Home Automation

HomeKit App Comparison: Round One

While the world awaits the second round of HomeKit compatible devices and their corresponding apps, we wanted to do a quick run-down of the first round of apps to compare their features and capabilities. Technically, any HomeKit app can access, control—even discover and add—any other HomeKit device. Most manufacturers will create an app for their own device, and that’s exactly what the vendors who released these first HomeKit-compatible products did. Though it’s worth noting that a number of third-party apps claiming HomeKit compatibility are also starting to appear in the App Store.

The promise of HomeKit is that we might finally get to a point where one app can rule them all. In this first batch of options, some manufacturers went for the all-in approach, while others are barely scratching at HomeKit’s capabilities. Can any of these offerings become the one-stop control shop for your home? Here’s a comparison of their capabilities, introduced by some of our initial thoughts.

Insteon+

Insteon Plus appInsteon was first to market with a HomeKit compatible application, Insteon+. Arguably that strategy didn’t work too well for them, though, because they also offered what many consumers would consider the worst experience. While the app is much better designed than anything previously from this house, the Hub Pro’s lack of Insteon’s own device support led to consumer confusion, and a series of technical problems ultimately found Insteon pausing hub sales while they worked through the issues. This might be a great case study one day about how writing to an API spec without thorough integration testing doesn’t always yield a working product. It’s worth noting that the Insteon+ app only works with the Hub Pro and is not backwards compatible with Insteon’s other Hub products—which is a shame, because it’s a pretty nice app.

Lutron

Lutron appOf HomeKit’s first round, one might assert that Lutron came out the biggest winner. The launch gave Lutron’s Caséta Wireless system new visibility in Apple Stores, and Lutron’s light-touch integration with HomeKit was undisruptive to all of its other integration offerings. While the press (ahem, CNET) blindly mis-stated this product’s abilities, the reality is that it can do everything it always could plus expose some of its devices to HomeKit. Not attempting to position its own app to control the rest of your world might have been Lutron’s smartest first move. Android user? No problem. The app still works…just without HomeKit.

Eve

Eve appA/V devices maker Elgato surprised us all with their initial announcement that they’d be entering the smarthome space. And their first round of sensors and software, under the name Eve, lives up to the quality and experience we’ve come to expect from the company. Elgato’s Eve app provides gobs of sensor data from its own devices, but it also exposes control and configuration options for other HomeKit devices with great style and flexibility. It is notable that this app also exposes information about other manufacturers’ devices—information that probably shouldn’t be presented to users. Regardless, this is one HomeKit app to watch once the HomeKit ecosystem allows for sensed environment factors to actually trigger devices and scenes. As for the sensors, their limited range could ultimately inhibit their success as part of a smarthome system.

ecobee3

ecobee3 appEcobee has gained media and consumer attention by doing what Nest apparently refuses to do: they manage your internal comfort settings using remote sensors. Ecobee’s HomeKit integration is limited to exposing its thermostat and sensors to Siri and other HomeKit apps, and in our first tests, it’s been somewhat problematic. Resets (which were unfortunately necessary with some frequency at HomeKit’s initial introduction) require canceling your account and re-registering. At some point, we gave up, and just decided to enjoy the benefit of a thermostat that actually knows where you are and how to keep the environment accordingly comfortable. In the meantime, we’re hoping that some updates get us past our initial hurdles with the ecobee3 on HomeKit.

iHome Control

iHome Control appWhen we first tried iHome’s SmartPlug, we liked what we saw. It’s a simple Wi-Fi-controlled outlet module that integrates with HomeKit. iHome’s associated app, iHome Control, offers complete, if not clunky and cluttered control of your HomeKit devices. It also works on Android (though only for iHome devices). Since that first look, we’ve found the device itself to be problematic, often becoming unreachable by HomeKit apps, and the app itself does not behave as we’d expect it to since other registered HomeKit devices don’t appear unless you add them from iHome’s own app. Perhaps the app’s biggest annoyance is that it doesn’t keep you logged in, so nearly every day you open the app, you have to log in again (though in all fairness, this problem is not isolated to iHome; ecobee3 initially had the same issue). Ultimately this is one that needs to go back to the drawing board.

HomeKit App Feature Comparison

Insteon+ Lutron Eve ecobee3 iHome Control
Dashboard view “Dashboard” “My Home” “At a Glance” n/a
Controls other HomeKit devices and scenes Y Y Y
Create/manage HomeKit homes/zones/rooms Y Y Y Y Y
Create/manage HomeKit scenes Y Y Y
Add other HomeKit accessories Y Y Y
Timed events Y Y “Schedule” “Rules”
“Identify” feature to differentiate devices Y** Y
UI customization skinning custom backgrounds for every room/zone
UI rating 4 4 3 3 2
Also supports non-HomeKit devices… Nest/honeywell thermostat, Serena shades, Pico remotes
Limitations Doesn’t support Insteon sensors, wireless cameras, keypads, and more Poor sensor range requires nearby access to see current status Doesn’t associate remote sensors with HomeKit rooms Doesn’t show HomeKit devices added through other apps
Available for iPad Y Y
Apple Watch support announced Y Y
Android app* Y Y Y
Requires account Y Y Y Y Y
Keeps you logged in Y Y Y
Remembers username Y

 

* Android app cannot support HomeKit features
** Identifies accessories it cannot control (e.g., Lutron shades)

 

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About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard Gunther

Richard is a product experience consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.