Homekit Wishlist for WWDC 2017

The unveiling of iOS 11 is just around the corner. In about a week we’ll know what new features to expect. A few years ago one of those features was Homekit which acts as a virtual central place for everything related to home automation. Last year Apple added some new features and we got an official app to visualise this virtual place.

Still, Homekit hasn’t taken the world by storm. Probably because of a lack of compatible devices (especially in Europe) and no devices being in the no-brainer price range.

Well, I’m one of the suckers that has invested in several Homekit accessories and has started automating his home. My opinion? I like Homekit and what I’m able to do with it! But I’m also seeing what’s holding Homekit back. So here’s some stuff that I would like to see improved.

More devices

As I mentioned before, this is currently the biggest problem in the ecosystem. Homekit is probably the most secure home automation system on the market, but therefor devices need special chips that support certain encryption methods (I’m not clear on the details here). That’s why Philips needed to release a second Hue hub before they could provide Homekit support.

From what I gather Apple is helping manufacturers to create Homekit compatible devices (probably with contact between engineers), but they could do more. Elgato has a Homekit compatible Bluetooth LE chip that any company can buy from them to quickly bring Homekit devices to market. Unfortunately Bluetooth is less than ideal for home automation because of range issues. Apple could provide their own version of such a chip, but on wifi, ZigBee or Z-Wave. This would ease the development for many companies which might make adding Homekit support a no-brainer.

Support for more device types

This one is also obvious. Last year we got support for cameras (Ring; I’m still waiting for Homekit support for my Ring Doorbell Pro), air conditioners and several other categories, but there is always more like:

  • Kitchen appliances
  • Cars
  • Showers
  • Home batteries
  • Solar panel installations

There are many more possible device types of course and some of these could be put in the “sensors” category or act like power outlets (like dumb coffee machine). But still, native support would be nice.

Cars in particular are interesting:

  • Reminding you to charge them or having a single color LED lightbulb that indicates the charge level constantly.
  • Act on the location of the car
  • Automatically cool the when the temperature in the car exceeds a certain level and you exit the house.

Connecting Homekit with home batteries like a Tesla Powerwall or your solar panels can be interesting to:

  • Dim lights when your battery is below a certain level and is not being charged anymore.
  • Or to an extreme: The battery is full, your solar panels are generating more energy than your house can take, it will be a humid evening, it’s in the afternoon and there is no one at home; then turn up the air conditioning and cool the house down a few extra degrees so the AC doesn’t have to work as hard in the evening when the house is running on just the battery.

With these device types and using triggers in a smart way you could reduce the power you need to draw from the grid.

An IR blaster

The classic home automation dream is to get home, park yourself on the couch and tell your house that you want to watch TV. This is currently not possible with Homekit since AV equipment is not supported. AV equipment could be added as a category (which would be nice) but a much more flexible solution is a Homekit IR blaster. Something like Bond or Logitech Harmony Hub but with Homekit support.

With a Homekit IR blaster you could:

  • Tell Siri that you want to watch TV; the TV turns on and switches to the correct channel.
  • Tell Siri that you want to watch a movie; the TV turns on, the TV is set to the correct channel, the AV receiver and speakers turn on, the lights dim and the blinds close.
  • Control your old air conditioner.

And if Apple adds Homekit device support to the Apple TV:

  • Tell Siri you want to watch Netflix; do all of the above and switch the Apple TV to the Netflix app

Notifications

Has a certain condition been met? Than send a notification to certain family members. For example:

  • The temperature in the baby room exceeds a certain value; send a notification to the parents so they can open up a window.
  • You were upstairs and come down, but the stairgate isn’t closed; get a notification.

Weather triggers

Use this to anticipate certain weather:

  • It will rain later today and some windows are open; notify the homeowner to close the windows.

Bluetooth beacon triggers

Trigger a scene when you get within a certain range of a specific Bluetooth beacon. This works better than GPS location tracking because you don’t need to have tracking on permanently (which drains your battery) and  accurately be used inside buildings. And unlike motion detectors, it will only trigger when “known” people are within range.

Example usages:

  • You enter your bathroom between 7.00 and 8.00 in the morning; turn on the lights at 50% brightness in winter and turn on the shower with your preferred temperature.
  • The kids enter the garage late at night; notify the parents they are home.
  • Pop one in your car. When you enter (or get near) your car; check if all doors and windows are closed. If not send a notification.
  • When you approach your door, unlock it (I wouldn’t use that one myself though).

Timers

Currently if a trigger condition is met, a scene will trigger, but that’s it. You can’t have something happen 2 minutes later unless another trigger is set off exactly at that moment.

