Home Life with Siri

Last summer, along with some more traditional kitchen renovations, I added Apple’s HomeKit capabilities to my 500sf NYC apartment. Not a lot, just enough to play with, and to make some minor improvements in my 21st-century lifestyle.

I went with HomeKit because, for now at least, I feel Apple has the best privacy story, and while Google and Amazon might protest to the contrary, it’s hard not to feel like those two are just monitoring my behavior for consumerist policies. Sure, Apple wants me to buy more Apple stuff, but it seems to stop there.

In any case, this is an Apple household, even though I work mostly off a Windows PC these days. iPhone, now two iPads, a now-retired Apple TV, an Apple Watch, and three HomePods. I won’t got into detail about how to set up HomeKit, because plenty of other sources do that better than I could.

Lighting

I started with lighting. While my apartment is small, it’s old, and there are no overhead lights in the living room. Electrical outlets are minimal by modern standards. The wiring itself is old and, since this is an apartment rather than a house, there are limits to how much I can revamp the existing wiring.

I went with Nanoleaf for lighting. So far, I’ve mounted a small set of their Shapes line, six triangles laid out in a row. I also replaced a bulb in the main lamp with a Nanoleaf bulb, on the other side of the room. Initially, the shapes were held to the walk using the included double-sided tape, but in the summer heat that failed, and in the end my contractor just glued them onto the wall.

I have two smaller lamps, which use smaller bulbs that I could not find HomeKit versions for. For these lamps, I bought Meross smart plugs, little switchable outlets that plug into a regular outlet. Now, Homekit can turn those on and off by remotely switching the plugs.

The whole setup works pretty well. I have an automation that sets the main lamp and shapes to a soft, golden yellow at half strength every morning; usually waiting for me when I rouse from my slumber. Another preset allows me to tell Siri to turn off all the lights when I go to bed.

I can say, “Hey Siri, set the desk shapes to one hundred percent”, or “Hey Siri, set the living room to one hundred percent,” and in the latter case, all the lights, including the small lamps, go on. I’ve set different color presets for playing xbox or watching a movie.

In the bedroom, I bought a small nightstand light from Meross. On its own, it’s pretty capable in terms of changing colors, adjusting brightness, etc. However, with HomeKit, I can fine-tune the color and color temperature, and tell Siri to “bedtime” so I can read myself to sleep in bed.

Sound

I have three HomePod Minis; the HomePod was discontinued before I could buy it, and in any case the Minis are more than capable for my needs. I haven’t yet paired two for stero home-theatre sound, but I have one in the living room, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom.

It’s a bit of a joke between Mister Techlemode and myself that while he has public radio easily available in his house kitchen with the flick of an on-off switch, it took a $300 investment and a some software configuration for me to get the same effect in my apartment. However, it’s generally kinda nice. I can just tell Siri to start playing the news, to lower or raise the volume, or to add speakers in the other rooms – very helpful if I’m moving around, cleaning house.

A little less easily, I can pass music or podcasts to these speakers, generally by selecting them manually through an app. Partly this is because I listed to podcasts through a non-Apple app, and partly it’s because while Apple Music works well with Siri, it’s a little hit-and-miss distinguishing between a command to play music from one of my playlists, which may only exist on my Mac Mini, and trying to find a playlist Apple has concocted.

I have resisted subscribing to Apple Music for quite a while now, only recently caving in to make it easier to manage music across multiple computers. It still isn’t easy to manage non-Apple music, like items imported from CD, or purchased through other online sources.

On the Regular

There are only a few things I do with Siri regular. The automation gives me a nice light to sit down to in the morning while my coffee brews; I can make the lights brighter if it’s a dim day, or turn them off if it’s sunny and I open the curtains. I can start and stop radio streaming easily; I can ask about the weather.

One thing that hasn’t worked very well is using the HomePods as a house speakerphone. I should be able to say, “Hey Siri, call [name]” and then have a speakerphone conversation, but the sound inevitably defaults to my phone.

Another thing is that the desks shapes sometimes get stuck on a color or don’t shut off; the eventually catch up with what I want to do. With these devices, it’s important to keep the firmware update, but even so, problems come and go. They’re good enough though.

Sometimes the speakers lose track of what they’re playing while paused. For example, I might be streaming a podcast to them. I can tap the HomePod to pause it, then go do something else, then come back and, most of the time, pick up where I left off. However, if I mix other content to other speakers, sometimes their little semi-hive mind causes the speaks to play something other than what they paused last.

Using the Apple Watch has grown on me. I bought it initially for fitness reasons -track my workouts, listen to music – right before Covid kept me from the gym and I just kinda stopped wearing it. Nowadays though, I put it on every day, and I use it if I go for a run, or strength training at home. Occasionally I’ll use it to dictate a reply to a text, if I’m too lazy to dig out my phone.

The TV I bought also has Siri integration, but so far I can just turn it on or off, or include it in an automation. For example, I can say, “Hey Siri, TV Time” and she’ll dim the lights and turn off the TV. It’s not a smart integration though; it’s a switch. If the TV is already on, it gets shut off. A simple, “Hey Siri, turn on the TV”, however, reverses course.

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