HomeKit HomeKit -- observations and questions

Discussion in 'HomeKit, HomePod, CarPlay, Home & Auto Technology' started by kingtj, Mar 7, 2018.

  1. kingtj macrumors 68020

    Oct 23, 2003
    Brunswick, MD
    I finally decided to take the plunge into doing some home automation. Since we don't own an Alexa or Google Home device but my wife and I both own iPads and iPhones -- I thought HomeKit was the logical standard to try to put it all under.

    I've got to say, I'm finding it pretty frustrating -- even though I've gotten many things to work. I'm currently using a couple of the WeMo wi-fi mini outlets and 3 of the WeMo wall switches, plus the WeMo HomeKit gateway/hub. Additionally, I went with a Lutron Caseta "starter kit" so I could use their dimmer switch and remote control switch to make a pair of 3-way switches work that control a ceiling fixture at the top of our stairs. I already have a Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener and their gateway, but it appears I have to spend another $99 or so for a newer hub device to add HomeKit compatibility to it. (Right now, it only works remotely with the MyQ app.) And I already have a couple of EcoBee 3 HomeKit compatible thermostats which I've paired up with HomeKit for a while now. Most recently, I bought a couple of 2nd. generation August smart locks since Best Buy put them on a 1-day sale for $99 each.

    First off? I quickly realized that our 3rd. generation AppleTV needed to be upgraded, if I really wanted to do all of this properly. It *does* still provide some basic functionality as a HomeKit gateway so you can send commands to your stuff when not on your local network .... but you can't set up any automations in HomeKit without the 4th. gen. AppleTV or later. So I just spent the $179 to go with the latest 4K AppleTV and put the old one up for sale.

    Second? The August smart locks were a great way to add a major automation feature to the home without breaking the bank .... but I'm regretting going that route already. Right now, I feel like I'll just go ahead and use them until they break, but will chalk it up to "getting what you pay for" and will invest in something better if I do it again. My biggest gripe with these is the reliance on Bluetooth to control them and the lack of a decent wi-fi to Bluetooth gateway solution for them. (What happens is, the lock works fine with HomeKit as long as it's within range of the Bluetooth signal the AppleTV puts out. But because I put one of these on a detached garage's side door? HomeKit can't communicate with it at all, unless I'm standing right by it with my iPhone when I try to use it. Then its status in HomeKit suddenly goes from "not responding" to active.)

    I *thought* the solution was buying an August Gateway for the lock. $60 later, I discovered it's not nearly as good a solution as it should/could be for two reasons. 1. The gateway outputs a very weak Bluetooth signal with far shorter range than the AppleTV's Bluetooth has. I had to plug the thing into a long extension cord and physically drape it across the door frame so it would be close enough to the August lock to communicate well with it. Pretty ridiculous! And 2. While it works fine with the August iOS app, HomeKit doesn't seem to utilize it at all. Even the August app won't use it by default. I have to tap on a small icon in the top right corner of the screen when I'm looking at the lock status to enable the "remote connection" first. I called August support to see if there was something I was missing to make the August Gateway actually work with HomeKit. The support rep was clearly a foreigner with a thick accent, and could only tell me to delete my entire HomeKit configuration and start over from scratch and then "that should work". I tried and it didn't!

    One of my co-workers is going with all "Z-Wave" compatible automation products and then tying it all back to a Z-Wave to HomeKit gateway he's buying. I don't know for sure how well THAT will work, but I'm quickly thinking it's a better solution than all of these native HomeKit compatible products that use proprietary gateways and various schemes to communicate. Of everything I've tried so far, I'd say the Lutron Caseta has the best thought-out approach to things. They seem to create a proprietary wireless network coming from their gateway device, and each switch communicates with it on that "closed" network. You don't have each switch taking up a separate IP address on your LAN that way, like you get with WeMo, and the HomeKit integration seemed pretty solid. Unfortunately, Lutron doesn't offer devices like smart locks, that I know of, and their products seem to cost a premium too. They do have motorized window blinds ... but that's not something I'm worried about automating until FAR down the road.

