iPhones displaying on-screen remote control software.

Smart Connected Home Automation – Overview

Home automation for Macs and mobile devices has existed for a long time, but the quality has been pretty awful and the technology has been patchy and expensive. Now seemingly overnight everything is getting cheaper, better, and more readily available!

This is part 1 in a series on Home Automation for Apple Users.

A friend of mine recently said:

The only thing that I’ve ever seen quickly propel a piece of adaptive tech from mediocre to genuinely useful is adoption by nondisabled people. – LightGetsIn

and this is absolutely true when applied to home automation. Companies are not marketing these new cheap easy-to-use products at a disabled market, they are marketing them to internet-savvy people with spare cash and a whim to have remote-controlled homes. Luckily for people with disabilities, this has made many things more readily available and affordable to us as well.

First Generation Mainstream Connected Automation

Things which have been highly automated for non-disabled markets things first were things which tightly integrate to Mac and iDevices such as bluetooth speakers, IP cameras, and things like Apple TV devices – these stream content to/from your device directly. If you play a song on your iPhone you can route the output to your bluetooth speakers quite easily.

Real Racing game on Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone screens.
Routing screen output from an iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV using AirPlay.

Generally these first generation devices are “unaware” of the internet and function only through a local bluetooth or wifi connection. Most first generation devices made no effort learn your preferences or allow you to automate them – only direct control is really possible.

Second Generation Mainstream Connected Automation

The second generation of this mainstream home automation, in contrast, are mostly using your iPhone or other device as a handy remote control you probably always have available, and generally involve an internet component.

Philips Hue wireless light globes are a great example, where you use the iPhone app or their web app (either locally or remotely) to turn the globes on and off or change their colour.

Philips Hue light globes, bridge, and box.
Phillips Hue lights can be controlled by iPhone app or any web browser anywhere.

Some of these have open API access where the developers encourage other programmers and other services to be able to control the systems too, whereas others are closed and can only be controlled from that developer’s specific app or website. Websites such as IFTTT have sprung up to allow open API devices to control each other using easy-to-use rules.

In this second generation, lights and motion sensors seem to be the most common things which are automated. Some systems have learning components (like the Nest Thermostat) attempt to figure out for themselves what you want, and many others (including the Philips Hue) allow programming by rules as well as direct control. My Hue globes all turn themselves on at sunset, for example, automatically adjusting the time as the year progresses.

Third Generation Mainstream Connected Automation?

There have been many rumours that Apple may be planning to introduce a connected home platform at WWDC next week. Given what we know Apple have done in so many other areas, if this rumour were true would it mean a third generation of devices? Right now there’s no way to tell, but I certainly hope so.

Stand by for some other home automatation articles that I’m going to fast-track in case the WWDC rumour is true and renders all my information instantly out of date!

– Ricky

One thought on “Smart Connected Home Automation – Overview”

  1. Pretty excited that they launched homekit in the end. Apple’s closed systems should make for far better and safer quality control compared to google’s more open nest. It’s one thing running the more open android on a phone, laptop etc but when it comes to home automation, i’ll be using apple – don’t want my smart home crashing!

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