alexa

The 7 Best Apple Home Devices

I keep promising myself that a larger dive into my home automation workflow is coming to this blog. And it is. But I thought that I would first take a moment to outline the top seven apps and devices that I am using in combination with the Apple Home app. These get special attention given that their HomeKit integration allows me to conveniently manipulate them all from within the Apple Home app and command them with Siri. 

All of the devices in this post are also compatible with the Amazon Echo. I only buy home devices that are equally compatible because I use Alexa in my house as well. Furthermore, the home automation space is still very young and fragmented. The more open a platform is, the more flexible it will be now and in the future. 

Philips Hue Lights

Be careful. These WiFi connected light bulbs are the gateway drug of home automation. With them, I can now turn on every light in my house with my phone or voice. For my small house, the bulbs work just fine, but I would recommend the light switches for larger homes for convenience and to save money. Check out the image below to see how these lights appear in the Home app. I can control them individually or group them together. I can automate them by time or location in the Apple Home app. It's really nice to have the lights gently dim around bed time, and gradually wake me up with a gentle red hue an hour before work in the morning. Because my iCloud account also knows who and where my wife is, I can set up an automation that turns off all the lights once both of us have left the house, and another that turns them back on when one of us returns. 

Check out Philips Hue lights here

The Home app aggregates all of my various different home automation devices.

The Home app aggregates all of my various different home automation devices.

The Good Morning scene is automatically set to run at 6:30 am on weekdays and at 9:30 am on weekends.

The Good Morning scene is automatically set to run at 6:30 am on weekdays and at 9:30 am on weekends.

This is the set up screen for my Good Morning scene.

This is the set up screen for my Good Morning scene.

Ecobee Thermostat 

The Nest thermostat was the first home automation device I ever bought. It doesn't work with Apple HomeKit though. So when it unexpectedly died last year, I jumped at the opportunity to try something new. Ecobee thermostats are the best around. Speaking into the thin air "Hey Siri, I'm cold" to turn up the heat is a modern day dream. Of course, I can automate temperature in all of the same ways I can do lights. And I can even group these devices into "scenes" in the Apple home app to streamline frequent actions. For example, the "Arriving Home" scene turns on the air and the lights. This scene is not only triggered by button or voice, but automatically runs when my phone is within close proximity to my house. 

This is what you see when you open the ecobee app.

This is what you see when you open the ecobee app.

Once you tap on a thermostat, you get more detailed controls.

Once you tap on a thermostat, you get more detailed controls.

This is my Arrive Home scene. The door unlocks for me, the thermostat turns on a good temperature, and the lights on the main level of the house turn on.

This is my Arrive Home scene. The door unlocks for me, the thermostat turns on a good temperature, and the lights on the main level of the house turn on.

Schlage Sense Door Lock

My Schlage Sense allows me to unlock my door with the tap of a button. My teaching studio is in the basement of my house and the door is upstairs. It is disruptive to a lesson to constantly be answering my door, so now I just tell my Apple Watch "Hey Siri, unlock the door." It authenticates through contact with my wrist and completes the task. Of course my Arriving Home and Leave Home scenes also unlock and lock the door, in addition to all of the other actions I mentioned above. Having my front door unlock for me when I arrive home makes me feel like I am living in the future. Having it automatically lock when I leave gives me peace of mind that my house is safe. 

Logitech Circle Camera

Of all the HomeKit devices out there, cameras are the hardest to shop for. I have found the Logitech Circle to be the best out there. Nest makes some great cameras but their lack of HomeKit support has driven me away. I have the Logitech set up in our dining room, facing down the primary hallway in my home. It is plugged into an iHome smart plug which is also HomeKit enabled so that I can turn it off and on remotely. This plug is automated in the Home app to turn on when neither my wife and I are home and turn off when one of us arrives home, therefore working like a security camera. When it detects motion it turns on our dining room and kitchen lights. It has a two way microphone so you can chat with someone in your home if you need to. And what I love about it most is that the camera feed shows up right in line with my other smart home controls in the Apple Home app. 

The interface for the Logi Circle 2 app.

The interface for the Logi Circle 2 app.

Eve Sensors

Sensors need no introduction. These things can trigger any other home device to act when they detect motion. Most of mine are set to turn on the lights in a given room when I walk into them. But they can also trigger thermostats and smart plugs. My favorite sensors on the market are made by eve. They are easy to set up and work reliably. Eve also makes a number of other interesting HomeKit products. 

Sensors appear as ‘Triggered’ in the Apple Home app when they have detected motion.

Sensors appear as ‘Triggered’ in the Apple Home app when they have detected motion.

In Apple Home, I can make an automation that turns on the upstairs light whenever my eve sensor is triggered upstairs.

In Apple Home, I can make an automation that turns on the upstairs light whenever my eve sensor is triggered upstairs.

The eve app makes a great alternative to the Apple Home app for controlling all your devices.

The eve app makes a great alternative to the Apple Home app for controlling all your devices.

iHome Smart Plugs

I like using smart plugs as an all purpose way of turning on and off the things in my house that are otherwise not “smart.” In addition to the camera workflow I mentioned above, I also have these plugged into other devices throughout the house. For example, my bedroom fan is plugged into one. I can now turn it on and off in the middle of the night without getting up. “Hey Siri, turn on the fan.” A lot of brands make smart plugs but the iHome is the easiest to set up and use in my experience. 

Apple HomePod

I was hesitant about the HomePod at first given that it shipped with incomplete software and relies entirely on Siri for voice commands. Still, the device offered some compelling features. When iOS 11.4 brought the features that were missing from release (AirPlay 2 and multi room audio), I scooped one up while Best Buy was running a 100 dollar off deal on them, refurbished. 

