thermostat

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.

Favorites of 2018 - Apps!

These posts will never happen if I don’t make it fuss free. So here is it! With little introduction or fanfare, the ‘stuff’ that made up my year. My favorite albums, live shows, apps, and ‘things’ of 2018.

Next up, apps!

Apps

Things and OmniFocus

Task management software makes up about 50 percent my time on computing devices so it’s natural that I include what I consider to be the best two apps in this field. After seven years of using OmniFocus, I am experimenting with Things again. I plan to write about this switch in more detail but for now I leave you with this: if you are looking for a powerful way to stay on top of your tasks and don’t mind paying for a premium design, check these apps out.

The Today view in Things displays all of my tasks for the day alongside my calendar.

The Today view in Things displays all of my tasks for the day alongside my calendar.

The Forecast view in OmniFocus is similar to the Today view in Things. Though I have it turned off in this screenshot, it actually displays your tasks inline with your calendar events so you can see where ‘due’ tasks fit into your day.

The Forecast view in OmniFocus is similar to the Today view in Things. Though I have it turned off in this screenshot, it actually displays your tasks inline with your calendar events so you can see where ‘due’ tasks fit into your day.

Health

The Health app by Apple is my hub for collecting all sorts of data about myself from various devices, apps and clinics. It houses data from devices like my Apple Watch, Spire respiratory monitor, Fitbit WiFi scale, and Spark Smart Water Bottle. It tracks data in third party apps like: work outs, active calories burned, steps, heart rate, sleep, water intake, nutrition, meditation minutes, caffeine intake, and blood pressure. It can now even aggregate health data from participating clinics and practices so I don’t have to log into a million web portals. My Quest and LabCorp results are a tap away. The beauty of the app is that it allows me to organize these data points and see them alongside one another so I can draw meaningful conclusions about them. Like for example, I eat better on days when I get more sleep.

Home

Apple’s Home app is the hub for controlling my smart home. I can control all of my smart things in the same user interface rather than by punching into lots of different apps. I can also use it to automate different actions. For example, my Good Morning scene automatically runs at 6:30 am every day which turns on my lights, changes the temperature, and lately, turns on the Christmas tree.

My Today view in Apple Health aggregates all of my health data regardless of which app is responsible for tracking it.

My Today view in Apple Health aggregates all of my health data regardless of which app is responsible for tracking it.

The My Home view in Apple Home shows my most used home automation devices and ‘scenes.’

The My Home view in Apple Home shows my most used home automation devices and ‘scenes.’

Tonal Energy Tuner

Absolute must for an instrumental music teacher. Using the new Screen Time feature on iOS reveals that I spend too much time on Reddit. But also that I spend more time than any other app in Tonal Energy. It’s literally running in the foreground all day long while I’m at school, helping students to match pitch, blend, and keep steady time.

Trello

This may be my productivity discovery of the year. Trello is the team project app you have been waiting for. It’s vibrant, Kanbab board style interface will have your team, family, or Dungeons and Dragons group enjoying every minute of collaboration. Bonus points for how well this app integrates with Slack which is my preferred team communication tool.

Planning concerts in Trello allows my team to share todos, check lists, files, and more. We can give items due dates and even assign tasks to other members.

Planning concerts in Trello allows my team to share todos, check lists, files, and more. We can give items due dates and even assign tasks to other members.

GoodNotes

GoodNotes has become my go-to handwritten note application. It acts like a bookshelf of notebooks so to speak. I take a lot of the work I create in iWork, Ulysses, and OmniGraffle, export them as PDFs, organize them into notebooks in GoodNotes, then annotate them on the go using my iPad. My favorite thing to do with it is keep a notebook of seating charts that have my rehearsal annotations on top of the names of my students. I love how you do not need to trigger an annotation mode to start scribbling on a document with the Apple Pencil. It just feels like paper.

Streaks

There are a lot of great habit building apps out there but Streaks has stuck with me because it encourages you to focus on just six habits at a time. When I am building too many habits at once, they start to feel like a todo list. The Streaks method of choosing six, along with its addictive user interface, keep me launching the app, which keeps me working towards my goals.

AutoSleep and AutoWake

Of the ten or so sleep trackers I have tried for the iPhone and Apple Watch, AutoSleep has stuck with me the most. There are numerous things I like about it, but most of all is how it figures out the most accurate number of hours I have been asleep whether I wear my watch to sleep or not. The companion app, AutoWake, wakes me up silently with haptic feedback on the watch. It does this when I am in my least deep sleep within a half hour before my alarm is set to go off. This eases me awake rather than jolting me awake. I plan to blog later this month about how I am automating some cool stuff in my house when I wake up using this app.

WaterMinder

WaterMinder is my favorite app for tracking water intake, mostly because of its well designed and space efficient widget.

Shortcuts

I did not get as much out of the Siri Shortcuts app this year as I wanted to. In fact, I had a lot of bad luck with it. But it is still an app that is working really well for me in a couple of small areas. In one tap, it generates a clean copy of my band's seating chart in GoodNotes for annotations and opens my lesson plan for the day in OmniOutliner. 

The Waterminder Widget.

The Waterminder Widget.

Some of my Shortcuts.

Some of my Shortcuts.

CARROT⁵ Weather

This is my favorite weather app due to its clean and appealing design. It gets my pick this year because of how they continue to innovate the Apple Watch app. My favorite feature of the watch is the customizable complications. Carrot makes the best weather complication for the Apple Watch, maybe the best complication, period. Carrot allows infinite customization for how it looks on the watch, depending on which watch face you like to view it, and even in which corner of the watch face you prefer to keep it installed.

The Carrot Weather app complication can be seen in the lower left corner.

The Carrot Weather app complication can be seen in the lower left corner.

Streaks. Guess I can check off that one in the lower right corner now.

Streaks. Guess I can check off that one in the lower right corner now.