I have an Elgato Eve Motion sensor that sort of has a timer feature build in. When you trigger it, it sets a scene (like turning on lights) and a set time later it will trigger another scene (to dim the lights again) unless it has been triggered again in the meantime. This functionality is not within Homekit but is added by Elgato.

Native homekit timers would be great:

  • Remember the shower example from earlier. What if you could increase the brightness of the lights every minute until it reaches 80%? That would help you wake up right?
  • Your doorbell detects movement at night; wait 20 seconds, turn on 1 light in the living room, wait another 10 seconds and turn on another light. After 5 minutes, dim all the lights. Time ranges would be helpful in this scenario as well.

I’m honestly not really sure how this works now, but once you add timers, the order in which values are set starts to matter. So the user interface has to be very clear about this. Hmm, the Workflow team might have some input on this.

Reset to previous state

This is a much needed feature when timers are introduced. Say you have a complex scene set and one of the lights turns green to let you know your car is fully charged (or your coffee is ready, or your favorite team has scored, or whatever) it would be nice if that light could return to it’s previous state after a few seconds. This way it doesn’t matter what scene was set before or if the light was off.

Pressure sensor triggers

  • Tuck one under your garbage bin and send a notification as soon as it’s reaches a certain weight so you don’t have to carry a heavy (and smelly) bin outside.

Siri in a Can

This one is rumored to be coming this WWDC. Siri is my preferred way to control Homekit devices. But this is mainly because I’m wearing an Apple Watch. The rest of the family doesn’t benefit from having Siri ready without having to dig a device out of a pocket or bag. A Siri in a Can device would fix this and probably is a much better listener than our iPhones and Apple Watch.

Siri improvements

Siri doesn’t understand you all the time. We know that and it needs to improve. But there are more Homekit specific things that could improve. For example:

  • Better feedback when things don’t work. When I tell Siri “goodnight” and it dims all the living room lights it sometimes tells me “Hmm, I can’t do that”. Turns out that one of the lights outside is not responding. Siri could just tell me that since all lights are named. It seems to do this better on iPhone than on Apple Watch.
  • Working together with Bluetooth beacons to determine in which room you are so you don’t have to tell Siri that.

One cool thing I noticed: Siri seems to remind which device(s) you controlled last. So if you tell it to turn on the living room lights and then tell it to “turn them blue” it will only turn those lights blue.

Disco mode

Okay, this one is just for my kids. We have this awesome Hue Disco iOS app which flashes our Hue lights in different colors based on the music that is playing. The kids love this  when they’re playing music from Youtube on Apple TV. Just telling Siri to start disco mode to do the same would rock. Well at least in our house…

Miscellaneous stuff

  • You can share your Homekit home with someone else, but room backgrounds in the Home app don’t get shared. Seriously? This needs to be added (and start syncing my Photos Faces and Smart albums while you’re at it as well).
  • The Home and Room screens in the Home app look a lot alike and I’ve been trying to swipe the Home screen way too much assuming I was on the Room screen. Make these screens more distinctive or just merge them.
  • More gradual sharing of a home, for example only share certain rooms with the baby sitter or the neighbours.
  • Allow access for certain timeslots. Again useful for the baby sitter or when renting out your Airbnb.
  • Usage logs (useful for door locks and garage doors)
  • Mac support including a Mac Home app
  • Better, or actually, any indicators that your Apple TV is acting as a Homekit bridge.

Thoughts on the iPhone 5C and why there will probably be a 6C as well

John Gruber and MG Siegler were discussing the intended purpose of the iPhone 5C on the latest episode of The Talk Show. And they are not the only ones trying to explain why Apple created the 5C. But I haven’t heard the reason I always thought of as being the basis for the iPhone 5C: That Apple needed all the CNC machining they could get to meet iPhone 5S demand.

Remember when Apple told us how precise the body of the iPhone 5 was manufactured? And how that wasn’t just a marketing mirage? Well, manufacturing something that precise is hard, especially at scale. The iPhone 5 launch supply was very constraint. They were probably using all the CNC machines they could get their hands on, which is how Apple rolls, to make the device shells.

A year later they were faced with the same problem. They needed to manufacture the same shell again, but at a much higher volume. Imagine what would have happened if the iPhone 5 was still around, with a sales boost because of the lowered price and effectively the same outer shell?

Creating the iPhone 5C based on the iPhone 5, but changing one of the hardest to produce parts of it fixed a lot of this problem. The freed-up iPhone 5 CNC machines were already tuned to make the precision shell for the iPhone 5S. Some other shared parts might still be constrained, like screens, but those are usually based on more common production processes. The plastic casing of the 5C is on of the best out there, but moulding a part is much much easier than machining it.

What about an iPhone 6C?

