HomeKit Controller: the smart home application for powerful users - Stacey on IoT

Cupertino, November 18, 2021

Apple iPhone users with a smart home are certainly familiar with the HomeKit platform as well as the Apple Home app. Home is a simple but effective way to manage and use HomeKit devices. And it works well. But there is room for improvement and that's it HomeKit controller, a third-party iOS app, brings to the table.

Now in its fifth major release, the HomeKit Controller incorporates all the smart home features included in Apple's native app. You can add HomeKit devices, control them manually, set up scenes and cameras, and create smart home automation. So why bother with a third-party app that replicates the functionality of Apple's own Home app?

After using Controller for HomeKit, which offers both a free version and a paid version, in the last week, I know the answer to that. The HomeKit controller is the smart home application that Apple should have created for the "pro users" of HomeKit. I realize that not everyone falls into this category and for these people, Apple Home software is perfect. But if you want advanced features, more customization options, and lower-level details for your HomeKit system, HomeKit Controller is the answer.

Only the free version is worth a try, as I initially found out. And the Pro version (7-day free trial, $ 2.99 per month, $ 14.49 for a year or $ 29.99 for a lifetime license) makes the experience even better.

From the beginning, I appreciated a dedicated way to see results from all HomeKit cameras in one view. I noticed that my Logitech Circle View Doorbell video didn't appear in the proper aspect ratio: it was stretched and looked awful at first.

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But this was an easy solution, because the HomeKit Controller allows you to individually customize the aspect ratio of each room's output. By default, it was set to 16: 9. I changed that to 3: 4 and the problem was fixed.

Then there is the Accessories view. In HomeKit, I end up adding almost every device as a "Favorite" so I can see all my accessories. Of course, as you add more devices, you'll end up with a crowded list of device icons in the Home app.

HomeKit Controller only displays all your devices in one view, so you don't have to add them as favorites. That could lead to another cumbersome list. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can filter the list by device name, camera, device type, or status type. The latter uses the features of the device, so if you want, you can display all the lights above or below a brightness level, for example.

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While the Accessories view is useful, the paid Pro version adds real value: you can save these filtered views to smart folders in Pro to help you organize your devices. This method is above the organization of devices according to rooms, which offers the Apple Home application.

Controller for HomeKit also allows you to create zones in the free version: think of this as a way to group rooms into larger areas, such as "down" or "east of the house", so so you can control or automate a bunch of devices in different rooms together. I don't have smart blinds, but if I did, I would definitely have an "eastern" area to raise or lower the blinds to the east.

The free version also offers more data from each device, which is often hidden by the HomeKit due to the way Apple wrote its specifications. You can touch any individual device in the HomeKit Controller and view vendor-specific information on a device.

For example, when I look at my ringtone in the HomeKit Controller, I get not only the basics, but a lot of other information. The application shows the WiFi channel and signal strength, the current light level from the sensor, the date of the next firmware update check, how much current the device uses and the volume levels of the speaker and microphone. In the latter case, I can even change the volume levels directly from this view.

Again, this may be more information than most people want or need. But it can be valuable here, especially when the Home app doesn't bring up vendor-specific information that might be useful. And you can actually use that information for automation: I've set up one to warn me if the cable power of the ringer drops below a certain current, for example, so I know I have a problem to solve.

And while Apple Home automation works for most people, you can do more with HomeKit Controller Automation, in part because you have more data to work with and because you can add a certain condition to check: whether the condition is satisfied, the automation will run; if not, it will not be.


So what does the Pro version add to your money? Quite a bit and if you are interested, you can do what I did and activate the free 7-day trial period to find out.

In addition to the free features, Pro adds the following:

  • Support for several houses
  • Smart folders
  • Improved Apple Watch features
  • HomeKit backup and restore functions
  • HomeKit QR code storage
  • Workflows (manual automation / routines for frequent tasks)
  • HomeKit activity logs
  • Maintenance information for all your devices
  • Custom application icons
  • The ability to hide device attributes that you don't want to see

IMG 1061As an Apple Watch user, I much prefer the HomeKit Controller implementation to Apple's native Home application. And I use the Apple app on my watch all the time to check the room temperature, to open or close the garage door with a push, or simply to control a device. This experience is consistent with Home on my iPhone, which is good. But with the HomeKit Controller it's better because I can create my own custom views in specific contexts.

For example, we created a clock view for day and night, because there are devices that only care about those hours. Therefore, it is easier to find those commands and routines of the device at those times.

Pro also adds a system backup function, which you can also do with the Apple Home and iCloud app. But the HomeKit Controller can store backups at home either in iCloud or locally. I removed my HomeKit configuration from my home and tested the restore function in the HomeKit Controller. It worked perfectly for me.

And it supports saving QR codes for all HomeKit devices in case you ever need to remove and add a device again. Additionally, you can print saved codes for a paper copy, which is useful when you don't have two iPhones to set up your device: one to add a device and one to display the QR code.

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Like application-specific device data provided, detailed HomeKit logs may not be something everyone needs. But if you want to see every little change in your HomeKit devices, you can see them. More important to me is the related maintenance function.

This shows important device information, such as devices that are not currently available, missing HomeKit codes in the application database, idle automations, and even empty rooms that you have configured in HomeKit that do nothing. Yes, I had one I didn't know about. Other data points include devices with low batteries, devices that have been blocked by HomeKit (something we didn't even know was possible), devices with duplicate numbers or serial names, and more. This is simply excellent troubleshooting information for any problems.

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I didn't get much value from the Workflows feature in the Pro version, but others could.

With it, you can start an action manually, such as checking the battery level of all devices and transmitting data on the screen. Or you can activate some devices for a certain period of time, such as turning on the lights for the next three hours and then turning them off. Currently, I do not need this functionality, but it is nice to know that it exists.

If nothing else, the free version of HomeKit Controller is something I think every HomeKit user should at least experience. You can decide that the Apple Home app is okay and is okay. But it's refreshing to have a more customizable view of your smart home in a way that isn't dictated by Apple.

And if you want a complete experience with all the bells and whistles of the Pro version, you can subscribe for a year and get the first seven days free as a trial. If you don't feel worth the money, cancel your subscription before the end of the week. I think it's worth it and Apple could learn a lot from what Home Controller Controller offers.

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