Get Smart With Stacey: Is Apple HomeKit Worth the Hype?


The smart home is gaining ground, but it's still a muddle of confusing standards, competing platforms, and gadgets that don't do what you might expect. But the promise of products that can make your life a little easier is hard to resist, so I'm here to answer the inevitable questions that arise.

Whether it's figuring out the best connected door lock to assembling the right recipe to wake you up with a faux sunrise at the optimal moment based on yourfitness tracker's data, I've got you covered. As the host of The Internet of Things Podcast, I install a lot of gear and spend hours testing hardware and software to see what works. Smart homes are still pretty dumb, but I want to help you feel smart.

If you have smart home questions you'd like me to answer, send an email to [email protected]

I'm looking to purchase a few temperature sensors to use around my home, and I was wondering if you have reviewed any or had any recommendations? Have you heard if the Wireless Sensor Tag sensors work well? I couldn't find many reviews. Thanks.

One day, every connected device will have a basic temperature sensor in it, if it doesn't already. The real magic comes from not just sensing the temperature, but sharing that information with devices that need it. That's actually harder than you might imagine since we don't have an accepted discovery and communications protocol for the smart home.

So, you may already have temperature sensors around your home. For example, Zuli, a connected outlet and presence sensor, has a temperature sensor inside that works with the Nest Learning Thermostat. The Leeo smoke alarm detector ($50) also has a temp sensor in it that gets shared with If This Then That. Most security devices such as the Canary also have a temp sensor inside that you can check via the app.

If you don't have any other devices in your home, you may want to prepare yourself for a few. Most temperature sensors require a hub of come sort to talk to the Internet and other devices. That's because they forgo the power-gulping Wi-Fi radio in exchange for ZigBee, Z-wave, or a proprietary technology that can last longer on battery power. The Wireless Sensor Tags you've mentioned fall into this category, as do the Aeotec Z-wave sensors and Fibaro sensors. Those sensors range from $25 for the Wireless Sensor Tag to $50 for the Fibaro and Aeotec sensors equipped with a temperature sensor. The Wireless Sensor Tag hub is $54 and other Z-wave hubs range from $70 to $100.

For the dedicated Apple fan who wants to use HomeKit, Elegato makes a line of sensors called Eve with two temperature-sensing options. The Eve Room ($79.95) indoor air quality-monitor tracks temp, humidity, and volatile organic compounds such as VOCs such as alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, organic acids, and aromatic hydrocarbons. The Eve Weather ($49.95) works outdoors and tracks, temperature, humidity and air pressure.

But before you settle on a sensor, ask yourself what you want to it to do. For now, you probably just want something that shows you the temperature and maybe ties into an A/C system or activates a fan. If you want it to tie into your A/C, then you probably need to pick something that is designed to work with your thermostat, because the manufacturers have worked to build integrations that take temperature settings into account to influence their devices. For something like controlling a fan or closing blinds, an If This Then That recipe or programming a smart hub with a rule should work.

One day, I hope sensors will be built into walls and we'll have standards. Then all of this effort will seem silly.

As a serious Apple fan-boy (I'll admit), am I shooting myself in the foot by wanting to make sure all my smart home appliances are HomeKit (or at least HomeBridge) compatible? I want to be able to control everything from everything, and more importantly to get my wife to do it, too. The current market fragmentation has me wondering just how much smart home compatibility and use is "hacky." It seems to me like HomeKit is the answer to that, but Oh Em Gee, it's slow!

I don't know about shooting yourself in the foot, Adam, but you are going to be buying into an unknown with HomeKit. But before you worry too much, basically all of the smart home tech out here is an unknown at this point. We simply have no idea what is going to work for the long term, which is how we like to think of our house-related investments.

So, if you can handle spending some cash on a relative uncertainty, then HomeKit feels as good a choice as any in the market. Apple has focused initially on security and ease of connection with its smart home efforts. This means every HomeKit-certified device has a special chip inside. So if you have older gear that isn't HomeKit certified, it won't work.

But if you haven't started buying connected devices yet, and you're a big Apple lover, then starting with HomeKit-certified products isn't too crazy. I have two caveats, though. The first is that Apple hasn't really shown us a compelling or exciting UI for the smart home that's radically different from the existing products. So if you (or your wife) isn't a fan of the user interface that's out there today, then HomeKit isn't going to change things. The second caveat is that Apple's stance toward controlling the hardware has led to some platforms refusing to work with HomeKit at all. So it's possible that some devices may never make the leap to HomeKit.

A final word of caution. Tying your home automation, which should last for five or 10 years, to a device and operating system that you replace every 18 months to two years may eventually cause problems down the road. For example, what if you switch to an Android phone? As I said at the beginning, there are a lot of unknowns about the smart home that make it hard to invest. That hasn't stopped me, but I'm content with "hacky" solutions and have a husband who is resigned to living in a lab.

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