Friday, November 24, 2017

IoT 2017 Guide

Life is series of doors that only open one way. - Luna: New Moon (Ian MacDonald)
I've been asked by quite a few friends about what amazing internet of things devices they should be putting on their wishlist or buying for family members this year - so let me organize my thoughts around this for this buying season about what I have.
First I am bought into the Apple HomeKit ecosystem as my choice. If you are an Android or Alexa ecosystem, the options are probably different for you. You'll need an AppleTV as your home hub - in theory an old iPad, but don't be silly. I also have devices that are not natively HomeKit, and use a cool app called HomeBridge to connect them. See below!
Smart Thermostat - I think the first big IoT thing was the thermostat.  My recommendation on this one is now the ecobee4 as the best one with native HomeKit support.  I currently own a Nest and I like it better, but it will probably never have HomeKit support and I would like to phaseout the HomeBridge for managing my smart devices.
Sprinkler Controller - I got the Rachio Iro the moment it came out and I have loved it every moment I had it. It does seasonal adjustments automatically increasing and decreasing watering times and it does skips if there is rain so I'm not watering my lawn as water is falling down from the sky. I've been extremely happy with this purchase.  I think there is a HomeBridge plugin for it, but I've never tried. I really don't have any need to tell Siri to turn on the sprinkler system.
Smart Lights - Favorite - I recently installed Lutron Caseta and this is the system I've WANTED. It's not smart lightbulbs, it's smart dimmer wall switches and they work on a three-way switch.  It requires enough bravery to turn off your circuit break and change the wall switch - it's not hard. What's great about this is that if you have a fixture with four bulbs, you're just changes the one one all socket and you're good to go.  You don't need four smart bolts for it.
Smart Lights - Also - Okay, so I also have 4 Philips Hue bulbs in the living room.  If you want to do colors, then Philips Hue is the way to go. But I don't need to be able to control lighting colors through the entire house - it's just my party trick in the main room - so I have the set there, and the Caseta switches everywhere else.
Smart Doorbell - I'm in a wait and see mode on this one since there aren't any that have HomeKit support and HomeBridge doesn't have video support.   There are two main contenders, both of whom have said HomeKit support is "coming in a future software update."  I own a earlier SkyBell and it's slick.  My main complaint is that my earlier version doesn't save videos - but it does look like the latest version does store videos for download without a paid online subscription which is great. The other contender is Ring Doorbell, but it looks like you need to pay a $3/mo subscription fee to download videos which isn't crazy.
Smart Lock - I have an August Smart Lock and it's great.  You don't replace your whole mechanism, just the interior side where you have your latch for the deadbolt.  This thing is big - because it needs to have a motor powerful enough to drive an ancient and powerful deadbolt, but it works like a charm.
Camera - I don't have a solid recommendation for this one.  I have the Nest Cam and I love it, but you pay $140 - $200 for the camera, and the $10/mo for Nest Aware.  When I think about owning mine for four years? It's a lot.  There's no HomeKit support, but it's awesome.  I can set it to only get notifications if it sees an unrecognized person when I'm not home (and my wife isn't home). Awesome.  The Nest App that lets me review my last week of video is also amazing in it's ability to scrub around see when motion occurs and info what I'm looking for.
I also have a D-Link Omna 180 which has HomeKit support and local storage without a subscription fee.  HomeKit support doesn't mean much. I can see the video in my Home app and it also puts a motion detector in Home which I can use for smart triggers.  To actually review history, I need to launch the Omna app and it just records 30s video clips every time it detects motion.  It's functional, gets the job done, but is a way harder to use and more annoying than the Nest app.  On the other hand, I'm not paying $100/yr for this thing.
Garage Door - I have the Chamberlain MyQ and I love it! It's one of those most magical things to be able to tell Siri to open and close the garage on my watch.  I'm current using HomeBridge to enable this, but Chamberlain recently released an official hub that adds HomeKit support.
Switch - I have a couple things (fan, coffee maker) on smart switches.  I'm currently using WeMo for this, but I have to HomeBridge it because there is no HomeKit support at this time.  So don't do that. At this point I'd recommend the iHome iSP8 as the smart switch. It's the one I'll buy for my next smart switch need.
Weather - I have a Netatmo Weather Station setup.  With the weather station module in the backyard, it's kind of cool to ask Siri for the temperature in the backyard.  I also have a fancy script that checks the temperature in the backyard (NetAtMo) versus the temperature in the house and Nest Thermostat settings (heat/cool/range) and tells me if it's a good time to open/close the windows.
Smoke Detector - I don't have a great recommendation on this, I think Onelink is the only HomeKit compatible version.  I have a Nest Protect and it's fine.
Vehicle Tracker - No HomeKit on this one, but I use the Automatic in the car to keep track of all the trips travelled. My car is too old to keep track fuel automatically, so I use Road Trip for that.
Cooking Thermometer - I use the Weber iGrill 2 and it's not HomeKit, but I love it. It's a food thermometer that does a bluetooth connection to your phone. You can see a graph of your food as it cooks and you get an alert when your food is 10m away from being done. I don't cook meat in the oven or on the BBQ without using it. What I find most amazing is how linear the path of heating food is when constant heat is applied to it - what I find frustrating is that it doesn't give you an estimated time to completion as it seems totally predicable to me.

HomeBridge is awesome and I randomly stumbled upon and here very little about it.  It's an open source project you install on your macOS server at home that provides a HomeKit interface to a ton of IoT devices that don't support it.  I have connect my MyQ garage, WeMo smart plugs and switches, TCP Wireless bulbs, Netatmo weather station, and SamsungTV.  It's great.

Probably also worth mentioning the WiFi setup. I used to have 2 Apple Airport Extremes setup on opposite ends of the house and it worked like a charm.  Never had any issues.  As all the various "mesh wifi" systems came out, I felt like I'd been running one for a long time. Since Apple is probably(?) leaving the AirPort product line, I recently swapped over to the Eero system at home and works like a charm.

"Hey Siri, goodnight" - turns off my bedroom lights, turns off my bedroom TV, turns on my bedroom fan, makes sure the garage is closed, makes sure the garage light is off, and locks the door from garage to house.  It's awesome.

The Robot Army

After making all those recommendations, I realized that it didn't include the robot army. These are not HomeKit at all, but the more I can get robots to do stuff I don't want to, the happier I am. These is the small fleet I deploy.

  • Roomba
  • Scooba
  • Winbot
  • Grillbot