The HomePod fulfills a lot of the same purposes as the Amazon Echo. It is distinguished by linking into the Apple ecosystem, allowing me to command Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and all of the home automation devices mentioned above. 

Control of the HomePod exists inside the Apple Home app where it appears as a speaker device. The recent addition of AirPlay 2 allows my two Sonos One speakers to show up in the Apple Home app as well. 

The HomePod is first and foremost a good speaker. But it can also command your other speakers in the house and even the audio output of your Apple TVs. Simply command “Hey Siri, move this music to the living room,” and listen as your music is magically transported from one speaker to the next. You can output your Apple TV audio through to this handy speaker and speak playback commands to your tv and movies with statements like “pause,” “stop,” and “skip ahead 50 seconds.”

The HomePod is the core of the Apple Home experience. Of course, you could just as easily control every device in this post from an Echo. However, as an Apple Music subscriber, and frequent listener to podcasts in the kitchen, having a HomePod makes sense for me to own.

It looks like the investment is going to pay off. This fall, iOS 13 will be adding even more features to the HomePod and Home app. For example, the HomePod will be able to distinguish between my voice and my wife’s. This way, when she asks it what is going on today, it will read from her calendar instead of mine. iOS 13 is also introducing speaker automations for scenes. So my Good Morning scene in the Home app will now play my favorite breakfast playlist in addition to turning on select lights and changing the temperature.

And finally, HomeKit automations and Siri Shortcut automations are going to be better tied together, and will be able to be triggered automatically. For example, doing something like stopping my wake-up alarm will both run the Good Morning scene and automatically run this Siri Shortcut that tells me how I slept, delivers a weather report, and opens a meditation in the Headspace app.

In iOS 13, HomePod play controls show up right in the Home app.

In iOS 13, HomePod play controls show up right in the Home app.

In iOS 13, music playback can become part of your scenes.

In iOS 13, music playback can become part of your scenes.

The new Siri Shortcuts app on iOS 13 integrates home automations and personal automations. It also allows them to be automatically triggered by time, location, opening a particular app, and more! In this example, stopping my wake-up alarm triggers my I’m Awake Siri Shortcut, which sets the Good Morning scene, reads me the weather, tells me how I slept, and starts a meditation.

The new Siri Shortcuts app on iOS 13 integrates home automations and personal automations. It also allows them to be automatically triggered by time, location, opening a particular app, and more! In this example, stopping my wake-up alarm triggers my I’m Awake Siri Shortcut, which sets the Good Morning scene, reads me the weather, tells me how I slept, and starts a meditation.

App of the Week: Anylist —> Grocery Shopping and travel preparation has never been easier

This week’s App of the Week is AnyList.

AnyList is an app for making lists. Why use this? I already have Reminders for basic lists, Due for persistent tasks, OmniFocus for project management, and ToDoist for team collaboration. AnyList solves a grab bag of miscellaneous use cases for me, and offers a handful of other compelling features.

I started out needing a fuss-free list app that could allow me to manage reoccurring lists where I need to uncheck the entire list at the end of a process and start over, without recreating the list. This is useful for repeat grocery list items and a travel packing lists. AnyList was amongst the top recommended apps in this category, so I gave it a download.

On the surface, AnyList offers exactly what I wished for. The user-interface is not bad, but it at least looks like it belongs on iOS. A point in its favor. It works well for grocery lists, but also travel lists. As I continue to promote my book at state level music conferences numerous times a year, I am somehow still a really stressful traveler. Having a stock travel list that I can depend on has been instrumental in my ability to manage these trips and be a sane music educator at the same time. The simple feature of unchecking every item on my list and starting from scratch every time I am preparing for a trip is a game changer for me.

Next, I began to investigate the premium features ---> AnyList is also able to import from the Apple Reminders app, integrate with Amazon Echo, share lists with other users, manage grocery shopping, and manage meal planning. I decided to give the premium subscription a go. 

The Apple Reminders import is great. This allows me to keep my “Grocery” list in the Reminders app. I can say “add eggs to my grocery list” and Siri will add it to Apple Reminders. When I open AnyList, it imports items from that exact list into its own database. AnyList also supports Siri natively so I could say “add eggs to my grocery list with AnyList” and it would do the same thing more directly (though with a fussier syntax). Adding items from the Echo is very convenient as I am often in the kitchen when I realize I need something and can now just speak into the thin air, even if my hands are full while cooking.

Syncing a shared grocery list with my wife is a rock solid experience with AnyList. It happens very fast, and I have never had any duplicate copies. AnyList can also automatically organize your shopping list by which aisle of the grocery store certain items are grouped within. This orders them in a way that all allows me to check them off in store order rather than skipping around constantly. Bonus point! —> The Apple Watch version of the app is actually good, and allows me to interact with my lists smoothly and reliably without fiddling with my phone in the store. (Yes, I realize that describing an Apple Watch app as smooth and reliable is setting a low bar for watch apps).

AnyList is also a meal planner app that can parse recipes from websites, automatically add the required items to your shopping list, and walk you through the recipes step by step. (Though I still prefer the superior app, Paprika, for doing that kind of thing.)

Another bonus point! —> AnyList can be programmed to be location aware. You can tag certain shopping items by grocery store and have AnyList remind you when you are near that store. For example, some items I can only buy at Whole Foods. Therefore, I have tagged my precious Hex Ferments kimchi as such in AnyList and have set it to ping my phone when I am within distance. 

Needless to say, I am now subscribed.

Negative point! —> The AnyList Mac app is terrible and is somehow considered a “premium” feature.

None the less, try this app! 

IMG_0706.PNG
IMG_0711.PNG
IMG_0710.PNG