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Controller for HomeKit: The smart home app for power users

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Apple iPhone users with a smart home are surely familiar with the HomeKit platform as well as Apple’s Home app. Home is a simple but effective way to manage and use HomeKit devices. And it works well. But there’s room for improvement and that’s exactly what Controller for HomeKit, a third-party iOS app, brings to the table. 

Now in its fifth major version, Controller for HomeKit incorporates all of the smart home functionality included in Apple’s native app. You can add HomeKit devices, manually control them, set up scenes and rooms, and create smart home automations. So why bother with a third-party app that replicates the functionality of Apple’s own Home app?

After using Controller for HomeKit, which offers both a free and paid version, for the last week, I know the answer to that. Controller for HomeKit is the smart home app Apple should have made for “pro-users” of HomeKit. I realize that not everyone fits into that category and for those people, Apple’s Home software is perfectly fine. But if you want advanced features, more customization options, and lower-level details of your HomeKit system, Controller for HomeKit is the answer.

The free version alone is worth the try, as I initially found out. And the Pro version (7-day free trial, $ 2.99 monthly, $ 14.49 for one year, or $ 29.99 for a lifetime license) makes the experience even better.

Right off the bat, I appreciated a dedicated way to see output from all HomeKit cameras in a single view. I did notice that my Logitech Circle View Doorbell video didn’t appear in the proper aspect ratio: It was stretched out and looked terrible at first.

But this was an easy fix as Controller for HomeKit lets you individually customize the aspect ratio of each camera’s output. By default, it was set for 16:9. I changed that to 3:4 and the problem was solved. 

Then there’s the Accessories view. In HomeKit, I end up adding just about every device as a “Favorite” so I can see all of my accessories. Of course, as you add more devices, you end up with a cluttered list of device icons in the Home app. 

Controller for HomeKit just lists all of your devices in a single view, so you don’t need to add them as favorites. That could lead to another clunky list as well. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can filter the list by device name, room, type of device, or type of state. The latter uses device characteristics, so if you want, you can show all lights above or below a brightness level, for example. 

While the Accessories view is useful, the paid Pro version adds the real value: You can save these filtered views into Smart Folders in the Pro to help organize your devices. This method is over and above organizing devices by Rooms, which is what Apple’s Home app provides.

Controller for HomeKit also lets you create Zones in the free version: Think of it as a way to group rooms into larger areas such as “downstairs” or “east side of the house”, so you can control or automate bunches of devices in different rooms together. I don’t have smart blinds, but if I did, I surely would have an “east side” Zone to raise or lower the blinds at sunrise.

The free version also provides more data from each device, which is often hidden by HomeKit due to how Apple wrote its specification. You can tap any individual device in Controller for HomeKit and see the vendor-specific information on a device. 

For example, when I look at my doorbell in Controller for HomeKit, I get not only the basics but a ton of other information. The app shows the WiFi channel and signal strength, the current light level from the sensor, the date of the next firmware update check, how much current the device is using and the volume levels of the speaker and microphone. In the latter case, I can even change the volume levels directly from this view. 

Again, this may be more information than most people want or need. But there can be value here, particularly when the Home app doesn’t surface some vendor-specific information that might be useful. And you can actually use that information for automations: I set one up to alert me if the wired power to the doorbell drops below a certain current, for example, so I know I’ve got an issue to fix.

And while Apple Home’s automations work for most people, you can do quite a bit more with Automations in Controller for HomeKit, partially because you have more data to work with and because you can add a specific condition to check for: If the condition is met, the automation will run; if not, it won’t. 

So what does the Pro version add for your money? Quite a bit and if you’re interested, you can do what I did and enable the 7-day free trial to find out.

In addition to the free features, Pro adds the following:

  • Support for multiple Homes
  • Smart Folders
  • Enhanced Apple Watch features
  • HomeKit backup and restore functions
  • HomeKit QR code storage
  • Workflows (manual automations/routines for frequent tasks)
  • Logs of HomeKit activity
  • Maintenance information on all of your devices
  • Custom app icons
  • The ability to hide device attributes you don’t want to see

As an Apple Watch user, I much prefer the Controller for HomeKit implementation over Apple’s native Home app. And I use Apple’s app on my watch all the time to check room temperatures, open or close my garage door with a tap, or simply control a device. That experience is consistent with Home on my iPhone, which is good. But with Controller for HomeKit it’s better because I can create my own custom views in specific contexts.

For example, I created a watch view for Daytime and Nighttime because there are devices that only care about during those respective times. So it’s easier to find those device controls and routines at those times.

Pro also adds a system backup feature, which you can also do with Apple’s Home app and iCloud. But Controller for HomeKit can store your Home backups either in iCloud or locally. I removed my HomeKit setup from my house and test the restore feature in Controller for HomeKit. It worked perfectly for me. 

And it supports saving the QR codes for all of your HomeKit devices in case you ever need to remove and re-add a device. Plus you can print out the saved codes for a paper copy, which is handy when you don’t have two iPhones for device setup: One to add a device and one to show the QR code. 

Like the vendor-specific device data the app provides, detailed HomeKit logs may not be something everyone needs. But if you want to view each little change among your HomeKit devices, you can see them. More important to me is the related Maintenance function.

This shows important device information such as devices currently not reachable, missing HomeKit codes in the app’s database, inactive automations, and even empty Rooms you’ve set up in HomeKit that aren’t doing anything. Yes, I had one that I didn’t know about. Other data points include devices with low batteries, devices that have been blocked by HomeKit (something I didn’t even know was possible), devices with duplicate serial numbers or names, and more. Simply put, this is great troubleshooting information in the case of any issues.

I didn’t get much value from the Workflows feature in the Pro version, but others might.

With it, you can manually kick off an action such as checking the battery level of all devices and outputting the data to your screen. Or you can enable some devices for a set amount of time, such as turning on lights for the next three hours and then shutting them off. I currently don’t need that functionality but it’s nice to know it’s there.

If nothing else, the free version of Controller for HomeKit is something I think every HomeKit user should at least experience. You may decide that Apple’s Home app is just fine and that’s OK. But it’s refreshing to have a more customizable view of your smart home in a way that isn’t dictated by Apple. 

And if you want the full experience with all of the bells and whistles of the Pro version, you can subscribe for a year and get the first seven days free as a trial. If you don’t feel it’s worth the money, just cancel the subscription before the week is up. I think it is worth it and Apple could learn much from what Controller for HomeKit offers.

The post Controller for HomeKit: The smart home app for power users appeared first on Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

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