When the iPhone 6 design was revealed (or even earlier: leaked) one of the notable things missing were Jony Ive’s coveted chamfered edges, one of the more precise machined elements of the device. There are more parts of the shell that are less detailed, such as speaker grills with less (and bigger) holes. I would guess that means overall less machining which in turn means that less steps are required to make a shell.

So making an iPhone 6 shell is probably simpler than creating an iPhone 5S shell, but the same problem is still there. Why waste production capacity on an older device when you could put it to use making the new hot thing? Therefor I think we should expect a new plastic iPhone every other year.

And will they make a plastic 6C Plus? I don’t know, but it would probably be a very populair model in Asian markets, where big phones and colored accessories are very popular.

Apple Watch screen resolution estimate

Like the size of the Apple Watch we also haven’t learned anything about the screen resolution. Why? Maybe the final screen resolution hasn’t been decided yet (which seems unlikely). Or Apple just didn’t want to announce lots of nerdy specs to take away from the fashion appeal of the device.

Anyway: We know nothing. So is there a way we can determine what the screen resolution will be?

We can’t trust images from Apple’s website in this case, since they use higher-res assets in the screenshots to make everything look better in close-ups.

But there are also photos showing the actual device taken by people who had the privilege the visit Apple’s hands-on area after the keynote. I was able to find a photo on Flickr showing a close-up of the device in which you can make up pixels.


Find the original by Taro Matsumura on Flickr

A few things to note:

  • On the high-res image you can easily see darker lines running between the brighter lines/ This seems to be space between the pixels (see the image below).
  • You probaly don’t see horizontal darker lines because the device is leaning back a bit.
  • This gives us the ability to “see” the pixels.
  • You can also see fuzzy diagonal lines running across the image. These are the result of the moire effect. The lines between the pixels on the screen don’t exactly line up with pixels on the image sensor in the camera.

I picked on spot on the photo, zoomed in and calculated how many pixels where placed along a certain line, making sure I started on and ended before a dark line and also making sure I hit at least 2 “moire bands”.

Using the “known” width of the device and screen we can now determine how many pixels are in the entire width of the display.

There is one thing that I can’t really wrap my head around and that is the moire effect, because that makes counting more difficult. There occurs a shift in dark and light lines (which you can see in the example, just trace a dark line through a moire band), so there’s a reasonable margin of error here. If any one knows to actual correct way to count this, please let me know.

In the about 632 pixels in the image I attribute to the screen, every 2 to 2.12 pixels seem to amount to an actual pixel in the screen.

Results

By my calculations the Apple Watch has either a 300 or 320 pixels wide screen. Thats makes the screen have a vertical resolution of either 375 or 400 pixels. I don’t think the resolution will be different for the 38 or 42 mm model. The ppi will likely be higher on the 38 mm model. The entire UI will be a bit smaller that way.

At 300 x 375

The 42 mm model: ~312 ppi
The 38 mm model: ~360 ppi

At 320 x 400

The 42 mm model: ~332 ppi
The 38 mm model: ~385 ppi

Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Apple Watch dimensions

Apple didn’t announce a lot of specs of the Apple Watch besides the 2 different face sizes. There’s a 42 mm one and a 38 mm one. Thickness or screen size are nowhere to be found in Apple’s marketing material.

Based on the 42 mm Watch and several images on Apple’s website I did some measurements to determine some of the specs we don’t know yet.

According to Apple this watch should be 42 mm high.

I checked the 42mm with this image of a Watch next to an iPhone 6 of which we know the height (138.1 mm). It’s not a 6 Plus, I checked that too. The Watch is indeed 42mm high (metal to metal).

Based on this information it’s trivial to get all the other measurements. Now the size of the sapphire is known and we have this handy image of the side of the Watch.

I checked to make sure this is the 42 mm watch as well by overlapping the first image in this post. The screen is also a mystery, but I tried to get a sense it by finding an image on which the content is bordered by the screen on all sides. I assume that is the case in this image:

Now we’re able to get all the dimensions of the 42 mm Apple Watch.

42 mm Apple Watch dimensions

The body including sensor: 36.2 mm x 42 mm (12.46 mm thick)
The body without sensor: 36.2 mm x 42 mm (10.6 mm thick)

The sapphire part: 33.0 mm x 39.1 mm

The screen: 24.3 mm x 30.5 mm (about 39 mm / 1.54 inch diagonally), that makes the aspect ratio about 4:5.

38 mm Apple Watch dimensions

The body including sensor: 32.9 mm x 38 mm (12.3 mm thick)

There was some discussion in the comments on the thickness of the 38 mm unit. Thanks to the commenters I found images of the 38 mm Apple Watch from the side. Based on those images the 38 mm Watch is a little thinner than the 42 mm Watch.


