I have been playing around with Apple’s Homekit home automation framework. (If you have deep religious feelings about some other brand of home automation, I suggest you stop reading now. This is about Apple’s stuff because that is what I have.) I set up our Apple TV as a homekit hub and I installed an iHome ISP8 Smart Plug electrical outlet and an Elgato Eve Motion sensor. It was easy to set up the devices and set up “rooms” and “scenes” and automation rules. I’ll write about that process soon. Today I am writing about the very first smart home device I installed, a Nest thermostat, 5 years ago.
As you may know, Google owns Nest. As a result, of course, the Nest is compatible with Google Home, and it also has its own protocol that other manufacturers can implement on their smart home products. The Nest is not, and my guess is, will never be, compatible with Apple’s HomeKit.
I’ve used the Nest IOS app and website for years, and they are just fine. But what I really wanted to be able to do was to have Siri control the Nest. I wanted to be able to say, for instance, “Hey Siri, turn on the A/C”, or “Hey Siri, make it warmer in here”, and so on.
Nest, Homekit, and Siri
So, what to do? I couldn’t find a hub device that would bridge between Nest and HomeKit. I did, however, find a very slick piece of open-source software that works this magic. It’s called HomeBridge. It has two components: the main program, which establishes the framework and listens on your network for HomeKit commands; and “plugins”, which enable the Apple Home app to see and communicate with a wide variety of smart home devices, regardless of who makes them or what protocol they use. There are currently over 1200 such plugins available. HomeBridge will run Windows, MacOS, and various flavors of Unix. I installed it on our iMac, where it runs pretty much unnoticed in the background. It works exactly as you would expect. It uses almost no processor resources and only about 45MB of memory. There are periodic updates to fix bugs and to enable new services.
There are step-by-step installation instructions here. I found the process to be easy to follow, but I have a fair amount of unix and MacOS system knowledge. You may have a different experience; but I think that if a non-technical person follows these instructions very precisely and carefully, they can successfully install and configure HomeBridge, even without an understanding of what each step actually does.
Once HomeBridge was installed and running, I installed the HomeBridge-Nest plugin, which I found here. The installation itself was a snap, but it required the setup of Nest developer account, which was a little complicated. The instructions provided with the plugin are very clear and detailed, so although it’s a bit of a slog, I was able to set up the Nest account and get the “API key” I needed.
Hey Siri, It Works!
After all this, the result is that it works! The Nest appears and we can manage it in the Home app on our iPhones and iPads.
Also we can indeed use Siri to control the Nest, and I do so far more often that I would have thought.
Homebridge Web Interface
Later on I discovered and installed another plugin (Homebrige Config UI X) that provides a user-friendly webpage for controlling, installing, and updating the Homebridge program and its plugins. Here are a few screen shots:
This plugin was very easy to install and it makes it much easier to install updates. I recommend it.
Next in “Tech”…
I plan to install a security camera or two before we leave for our trip to Provence, and monitor and control them and view video from them while away from home. I’ll write about that experience in a future “tech” post.