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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: More HomeKit automation granularity

I’ve been dabbling in smart home and automation for a while, so I’ve been keeping tabs on Apple’s HomeKit. It had a bit of a false start with iOS 9, which introduced the protocol but didn’t provide a real front end interface for your gadgets.

With iOS 10, Apple’s moved to correct that with the Home app, which adds not only controls for your devices, but also a feature to automate them—provided you have an updated Apple TV or an iPad to use for the purpose. (Automation routines are run on the devices themselves; your iPhone’s probably going to be leaving the house with you, so it’s not going to be able to turn on the lights for you while you’re away.)

Apple’s automation triggers are pretty basic, and the company has also limited some features such as which classes of devices can send notifications.

For me, one of the frustrating weaknesses of HomeKit automation thus far is the lack of granularity in some of its timing triggers. Specifically, I have a light in my office that comes on around sunset. I used to automate that with a Belkin WeMo switch, which let me create a rule to say “turn on one hour before sunset.” That way, it adjusted with the shift in daylight hours over the course of the year, and never required any re-programming. Great.

When I switched to a Hue bulb in that lamp, I ran into a problem. The Hue app would allow me to set a rule to trigger at sunset—but not a specified time before. Given where my office windows face, by the time it’s sunset, my office is already on the darker side, so I’ve generally manually turned on the light already.

homekit-automation
HomeKit’s automation has the same problem. I can choose Sunset (or Sunrise, for that matter) as a trigger time, but I can’t set an offset. For that, I ended up having to turn to a third-party app recommended by some folks on Twitter, iConnectHue. It provides a lot of features, but honestly the only thing I really use it for is this one particular use case.

This speaks to one of the larger problems with home automation right now: the fragmentation. It’s possible for me to have a half dozen apps with different features, each running different rules. If you’re not careful, those can collide with one another. Depending on how many places you create rules, that means a frustrating process of tracking down exactly what actions are happening in what app or service.

(Not to suggest that this is all bad: the reason this problem exists is because there’s an API that apps can easily access. Arguably, that’s far better than having a closed system where you would have to be all-in from a single vendor.)

My feeling is that Apple has only just scratched the surface with HomeKit, and that we’ll see more features as the market itself becomes a little better defined. iOS 10’s implementation is already far more mature than what we got with iOS 9—here’s hoping for further improvement in iOS 11.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]