Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: Ikea: 1, Stephen: 0

In our house, I have several lamps plugged into outlets via iHome Smart Plugs, in order to control these otherwise dumb light fixtures with HomeKit.

Like many of these devices, an iOS application is required, and like many of these apps, the iHome Control app is not very good. Coupled with service outages on the iHome side of things that have left my plugs unresponsive for hours at a time, I have been looking for a new solution.

Then I saw that that IKEA had added HomeKit support to its Trådfri smart plugs, so I dropped by my local IKEA and picked one up, as well as the required $30 Trådfri Gateway hub.

As you would expect from IKEA, both devices are very clean and minimal looking:

Ikea stuff
Ikea stuff

After setting up the gateway on my network with the included power and ethernet cables, I downloaded the Trådfri iOS app on my iPhone. It had me scan the QR code on the back of the gateway, but then the app wanted to know if I was adding a dimmer switch, remote control, motion sensor, or wireless on/off switch.

I had none of these items, and as there was no way forward, I simply closed the app and opened Apple’s Home app, which wanted a HomeKit barcode or sticker to add the accessory to my network.

Which I didn’t have.

I’m a pretty smart guy, and I work with technology like this all day every day, but I was suddenly stumped as to how the IKEA system worked. Then I noticed the “Get help” button in the Trådfri iPhone app. I tapped it and read the following:

Select the input device you want to pair with your Trådfri Gateway. An input device is needed to connect your light bulbs with the Gateway and the app.

So, either the Ikea app doesn’t know about the smart plugs, or they require a third accessory to work. Say what you will about the junky iHome app, at least it was never this confusing.

I did a little more digging and found this on the IKEA site, on the page for the smart plug itself:

You need one of the steering devices in the Trådfri series (remote control, wireless dimmer or wireless motion sensor) in order to connect your control outlet with the gateway and the app.

I got in my truck to go pick up the $16 Trådfri remote control, too far into this column to bail out.

Ikea visit
Ikea visit

After picking up the Trådfri remote control (with another plug, because it’s all they had in stock), I drove home in nerd shame, avoiding my family as I snuck back into my studio to pair the remote control with the Gateway.

The remote paired easily with the Gateway with the in-app directions, but when it came to pairing the remote with the switch, things ground to a halt again until the app could update the firmware on everything.

While that was running, I went into the in-app settings and discovered the required HomeKit code. Not that it mattered, as sent me back to the Trådfri for “additional setup.”

I assume this was related to the firmware updates, but after waiting overnight and still seeing the “Update Pending” label next to my remote control, I gave up and filed this column.

I have no idea how well IKEA supports HomeKit. Past my initial purchasing mistake, the app was buggy and convoluted, and the need to pair every single piece of hardware simply failed for me.

In short, everything about this was a nightmare. I guess I should have seen this coming from this from the company that expects the average adult can assemble a bookcase with 731 parts.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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