Smart Home Diary Stories November 15

Otherwise titled: How having a smart home led me to spend one-and-a-half times as much as planned on a Breville Barista Touch coffee machine.

I love gadgets. I love smart home devices in particular. To me, they combine undeniable practical benefits, convenience, and gadget appeal. Even my girlfriend, who has zero interest in gadgets, has been won over by most of our smart home tech.

But there are hidden costs to being an early adopter of what is still a relatively bleeding-edge technology – both financial and otherwise …

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Smart Home Diary Stories December 11, 2020

When I saw that Flic HomeKit-compatible smart buttons were available, I had to take them for a spin.

Second-generation Flic smart home buttons now have HomeKit compatibility, along with multi-color LEDs to indicate the status of the device they control.

The original Flic buttons from Shortcut Labs could control a reasonably wide range of devices — including Ikea, Nanoleaf, Lifx, Lightify, Philips Hue, Sonos, Spotify, and WeMo — but HomeKit support now makes them suitable for a much wider range of smart home products…

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Smart Home Diary Stories November 5, 2020

I recently wrote a Feature Request calling for the ability to enable HomeKit presence detection via Wi-Fi network, as a more reliable approach than Location Services. In particular, I wanted a way of automatically unlocking our front door on connection to our home Wi-Fi.

Here’s what I’d like to see. Identify your home Wi-Fi network, and have iOS remember this. Then be able to set a variety of automations as soon as your phone connects to it. These would include HomeKit automations (unlock door, switch on lights, etc) …

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Smart Home Diary Stories April 27, 2020

Upgrading broadband isn’t something any of us do often, but when I found that gigabit broadband had finally reached my building, I found it impossible to resist, despite having no real justification for such speeds. But hey, gigabit broadband is a gadget, right?

Sure enough, I now get very close to gigabit speeds on an Ethernet connection in my office (see above), and 5Ghz Wi-Fi delivers 2-300Mbps for both uploads and downloads elsewhere in the apartment.

There was, however, one aspect of the upgrade I was dreading…

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Smart Home Diary Stories April 2, 2020

The Danalock has filled the last remaining hole in my smart home armory: a smart lock.

You could say I’m something of a home automation fan. I had near-withdrawal symptoms when briefly forced to live without it for a while after moving home back in 2017. Getting things back up-and-running was a great relief!

Lights and smart sockets were followed by window blinds (later given HomeKit compatibility), smart(ish) heating (though more on that another day), and even a control panel.

But I’d avoided a smart lock for three reasons …

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Smart Home Diary Stories September 26, 2019

Writing user guides used to be part of how I earned my living. But this week I’ve been creating a smart home user guide on a purely personal basis.

When you’ve lived with smart home tech for quite some time, it all becomes second nature. But it’s easy to forget just how much there would be to learn for someone new to it all.

That’s a discovery we made when arranging for a friend to cat-sit later in the year. He’ll be living in our apartment while we’re on holiday, and it was only when we were showing him around that I realized quite how much there is to know – and he’s a tech guy by profession…

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Smart Home Diary Stories May 24, 2019

A conversation this morning got me thinking about the different categories of smart home tech.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love gadgets for their own sake. If there’s a low-tech way of doing something and a hi-tech way of doing it, I’ll tend to favor the hi-tech option even where the benefit is marginal.

My partner is not of the same view. She’s not a Luddite by any means – she has an iPhone, iPad, Mac, and appreciates some hi-tech solutions – but for her, the default option is the traditional way of doing things. Any technological wizardry has to justify itself.

This results in some negotiations about the devices we have in our apartment, which led me to the conclusion that there are three categories of smart home tech …

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Smart Home Diary Stories May 9, 2019

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 …

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Smart Home Diary Stories January 16, 2019

One recurring theme I’ve seen in comments on my various Smart Home Diary pieces is the view expressed by some that a truly smart home ought to be automated. That pressing on-screen buttons on an iPhone does not equate to a smart home, only automation does.

I have some sympathy for this view. ‘Anything that can be automated should be automated’ is something of a mantra for me. But automation isn’t the whole picture, and I’d like to explain why I hold that view …

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Smart Home Diary Stories January 14, 2019

I mostly control smart home devices via Siri, and even Steph has become a convert to the idea since we got HomePods.

But while both Siri and the Home app make things very simple for us, things are trickier for guests – which is why I decided to put an old iPad to work …

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Smart Home Diary Stories September 7, 2018

I’ve played around a bit with Alexa, and even considered buying an Echo Dot or two before the launch of HomePod, but in the end decided to wait it out.

However, while Hunter Douglas is still promising HomeKit support for our Luxaflex Duette blinds, and was expecting to get there by now, certification has been delayed until later in the year. In the meantime, it’s gone ahead with the launch of the new bridge which brings voice control to the blinds – but so far only for Alexa and Google Home …

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Smart Home Diary Stories February 21, 2018

I explained in my first HomePod Diary piece that there was one smart home issue we needed to address: while I’m happy to use Siri to control everything from my Apple Watch or iPhone, my partner would often find that she wanted to switch lights on or off while her phone was in another room. We’d partially addressed this with Hue dimmer switches, but wanted more flexibility.

Some kind of smart speaker was the obvious solution to this, and the HomePod would have the advantage of being able to act as a HomeKit hub too.

In my HomePod Diary, I’ve been focusing mostly on music, but I’m also happy to report that the smart speaker has also passed the Steph Test …

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Smart Home Diary Stories January 22, 2018

Once you start down the HomeKit route, the convenience of having everything controlled from a single app is pretty addictive. So these days I view HomeKit compatibility as a pretty non-negotiable item with any smart home tech.