    Lastly? Is everyone else using HomeKit having the same problems I see, where devices seem to randomly fall into "not responding" status for a while, and then reappear again when you check back in the "Home" app later? Last night, my upstairs floor Ecobee just decided to disappear along with my 3 remote temperature sensors paired to it, and came back about 30 minutes later. That whole time, it was working great in the Ecobee iOS app itself. I've also seen random WeMo switches go to "not responding" in HomeKit and come back later -- again, still generally working in the native WeMo app if I launch it. I tried to grant shared HomeKit access to my wife's iCloud account on her iPhone 7, and she saw all of my devices but ALL of them showed "not responding" for her. This is pretty bad performance for something that costs so much to set up!
  2. Volusia macrumors 6502


    Jun 8, 2016
    Central Florida
    I, too, am just starting in this process. I have installed one Lutron dimmer and bridge which are working great. Another dimmer is due to arrive tomorrow and will be installed in a bedroom. A little concerned about the distance from the bridge to that dimmer, but will see once I get it installed. I do have an option in mind just in case there is a problem.

    Planning to wait regarding door locks. I am hopeful that the price will come down some and that the technology will continue to improve. Plans right now involve changing out light switches (at least five more) in the next couple of months then will see where I go from there. Will probably do something with the garage door before replacing the door locks; we typically enter via the garage a majority of the time.
  3. TrueBlou macrumors 68040


    Sep 16, 2014
    One option to resolve your Bluetooth distance requirements would be to setup an application called Homebridge.

    I’d recommend you do it on a Raspberry Pi Zero W. It’s really easy to do and once you have you can install a plugin to act as a Bluetooth extender for your devices.

    It also opens up a whole world of otherwise HomeKit incompatible smart devices to you.

    There’s plenty of us here who could help you in setting it up if you need it. But there’s a couple of easy to follow tutorials which would get you up and running.

    I don’t get the issue of devices being unresponsive, rather obvious, but have you made sure in the Apple TV settings that it doesn’t go to sleep?
    Although it shouldn’t matter, I changed mine to not go to sleep back when the Apple TV 4 came out and it resolved my issues.
  4. vondo macrumors member

    Feb 22, 2013
    The Lutron system ranges seems to be pretty good. I've never had a problem in my house, but I suppose you could. However, there is a solution from Lutron. The first Lamp Module you connect to your system will be used as a repeater. Strategic location of that could help if you have a problem.
    --- Post Merged, Mar 8, 2018 ---
    I get this occasionally with my bluetooth based Eve Weathers. One is located about 35' from my AppleTV and is outside. That one comes back. I have another in my wine cabinet which is about the same, but in the basement and through multiple walls.
  5. cynics macrumors G4

    Jan 8, 2012
    HAP (HomeKit Accessory Protocol) can use BT and/or Wifi. Battery operated devices tend to use BT. Proximity operated devices also tend to use BT. Bluetooth uses low power which is very important, and it can also be used to accurately detect proximity which is even more important, at least for a smart lock.

    This is why many smart locks use BT. The August Lock Pro offers Z-Wave though, which is a nice tech that operates as a mesh network from non battery operated nodes. Whereas

    Regardless of protocol used or whatever careful consideration needs to be taken when picking out a lot of these devices. I've been wanting to get a smart lock however I was waiting for the HomePod to come out so I could move a hub closer to the lock.

    As far as no response from devices, I have had issues on occasion but its VERY rare. Although since I run most everything from automations I dont look at the devices very often.
  6. thisismyusername macrumors 6502

    Nov 1, 2015
    I just started looking into all this a few weeks ago. The more and more I read about all this, the more I come to the conclusion that HomeKit just plain sucks. Apple was betting on wifi and bluetooth and both suck for home automation (wifi requires too much power for battery operated devices and bluetooth's range is terrible). Instead of messing with bridges and whatnot, I'm probably going to go with SmartThings or some other hub and use Z-Wave stuff. I do like the idea of HomeKit considering we all have iPhones/iPads here but Apple's behind the curve in this space.

