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Homekit Security Systems

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OK, if you have an old burglar alarm, it is probably throwing all kinds of false alarms and everything, so time to get an updated one. Before I had recommended Simplisafe as a low-cost alarm system with a low monitoring fee, but when you’ve used it for a while, it’s pretty clear that a better option would be something that also integrates into Homekit, so that you can use it standalone as well as with a service.

Simplifsafe works well, but once you cut it from the monitoring company you are left in dedicated system land, so the choices are:

  1. An expensive proprietary system with an installer and a keypad done the traditional way. The main issue here is that it is really a black box and you are married to the alarm company. The advantage is that you can get it completely wired up and you don’t have to worry about changing batteries particularly in new builds. With old builds, they will use battery powered sensors, so might as well go with the middle alternative
  2. A proprietary system that uses has an alarm monitoring service, but uses new IoT devices. This is where Simplisafe fits in and it does work. But here is also Ring which is proprietary (and owned by Amazon, so privacy is an issue)
  3. A proprietary system that works with homekit. MAybe the best of both worlds here where it has an alarm and has a keypad, but it is also homekit aware. Abode (with many support problems) is pretty much the only game in town here. It has an alarm and has lots of proprietary bits for the traditional things like water detection, motion, glass break and door and window position sensors.
  4. Turn the world inside out, get a bunch of homekit components and figure out how to build rules that act like an alarm system, so you get things like if you see a person then ring an alarm. This is the most exciting, since there are so cameras and other normal homekit things out there, but you need to write your own rules.

So, given all that, what are your choices for being somewhere between proprietary and told roll your own, well it turns out there are not many, in fact there are two according to iMore:

  1. Abode Iota Home Security Kit. This has everything and you can think of it as allowing the best f monitoring (you can use their service), but it also plugs into Homekit and includes a keypad and all the standard bits. The way that it works is that you get a box with a camera, a backup batter and a alarm thingy. It even has a can plug into Homekit, so you can use the sensors and things for Homekit automation. Maybe at some point Apple will extend Homekit to handle security things really well and do alerts to the police for instance or a monitoring service, then you don’t have to throw all this hardware away.
  2. Aqara Smart Hub. This is a subscription free system that runs and has all the sensors you need over Zigbee. The main issue is that alarm speaker isn’t really enough, so not such a great solution

In the end, if you don’t have to, I wouldn’t get a security system right now, it just seems like the days of a dedicated system are ending, all the devices from cameras to motion sensors to door sensors should just get unified into a single Smart Home ecosystem. And there needs to be a general-purpose programming language, so that you can write things like “lock all the doors”, “if you see smoke ring the fire alarm and send “fire!” to fall the smart speakers” or “if you see a person or a door options or you see motion, call the monitoring company” since most of these security systems are basically a line of code in Python if you have all the sensors in one place.

Building an Abode system

But, if you have to have a system now as yours is breaking down, then what should you do? Well, you are replacing an existing one, it does seem like taking a step and updating something makes the most sense. that’s because none of these DIY systems have gateways that deal with wired stuff.

But, if you have a wireless system anyway and are replacing batteries like crazy then it makes sense to at least get a new system that is part way in the new world. That is where Abode comes in.

The first step is that you need a home hub that deals with the network. Abode seems to be using 433Mhz with something called AbodeRF although they do have Zigbee and Z-wave, but it is hard to tell (and yes someday any device should just be accessible to it, but not today). They have two choices of hubs.

  1. iota. This is $50 more than the other but is great for the smaller rooms where it makes sense to integrate the sensor suite with the alarm. It has a motion detector and a camera all built in. So this is a good value to place it in the middle of the house and save some money. I presume it has a speaker with an alarm as well, but that isn’t clear. It is $292 right now on their site with a window sensor and a key fob (which I’m wondering why you would need in this era of smart phones).
  2. Gateway. This is a box that you can stick in a wiring closet, it doesn’t have any sensors, but is supposed to go in a closet. It is $232 so a bit cheaper and I’m not clear if you need to mount it externally if it has a speaker

Now you can pick your other sensors:

