HomeKit al­ter­na­tives

Ap­ple’s not the only com­pany in the home au­to­ma­tion game…

Mac Format - - APPLE HOMEKIIT -

Home au­to­ma­tion is in its in­fancy and so a per­fectly vi­able al­ter­na­tive to HomeKit at this stage is to avoid com­plex set­ups en­tirely, and in­stead con­cen­trate on a few in­di­vid­ual pieces of tech­nol­ogy you think will im­prove your life right now. For ex­am­ple, while the Withings Home and Philips Hue will both even­tu­ally be able to nestle into a HomeKit setup, they work per­fectly well as they are. Plonk a Withings Home in a room and it’ll send live video and im­agery to an iPhone, along with alert­ing you re­gard­ing move­ment – it’ll even send th­ese things to an Ap­ple Watch. Like­wise, the Philips Hue has long been a MacFor­mat favourite, with its iOS app pro­vid­ing an el­e­gant and sim­ple means of re­motely con­trol­ling home light­ing.

All pow­er­ful?

How­ever, the more de­vices and gad­gets you ac­cu­mu­late, the more you’re go­ing to want to make them work as one, and there are plenty of com­pet­ing pro­to­cols and stan­dards. Z-Wave and Zig­Bee are two popular com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­to­cols that can be used in home au­to­ma­tion kit. The for­mer’s web­site talks of lead­ing brands be­ing pow­ered by it. The lat­ter calls it­self the “only open, global wire­less stan­dard to pro­vide the foun­da­tion for the In­ter­net of Things”.

Re­ally, though, pro­to­cols are only part of the puz­zle. What makes HomeKit isn’t the pro­to­col it­self, but the fact it’s part of an Ap­ple ecosys­tem. As a con­sumer armed with an iPhone, you’ll just grab a piece of MFi-cer­ti­fied kit, know­ing it should work with your home set-up. The two names most likely to take on Ap­ple in that sense are Sam­sung and Google. Sam­sung has made ma­jor in­roads into home au­to­ma­tion over the past cou­ple of years, in­te­grat­ing it into the com­pany’s prod­ucts. This was fur­ther ce­mented by a 2014 ac­qui­si­tion of SmartThings (smartthings.com), a US-based com­pany build­ing an open plat­form for smart homes. Through the SmartThings Hub and free app (iOS, An­droid and Win­dows), you can add and use what­ever de­vices you want, cus­tomis­ing your smart home.

Google, too, looks set to battle Ap­ple for the fu­ture of home au­to­ma­tion. While its An­droid @ Home sys­tem seem­ingly stalled, the com­pany bought the popular Nest smart ther­mo­stat. Nest has since branched out into re­lated prod­ucts and a ‘Work with Nest’ pro­gram. This en­ables smart ac­ces­sories to work with Nest in all kinds of ways, in­clud­ing tog­gling lights when the ther­mo­stat is in ‘away’ mode dur­ing your hol­i­days, and flash­ing Hue lights to get your at­ten­tion when a Nest Pro­tect smoke alarm senses some­thing’s wrong.

Late last year, Nest formed a work­ing group with Sam­sung and sev­eral other com­pa­nies to re­lease Thread (thread­group.org), which it de­scribes as “the very best way to connect and con­trol prod­ucts in the home”. It’s pro­moted as se­cure and with­out a sin­gle point of fail­ure, along with es­sen­tially solv­ing ev­ery prob­lem, ever, for con­nect­ing prod­ucts around the home.

At this point, your head might hurt from all the choice and it is im­pos­si­ble to know how ev­ery­thing will shake out. Google in par­tic­u­lar seems well placed to take on HomeKit, not least with its rapidly im­prov­ing soft­ware de­sign smarts and own­er­ship of Nest. Sam­sung, too, is an in­dus­try gi­ant that also man­u­fac­tures tele­vi­sions and a huge range of home ap­pli­ances.

Fluid fu­ture

How­ever, Ap­ple has ad­van­tages of its own. It’s taken the time to get HomeKit right, boasts su­perb brand recog­ni­tion and sat­is­fac­tion, and also has a his­tory of cre­at­ing ecosys­tems in which third-par­ties can flour­ish.

We’d say the fu­ture of home au­to­ma­tion is fluid. If you sim­ply can­not wait for a gad­get, by all means buy it now if it’ll hap­pily work with your ex­ist­ing iOS de­vices. Oth­er­wise, hang on for HomeKit proper if you’re wed­ded to Ap­ple, or in­ves­ti­gate al­ter­na­tives (no­tably SmartThings) if you’ve a very mixed-use house­hold in terms of smartphones and ac­ces­sories.

US-based SmartThings was ac­quired by Sam­sung and pro­vides an open plat­form which does a lot of what Ap­ple’s aim­ing for with its HomeKit sys­tem.

The ex­ist­ing Hue sys­tem from Philips, be­fore any HomeKit in­te­gra­tion, pro­vides an ex­cel­lent way of smart-con­trol­ling the light­ing in your home through the iPhone app.

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