But there are limits. And paying £16,500 ($22,000) for a Lutron system was definitely well beyond them!

However, the thing about having a lot of windows – especially floor to ceiling ones – is that good-quality blinds are expensive no matter what. And in the winter garden (glazed balcony) in particular, which is where we spend a huge amount of our time, we wanted really nice ones.

So when we found that we could have great blinds with iPhone control and promised HomeKit support for a little under half that price, we gulped and went for it …

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Smart Home Diary Stories December 4, 2017

It’s hard to believe that I’ve had a comprehensive smart home for less than a year. My first HomeKit purchases were made in January, and the gaps filled in February. Yet the technology had become so much a part of home that it felt really odd (and not a little disconcerting) to be left without it for a couple of weeks.

You always feel a bit like you’re camping for a little while on moving into a new home, when you’re not yet fully unpacked and things aren’t all set up the way you want them. I was surprised just how much of that feeling I got from the lack of home automation.

So it was with some relief that I finally set about rectifying this. Since most of the kit in the old place was included in the sale, we were stating from scratch in our new place …

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Smart Home Diary Stories November 24, 2017

I mentioned that planning a home move gave me a couple of new perspectives on smart home technology, while starting from scratch in the new place forced me to think about what has and hasn’t justified its existence.

They say that the true test of the value of anything is to try living without it for a while, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks.

Much as I love our new apartment, the view from which which came in very handy for testing the iPhone X camera, the place has also required some work. It took a week to get broadband up-and-running, without which I couldn’t install anything, and we also needed to get some basics sorted before worrying about smart home tech …

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Smart Home Diary Stories July 21, 2017

Anyone engaging me in conversation at the moment would be well advised to avoid the topic of realtors in particular, and the joys of finding, buying and selling homes in general.

Progress has been rather frustratingly slow, but we will, at some point, be making the move – and one of the many items on my to-do list has been deciding what will and won’t make the cut in terms of smart home technology …

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Smart Home Diary Stories May 29, 2017

When you spend your life writing about technology, and have a lot of techy friends, you can fairly easily find yourself living inside a hi-tech bubble. Things like smart home technology can start to feel relatively mainstream, especially when companies like Ikea are getting in on the action.

Prices have started to fall, with several commenters on a recent piece noting that even the market leading Philips Hue system has bulbs from $15, often discounted below that level.

We’re starting to see new homes being sold with HomeKit technology included as standard, companies are making the technology easier to adopt with complete table lamps – and installers are setting up shop ready to do the hard work for you if it all seems a bit much for DIY.

But planning to move home has shown me just how far it all is from mainstream as far as the world at large is concerned …

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Smart Home Diary Stories March 31, 2017

My Smart Home Diary series describes my decision to go all-in on HomeKit, even though it meant the expense of replacing some older, non-HomeKit-compatible devices. For me, it just makes obvious sense to have a complete ecosystem of connected devices that can all be controlled by a single app – and by Siri.

I’d even go as far as arguing that HomeKit-compatibility is now the entry fee for companies wanting to launch smart home devices. I’ve turned down several pieces of kit offered for review because they didn’t work with HomeKit.

But great as it is, HomeKit isn’t perfect. I described earlier some of my irritations, and in this piece I’ve compared notes with my colleagues to compile a wishlist of things we’d love to see …

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Smart Home Diary Stories February 20, 2017

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I wrote last time that despite having 16 HomeKit devices, I was already wanting more. No-one who knows me will be the slightest bit surprised that the interval between ‘wanting more’ and ‘getting more’ was rather short. Every light in my home is now HomeKit-enabled, and I’ve also added some switches and motion-sensors.

The lightbulb additions were the kitchen and bathroom, and the justification of adding these two rooms seemed somewhat flimsy. Were we really ever going to want mood lighting in the bathroom or kitchen? But having added these rooms into the mix, along with some rather old-fashioned HomeKit technology, I’m glad I did it.

That doesn’t mean that HomeKit is perfect, however – but let’s start with what I’ve added and why before I list my complaints …

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Smart Home Diary Stories February 3, 2017

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I said last time that I was waiting for a grown-up to install my new light fittings for the Philips Hue lights, and this has now been done. This added a total of ten color & white spotlights across three rooms (living-room, office, and bedroom) and two white bulbs for the landing and hall.

The result is that all the lights bar the kitchen, bathroom and spare room are now HomeKit controlled.

Zac talked earlier about his HomeKit setup. In this piece, I’ll share my thoughts on the Philips Hue bulbs, from setup to use; describe how my revised setup works; show the kind of fun you can have with Hue lights; and explain why I now want even more …

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Smart Home Diary Stories January 26, 2017

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London is my favorite place in the world, but there are a few downsides to living here – and one of those is that some tech takes a while to cross the Atlantic. HomeKit was one example. Different plug sockets and using 240v instead of 110v means that we needed to wait for UK-specific versions of HomeKit-compatible kit.

I also had various items of non-compatible Smart Home technology that made it a little financially painful to go all-in on HomeKit. I was, for example, an early adopter of WeMo, with a socket switch for each of my standard lamps, all of which needed to be replaced.

But no self-respecting gadget lover could pass up the opportunity for voice-control – and that, plus the greater capabilities, eventually made the switch to HomeKit irresistible. This piece doubles as a diary of my own experiences and a how-to guide to getting started with HomeKit …

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