  1. Cameras. Here I’m a little unclear, can you just use existing cameras, we have plenty and it would be nice not to have to buy more just for this purposed. Their own camera is $35 and is Wifi connected and battery powered, so if you are future proofing and already have a set of cameras, I’m not sure I would get theirs, but wait for the software to mature.
  2. Mini Door/Window sensor. One comes with it, but it basically is battery powered with a four year potential life. You can get away with cameras, but having one at every window and door on the first floor is smart.
  3. Recessed Door sensor, you can hide it inside the door jamb so there isn’t anything ugly there, but it does require drilling.
  4. Slim Strip Sensor, this is great for casement windows.
  5. Vibration Glass Break Sensor. For this large panes of glass you stick on there. $38 for each glass pane..
  6. Acoustic Glass Break Sensor. This thing should really just be in your Apple HomePod mini listening in, but for $50, you can buy one.
  7. Motion Sensor. This apparently uses Infrared to detect people moving, I wonder why a camera isn’t a better long term solution, but comes with the kit for $44.
  8. Multi Sensor, this makes a little more sense at $53, it does body heat, but also has a temperature and humidty sensor for fire alarms for instance. Again, it would be nice if any homekit temperature sensor would just work and it doesn’t pass on temperature or humidty to Homekit which is sad.
  9. KeyPad 2.0. OK, if you don’t want to use your phone for $99 you can get a traditional keypad.
  10. Smoke Alarm Monitor. Ok, this basically just listens for the beep sound from an existing smoke alarm for $40. I would have hoiped it would just be a smoke alarm 🙂
  11. Indoor Siren. In case it is too quite, again this should be any homekit speaker really.

Building an Aqara System

Well, this company takes a different approach, they don’t use proprietary RF for instance, so to build a system like this you need. The main thing you give up is alarm company monitoring:”

  1. Hub M2. This is their Zigbee 3.0 hub, like Philips they are using Zigbee andhopefully there won’t be any conflict. This box is also an IR emitter so it could control old style television for instance, it has a not very loud built-in speaker as well for alarms and is USB powered. And you get both Ethernet and WiFi connectivity. It is $60
  2. Hub M1S. This is a little less pretty, but has a big speaker in it, so the M2 makes sense as a consumer electronics device while the M1S is definitely more for home security and is WiFi connected, so mount it up high for the alarm to ring. It also has LED lights for emergencies. Kind of perfect if you ceiling mount the thing. And it’s just $50.
  3. Door and Window Sensor. Unlike the Abode, they don’th ave sensor that works for casement windows and this thing is definitely big, but it’s just $18
  4. Temperature and Humidity Sensor. Good for cold climates or when there is a fire. Just $20 each.
  5. Indoor Air Quality Monitor. Wow, this is much less that Kaiterra and is good for fires and temperatures at $45. It is battery powered though like all their devices.
  6. Motion Sensor. Again, I wonder why you wouldn’t just use a camera for this. but it is $21
  7. Water Sensor. Good or leaks and when you are away alot.
  8. Security Camera. This is 1080P and just $55, but again what if you already have one.

Net, net, compared with Abode, this is much, much cheaper, but doesn’t have things like a Key panel (do you really need one in the modern age?) and casement slider window sensors (so less pretty). It also doesn’t have all those motion sensors and things, but do you really need them with camera alerts in the long term.

Homekit Smoke Alarm

Well, neither the Abode nor the Aqara deal with smoke and CO detection, so you have to look elsewhere for that. The best one is the OneLink Battery Smoke and CO Detector which works with a battery and sends alerts to your phone and integrates with Homekit.

If you have a hardwired system and still want to use it, then the Onelink Safe and Sound by First Alert for $124 is your ticket. It also integrates with Homekit but it won’t call your fire department or monitoring company, but it’s better than just a standalone one.

The Right Way to Build a System: Thread, Matter and General Automation

Aquara is probably closest to the open system that makes sense, but in the long-term what you really want is something that uses Thread (a low-power open communications system) and that integrates with Matter (the upcoming general event engine) and then some general-purpose automation.

This assumes the devices are not going to go up and down (as they do with our Homekit system now), but that’s probably where we are going in the next five years. In the meantime, if you need a system I would probably say that Aqara is the right one if you don’t mind hacking and don’t need monitoring. Get Abode if you really want the old burglar alarm system feel.

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