Although I do generally have a rule that smart home tech has to be HomeKit-compatible, there have been a few exceptions here and there. HomeKit-compatible window blinds were one of these, because the only option available at the time was just crazy money for the number we needed.
We did still get iPhone-controlled blinds, with HomeKit support promised down the line. Alexa support arrived first, which gave me an interesting insight into how the two ecosystems compared – but then HomeKit support finally landed for Hunter Douglas blinds …
The upgrade wasn’t as straightforward as it could have been. All seemed to go well, and after updating the app and syncing, we had Siri control of the blinds on HomePod. However, while all three iPads – his, hers and home control panel – all worked fine, our iPhones didn’t. All blinds showed as No Response.
We tried various things, including reinstalling the PowerView app, rebooting the bridge and router, and doing a fresh installation of the bridge, all to no avail. Fortunately, a replacement bridge did the trick.
To be honest, by the time it was sorted, we were managing pretty well without HomeKit support. The blinds were controlled by a mixture of timed automations and voice control via two Echo Dot speakers, one in the winter garden, the other in the bedroom.
But the thing I did miss about HomeKit-compatible window blinds was scenes. I wanted a voice command or button press to configure everything – lights and blinds alike. And that’s been the best thing about it: for example, ‘Hey Siri, sleep home’ now switches off the bedroom lamps and closes the bedroom blind.
Bizarrely, however, Alexa is better than Siri at multi-blind scenes. We have seven blinds in the winter garden, and four scenes for these:
- Blinds Open
- Close Front
Blinds Open and Close Front are mostly timed. The blinds open in the morning, and the front ones close at noon to keep the heat of the sun out in the afternoons, to avoid the winter garden ending up like an oven in the summer. At sunset, Blinds Open runs again once the sun has gone down.
But the other two scenes are run manually. Shade is used when we’re sitting in there in the day and the sun is bright. It partially closes the three blinds in front of the sofa to block the sun while still allowing us to enjoy the view. Cosy is used at night when it’s cold: it does the same as Shade with the blinds in front of us, then closes the rest fully, to keep in the warmth.
What I’ve noticed is that if I ask Alexa to run these scenes, all the blinds move together; if I ask Siri to do it, they start one at a time. Hunter Douglas has now explained why:
The reason is that Alexa is simply executing the PowerView scene but HomeKit pulls the PowerView scene into the HomeKit world and dissects it into its individual actions. This is required by HomeKit so that the scene can be edited from HomeKit or combined with other devices in HomeKit. When you ask Siri to execute a PowerView scene, HomeKit is then sending out individual shade position commands separately which then have to get queued up by the PowerView hub and sent out individually as we can’t necessarily tie it back to the original scene.
It’s essentially a side effect of the deeper integration that comes with HomeKit. We are working with Apple to see how we can provide a better experience around this.
Other smart home developments
When Spotify offered Family members a free Google Home mini speaker, it seemed rude to say no. So now we have all three smart speaker systems.
I must confess that I couldn’t immediately think of a use for it, but eventually put it in the bathroom so I can check the time or weather while in the bath. It’s a pretty spurious excuse, I know, but I could hardly be expected to refuse it, could I? Like Alexa, Google Home works via downloadable skills, and I’m still not at all convinced this is a good approach.
We were also finding Wi-Fi coverage was a little weak in the bedroom, so I decided to invest in a mesh router system. Asking for feedback from friends and colleagues, the bottom-line appeared to be that they all work well, and Google Wi-Fi was on offer, so got a two-pack. With one unit in the living-room and the other in the hallway, we now have full Wi-Fi bars throughout the apartment.
Eve sent me a Light Strip (which our sister site 9to5Toys reviewed). We’re going to use that as an overhead reading light in the bedroom, as well as for mood lighting, so more on that in the next Smart Home Diary.
Finally, we have a floor mopping robot to test. We’re still huge fans of the Neato Botvac robot vacuum cleaner, and first impressions of the mopping robot are good. Steph has expressed the view that one robot is enough for any apartment, however, so its stay may be a short one. Review to follow.
Do keep sharing your own smart home setups in the comments – it’s always great to hear what other people are doing.
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