Way back in early 2000’s I was playing around with home automation and had varying degrees of success. That system was pre-smartphone, so it ran on your computer and used a clever plug that transmitted signals through the wiring in the house to all the connected devices. I ran it off an old iMac I’d salvaged from somewhere and used the latest version of the software, but it was still glitchy (that was the last CRT computer I owned). It worked OK but I was never really able to build a solid case for investing hundreds of dollars into the gear and software, so I gave up on it.
These days Apple has HomeKit, which is an out of the box automation framework that hooks up to a whole fleet of (relatively inexpensive) peripheral gear. I spent $20 on two smart plugs last week and gave them a try. They are simple on/off switches, so they act as slightly smarter versions of the plug-in light timers we already own. They took all of a minute to register with HomeKit, and I quickly had a light in the living room hooked up to one. With one tap on my phone, the light turns on and off. But this kind of sucks, because I can’t just walk into the room and turn on that smart-connected light without a cellphone, and we don’t live the kind of regimented life where timer-controlled lights make sense. They’re great for when we travel, and I’ll probably swap out all of the old mechanical timers this year, but I can’t think of a use case for these plugs other than that. (I’m not buying an Alexa or HomePod to voice-activate anything, before you ask).
Now that I know it works, I’m going to explore some of the more expensive options for automation—maybe a system set up to control the door locks, for example, allowing us to open the door without a key. But what I’d really like is to replace the thermostat with something programmable from somewhere other than the keypad; our Honeywell unit is about 15 years old and takes three hours of button-mashing to program every time the batteries die. The trick is to avoid the larger monopoly ecosystems; Google bought Nest back in the day and Amazon just bought iRobot—so now Bezos knows how much lint is under our couch. A couple of years ago I picked up a cheap Wyze camera for the house to see what Hazel was doing in her spare time but recently found out their system had been hacked and wide open for several years. Glad I only used that camera for the weeklong demo period.
Meanwhile, we bought a Nest doorbell cam for Bob’s house to keep an eye on things remotely, which I installed on Sunday. The physical installation went fine but trying to set it up through his phone revealed that the Verizon rep completely fucked up his account setup, so that they were sending his bills to Pennsylvania and shut his phone off for nonpayment. We’re sorting that mess out now.