, and it won’t make sense until Apple creates its own HomeKit app to set everything up and let me get rid of that folder of third-party apps like Apple promised.
Apple, you are positioned to tie together the smart home like no one else except Google. I hope you’ll do it.
Do you have a house full of smart devices? Do you have a folder of apps for them all? Let us know your experience in the discussion thread below.