Controlling Philips Hue with Apple Home

There is more than one way to control your smart home.  Native apps for each system provide a good degree of control. More overarching systems that control all your smart home components can make things much more convinient.  Apple's HomeKit system and Home app for iOS aim to do just that. Here I take a first look.

As noted in my articles and videos Philips Hue Unboxing and Setup (Part 1 and Part 2), during first-run, you can enable Apple HomeKit integration.  Doing so simply involved scanning a code on the back of the Philips Hue Bridge.

Now, I can use Apple's Home app, and shortcuts from the iOS control centre on my iPhone to control my lighting.  So, how well does this all work?

Well, inside the Home app, things are broken down between 'Homes' (you might have, or even want to set up more than one), and rooms.  The Hue app automatically populates the app with the lights I have.  When you add new lights, you might need to go into the settings inside the Hue app to update Homekit, and save yourself the trouble of adding your lights to the Home app as a separate job.

You might need to do a little housekeeping inside the Home app.  For example, I tried asking Siri to turn on my Living Room lights, and it didn't know what I meant.  I discovered that the Home app only had a room defined called 'default', not 'Living room', so I had to rename it.  This hadn't been picked up from inside the Hue system.  More on Siri control in a future article.

Also missing are any of your Hue scenes.  There's simply no link between scenes you define in Hue, and those in HomeKit.  Home has it's own set of scenes, and they're completely separate - a bit disappointing.

You use the Home app to turn individual lights on and off.  Tapping and holding a light will pull up a sort of 'slider' that you can use to set brightness.  You can also tap a 'colour' button to change the colour of the light.  Various pre-sets are shown, and you can of course choose a custom colour.

It's also possible to group various lights together.  This is useful if you have multiple bulbs that you usually turn on and off collectively, such as those installed into a single, multi-bulb lamp.

You can define your own scenes, of course. This lets you activate a range of accessories simultaneously.  In my case that's still limited to just lights.  I'll have to revisit this once we've expanded beyond Philips Hue.

Favourite devices & scenes (that you specify) appear on the 'rooms' screen inside the app, and also in the control centre that appears when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen. One advantage of this is that if you allow the control centre to be accessed from the lock screen, you can more quickly access devices to turn them on / off, activate scenes etc.  Saving you from unlocking, finding & launching an app.

You can use either the Home app, or a section inside the native Philips Hue app, to configure HomeKit.  Using Home, you can add your accessories, setup scenes, configure rooms etc.  You can pretty much do the same stuff inside the Hue app.  With this approach, Hue simply 'pushes' the configuration into HomeKit.  The added benefit is you don't have to 'discover' devices - you can just tap on bulbs already added to Hue, and they get added straight into Home.

That's about where the advantages end within the actual home app.  Since the app is 'generic' from the perspective of controlling the Philips Hue lighting, it's always going to be 'dumbed down' vs the official app.  That might add simplicity, but it eliminates some of the control you have within the main Hue app.  You can use both, of course, but it just seems a little unnecessary vs using the main Hue app.

Of course, one of the bigger reasons for having things setup inside HomeKit, is the ability to use Siri to just tell your phone what you'd like your smart devices to do.  I'll need to have a play around with this to see if it's useful, but my concern is that the same limitations will hold true.  I'd naturally want to be able to ask Siri to activate scenes I've setup inside the Philips Hue app, and they're not going to be there unless I manually recreate them in the Home app.  Same goes for features I might have added from Hue labs - that's well beyond the capabilities of HomeKit.

I'll write another article after playing with the Siri features.  It will also be interesting to compare this against other voice control systems.  For example I'd like to see if there are any ways to get Cortana on my Windows tablet talking to Hue. In future, I may well also acquire a smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home.

For now, as a first foray into using HomeKit, I have to say it feels like a lukewarm experience.  I'm perhaps judging it unfairly, since the whole point of this is to control multiple smart-home systems you might have.  I only have one, so obviously it's limiting.  I need to revisit this later.