Once you start down the smart home path, you quickly realize that it’s a never-ending journey. Not only are there always more devices out there waiting to tempt you, but there are all the apps.
From Apple’s Home app through manufacturer companion apps to third-party apps, there are plenty to choose from – especially when it comes to Philips Hue lighting.
We look at three manufacturer apps you might want to continue to use even after you have your devices configured, together with six third-party apps that can help your smart home become even smarter …
Together with Siri, Apple’s own Home app is likely to be your primary interface with your HomeKit devices. It can control absolutely all your devices, individually, as groups and through scenes.
It’s worth noting that its control of some devices is limited. You’re restricted to six colors at any one time for Hue lights, for example. You can edit these colors, but there’s no quick way to select an arbitrary color.
That said, you can’t beat the sheer convenience of having control over all your devices within a single, well-designed app. The ability to put your favorite scenes and most-used accessories on the main screen makes it quick to use, and the room-by-room screens are a quick way to give access to everything in that room.
Once you have your Eve Energy devices setup, there’s little need to use the app: everything you can do with the devices can be done through Siri or the Home app. But the one unique feature the app does offer is both live and projected energy usage – including a forecast of annual running costs for each connected device.
It’s really useful to get an insight into the costs of using different devices. For example, Eve projects that the halogen standard lamps I have in both living-room and office are costing around £45 ($55) a year – while the blue LED mood lighting strips cost just £2/year ($2.50) between them.
The best thing about the Nanoleaf Aurora is its animated scenes. I’m a big fan of Northern Lights, as well as Fireplace, which does a pretty convincing simulation of the warm, flickering glow you get from a real fire.
You can select these via Siri, which is as simple as speaking the name of the scene – you don’t need to preface it with anything to specify the Nanoleaf – it figures that out on its own. But you still need the Nanoleaf app to download new scenes, as well as to delete unwanted ones to reduce virtual clutter.
Both Siri and the Home app can switch Philips Hue bulbs on and off, adjust brightness and set a limited range of colors – but you’ll want the Hue app to get fine-grained control. Setting the colour you want for a bulb or group of bulbs is really easy, simply sliding your finger around the color swatch in the app.
You also need the app to set up widgets which allow you to control Hue lights via your Apple Watch. Sadly, the Watch can only set standard scenes, not the full range of colors.
Ambify describes itself as ‘the Hue-enabled jukebox.’ It creates fully-automatic disco lighting in sync with your music. It’s configurable, but with a very easy-to-use, minimalist UI. If you want an instant party, Ambify is the app to use.
It does, though, have one huge drawback: to auto-sync with music, you need to play that music through the Ambify app itself. I really wish it could just use the microphone to listen to music played via the standard Music app on the iPhone or iTunes on the Mac.
Hue Disco does let you play music from any source, and it claims to use the microphone to adapt to it, though that claim seems a little dubious. But it’s otherwise a really fun app, offering a huge number of options, from rave-like strobing through disco-style lighting to very gentle animations that can take place over as long a period as 90 minutes.
It’s obviously great for parties, but the more relaxing animations are lovely anytime. Set a cycle time of several minutes, for example, and the transition time to ‘Smooth,’ and you have a really easy way to get variety in your lighting without having to do it manually. The Mood Theme allows you to limit colors to a set range of your choosing, so you can stop if getting too carried away with wild color choices.
At first glance, OnSwitch is another scene app for Philips Hue bulbs with relatively expensive in-app purchases needed to unlock all of the features. But the app also works with LIFX ones, and where OnSwitch wins out over competing apps is that the beauty of the scenes.
The reviews support this, with an average rating of 4.5 across more than 200 reviews. Viewed in the context of the money you spend on the bulbs in the first place, $15-20 more to activate all the well-thought-out scenes is decent value.
Lightbow has even more expensive in-app purchases – costing $24.99 for the complete set. But the app offers two compelling benefits. First, it can control Philips Hue, LIFX and WeMo devices, so if you have a mix of kit – even if some of it isn’t HomeKit-compatible – that’s enough reason to buy it.
Second, you also get a fantastic, full-featured editor to create your own effects – probably one of the most powerful out there.
The ever-useful If This Then That app has a number of Philips Hue recipes, albeit not brilliantly organised and with some degree of repetition.
But I’m a fan of the app in general, and the ability to use it to control lighting really extends its usefulness. For example, I use a location recipe to switch on the hallway lighting when arriving home. Some recipes are more gimmicky, or even downright dumb – like blinking all your lights when it starts raining, something which has no time limits so will happily activate at 3am (don’t ask me how I know this …)
Finally, iConnectHue doesn’t technically belong in this piece as it’s not actually HomeKit compatible, but it’s a hugely powerful app for programming Hue lighting and, in particular, switches. For example, you can assign multiple actions and animations to switches, and as these are sent to the hub, they will work whether or not you are running the app – or even if the iPhone with the app isn’t present.
It also offers – via an in-app purchase – very flexible geofences which work with multiple iPhones, so you can do things like have it switch on lights when the first person arrives home and switch them off when the last person leaves.
Have we missed any cool apps? If you have other HomeKit apps you love, do let us know in the comments. If you’d like to share my own smart home journey, check out my Smart Home Diary series.