Ok I feel like Apple HomeKit is so close to greatness, but it’s like all the piece parts are there but it lacks the now traditional Apple let’s hide the complexity. But the idea that any iOS or Siri device can be the universal remote to control your smart home is really great. Related to this is Apple Airplay 2 which let's you stream audio from Apple hardware to multiple speakers (so you can have whole house audio). And this is one place where Apple is taking on the entire hardware ecosystem, so they let OEMs add either HomeKit and/or Airplay 2 support.
To give some background, right now I’m managing no less than four homes (soon to be five) that are all Apple places. The goals are to make it easy to monitor the extended family homes and when people visit each other to have all that work seamlessly. I realize that’s a big goal but it’s an interesting experiment.
The main lesson here is that homes are really multiple users, multiple vendors and people don’t want to futz so it’s really complicated. The traditional Apple model of apps creates an X houses x N rooms x M devices x Y users kind of catastrophe of clicking.
So if you are trying to do the same here are the collected notes
1. The first and most confusing thing is the Home can handle multiple houses but it’s super confusing. As I’ve mentioned before. The problem is that you can delete a home by going to it and clicking on delete home but there is no UI to add a home. The trick is that it’s the only app I’ve used when the back button actually leads you to a hidden menu. So In the home app you can see a bunch of houses and then there is home settings at the bottom. But you can’t select a house and get its settings. Instead you have to drill into the current house settings and then there is a Hutton labels ‘< Homes’ now in Apple user interface land your would expect this to be the back button but it isn’t. Instead it actually takes you to a hidden menu where you see the homes and that is where the add button is. Pretty weird. They definitely do not support multiple jokes well
2. The second problem is that it is very hard to move devices between rooms or worse yet homes and reorder things.. You would expect a drag and drop UI, but you have to do is go to the device say a HomePod and then in the room menu you specific what room it goes in. And if you want to move it to a new home the only choice is to remove it from the current one and do a hardware reset and then add it to the new one. And even reordering the order of rooms is hard, they have this strange user interfaces, you go to a specific room and then at the upper right where normally the back button is, you will see
< Room which leads you to an entirely new property pane where you can Edit to reorder the Rooms and add a new Room. And then Done pops you back not to the Room you started in but back to the Home Screen of the Home application. Confused yet? The same is true for rooms, to manage all the homes, you go to a single home, then at the upper left is
< Home which leads you the hidden panel where you can Edit to order the Home and then Done doesn't bring you back but to the main screen. Yikes!
3. When you want to run an automation, you have to program if for every device individually. There are no per room or per house properties. So if you have five HomePods and want them all to recognize you. There is no house property. You have to go to each device and set it. There is no grid interface either so you have to match manually down the entire house, room, device hierarchy and select every switch. The thing is dying for a hierarchical user interface. It gets really only configuring “turn off music when every one leaves” for every device.
4. This same problem extends to HomeKit secure video. If you have five cameras and say five people you have to set their notifications and alerts 25 times in the home. Then each phone or I device they use needs to be set. So if people have say 2 devices. You are clicking through 35 different panes to make sure the notifications make sense. And the interface is obscure enough you definitely as home IT manager want to do it for them
5. The same is true for automations like turn on all the lights when a camera sees motion again every cameras needs the same automation configured.
Well that’s with configuration the next layer of problem is that this is the rare case where Apple is relying on OEMs to implement Airplay 2 and HomeKit. And it is really not very standardized so you get a blizzard of incompatibilities. Here are some examples:
1. Airplay 2 is supposed to allow any iDevice to send signals to any airplay speaker. I’m reality this works perfectly with homepods but with non-homepods it’s a mess. For instance the Apple tc 3rd generation and airport express can be seen but even though are supposed to support airplay 2, you can not hang them together. So the dream of a great house wide audio system doesn’t work.
2. TV vendors have different levels of support. So for instance LG is great. Automagically they appear is airplay 2 devices and somehow they figure out what room they are in. I’m unclear how they do this but it works. Denon also has this figured out which is pretty cool.
3. Samsung on the other hand support airplay 2 but not HomeKit. So you can’t put it into a room. The same is true with airport express. That’s an old device but the only one that lets you use old speakers (the HomePod mini inexplicably doesn’t have a 3.5mm output Jack). But it has no home kit.
4. Finally there are latency issues. Clicking on a HomePod in the phone takes 1-5 seconds to work. And with some devices like the Denon, you can click like crazy but it never seems to respond.
Net, net, the smart home thing really is the future but it’s very much a work in progress. I’m hoping that the new Apple TV HD works great so I can integrate TVs into the world with an Apple device. In the end maybe the answer is not to rely on the smarts of low margin consumer electronics providers but for Apple to provide a dongle that they control for everything 🙂
Finally, none of this integrates an MacOS devices at all, natively, MacOS can output to a single device, it cannot use the Airplay 2/HomePod feature that sends signal to multiple speakers. But, if you buy Rogue Amoeba Airfoil, then it can be a full participant so, you can send audio from your Mac book to *any* combination of HomePod and non-HomePod speakers and you can do it simulataneously.
You can also use Airfoil Satellite which turns your Mac into an Airplay 2 destination. This means that all speaker connect to your Mac can play, so it looks like the way to get whole house audio is from a Mac only. Too bad 😉