    If I really did want to go with HomeKit, I'd definitely go with Z-Wave switches/dimmers and use a bridge rather than trying to mess with bluetooth/wifi devices.
  7. Arran macrumors 601


    Mar 7, 2008
    Atlanta, USA
    I'm over HomeKit too.

    The Home app sucks if you have a lot of devices to control (60-70 Philips Hue bulbs, switches and sensors). The Philips Hue app, OTOH, has gone through several iterations over the years and has become much more user friendly. I always use it. Never use the Home app.

    But what's really soured me on HomeKit has been my recent struggles to get a HomeKit hub functioning, so that I can keep tabs on everything when away from home. I have a ton of latest-generation, HomeKit capable Apple hardware in my home, but apart from very brief successes it is impossible to get any of it configured as a reliable HomeKit hub.

    As far as I'm concerned, HomeKit seems like vaporware at worst, a "hobby" at best.
  8. kingtj thread starter macrumors 68020

    Oct 23, 2003
    Brunswick, MD
    Oh, interesting! I never even thought about sleep mode on the Apple TV -- but that's certainly how things work if you need a computer to act as a server. If it goes to sleep, it's going to quit doing its job.

    I guess I assumed that the Apple TV would always perform the gateway functionality in the background, whether or not is was asleep -- since Apple would have considered the situation. But I'll check that, because I bet this one still sleeps after some preset length of time.

    I wound up buying a second, used Apple TV 4th. gen. off eBay for about $80, since all the research I did said that was currently the only "recommended" way to extend the Bluetooth network for HomeKit. At $80, it's cheap enough to make sense dedicating it just for that purpose out in my garage. (I returned the August Connect and got close to $60 back.)

    The option to configure a Raspberry Pi Zero for the job sounds good too. I might go that route if I run into any more range/distance issues with this stuff. (I saw El Gato announced a Homekit compatible Bluetooth repeater last year at CES, as well, but then they never seemed to release it. Wondering now if that's ever going to come out?)

    --- Post Merged, Mar 10, 2018 ---
    I understand the reasoning for going with low power Bluetooth on the smart locks. But clearly, if you're going to network these in with HomeKit for remote access, you've got to have a way to bridge them to the rest of your home network first. And that's where I see issues with some of these products. Especially with August, I was extremely disappointed that they'd market that "Connect" device as the BT to Wi-Fi bridge for their locks without even integrating it so HomeKit could utilize it! I mean, they're primarily sold to pair up with their "HomeKit edition" smart-locks! But there's no HomeKit code to scan in or key in on a sticker on the bottom of their Connect adapter or anything.

    And additionally, with locks, you have to worry that they're safe from hacking attempts too. A recent study I read online found that 75% of smart locks tested could be compromised with such methods as Bluetooth replay attacks. August locks did get their firmware patched against such things, but I'm not sure about some of the others on the market.

    I don't feel like home automation is that complete unless you DO use smart locks though, at least on the most often used doors. That's one of the big selling points of the tech for me. (We have a family of 6 living here and it's always a concern that a kid might come home from school when nobody is home and have lost his/her house key, etc.)

  9. Volusia macrumors 6502


    Jun 8, 2016
    Central Florida
    Just as a follow up to my earlier comment, I have installed the second Lutron dimmer switch and not having any issues. I was initially concerned about the distance from the bridge. The bridge is at one end of the house mounted in an open cabinet and connected to my router. The newest switch is at the other end of the house, probably 40 feet in a direct line, but is actually behind two walls. Connection is great, no issues. Will continue moving forward with replacing other switches around the house.

    For anyone interested in a switch based system (vs a bulb system) I would recommend checking out the Lutron products. Very easy to install and, so far, working great!

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8 March 7, 2018