Click for a *larger* version

The Digital Crown and button on the side of the Watch are the same size as well:

About the screens

I’ve seen the number 1.5 and 1.7 inch been thrown around as screen sizes, but that just seems be a direct translation of the 38 mm and 42 mm numbers Apple gave us, which are the heights of the devices.

I’ve got no idea of pixels dimensions or ppi, maybe that can be calculated based on screenshots of the demo during the keynote. Based on some images on Apple’s website I would take an uneducated guess at 280 x 350 which would put it at around 290 ppi.

Update:
Dave Chap shared an image showing the relative thickness to the iPhone5/5S and iPhone 6:

Update 2:
I updated the thickness of the 42 mm Apple Watch from 12.6 to 12.46 mm and added dimensions for the 38 mm one as well. I also added a comparison image looking at both watches from the side, including a very high resolution image.

WhatsApp iOS7 background

WhatsApp has finally been updated to the iOS7 style. Unfortunately the backgrounds in the app don’t suit that style at all. Here is a much better background for your WhatsApp chats.

In my opinion a light gray works best.

Pretty gray WhatsApp iOS7 background

Just tap and hold and choose the option to save the image to your camera roll.

In Whatsapp go to Settings > Chat settings > Background, and select the background from the camera roll.

Here’s a white one (the border will not show up in the image, it’s just to indicate where you can tap and hold).

Pretty white WhatsApp iOS7 background

Why an iWatch makes sense

Does is make sense for Apple to release an iWatch?

Not many people wear watches anymore and the iWatch would presumably be a low margin business. Apple has been getting a lot of heat on Wall Street for it’s shrinking margins. Stock is currently up again, but these low margins might be a problem.

But there’s another angle. Apple stock was also getting hit because of iPhone sales growth slowing down. That’s an interesting problem too. Because what can Apple do to improve the iPhone? There are the mandatory screen, speed and camera upgrades. The software can be upgraded, but that doesn’t give the new model a big edge over last years model.

It’s more or less set in stone what a smartphone is: a thin device dominated by a big screen and cameras on both sides. Unless this form factor changes I wouldn’t expect big jumps in smartphones like going from any pre-iPhone smartphone to the iPhone or from the 3GS to the iPhone 4.

But looking at the iWatch as an iPhone accessory could bring big new features to the iPhone. This would justify a lower margin iWatch since it has the potential to drive growth for the high margin iPhone.

An iWatch would instantly add features to the iPhone, that couldn’t be, or wouldn’t be practical, in the iPhone itself. Even if you don’t get the iWatch with your phone there’s always the promise of adding extra features to your phone by getting a watch costing way less than the phone itself.

And the reason many people don’t wear watches anymore is that they don’t have a reason to. I think the iWatch will give them plenty of reasons to wear a watch again, even if telling the time is only a small part of what it can do.

What you should know about Chromecast

There’s a lot of misconception of what Chromecast is and how it works. Many people compare it to Airplay, but technically it’s completely different.

Over Airplay you can stream content directly from your device. This content could be an image, a video, music or even a real-time rendered game. It could also be the exact screen contents you’re looking at.

Chromecast doesn’t stream anything directly from the device. It pulls all content straight from the web and your device (phone, tablet) is just a remote to influence what’s being shown. That’s why currently apps Youtube, Netflix and Google Play Video/Music work on the device and not the photos and videos stored on the device. You can’t show content from a device on a Chromecast unless it’s already in the cloud and available through a web-service and a special Chromecast receiving app (based on HTML5 since it runs in a slimmed down Chrome OS).

So, you’re a developer and you want your apps to do something with Chromecast? Get ready to start a web service to distribute the content or else your content won’t be available to Chromecast.

But then there’s the Chrome mirroring right? Well, not really. From what I can gather it just pushes the url to Chromecast and Chromecast (being based on Chrome OS) renders the page itself. Mirroring like Airplay Mirroring is not a feature of Chromecast.

And then there’s the “works on any device”. That’s technically true, but shoud actually read “it works on an app that supports Chromecast which could run any device if it was specifically developed for it”.

Rad more:

Somewhere in the Google keynote they demoed Netflix. First they “flinged” an episode of House of Cards to the Chromecast device. Then they took an Android tablet and started controlling the episode playing, telling the audience that you can control content coming from another device. That’s just false. The content is coming from the cloud and other than being started from another device has nothing to do with the device.

Quick WWDC ‘13 predictions

In a few hours Apple will hold it’s annual WWDC keynote. Just for fun I want to throw out some predictions.

iOS 7
This is a given. It will look different, but it won’t be (here it comes) flat. Making something look flat for the sake of it looking flat is just dumb. The design will be updated so it looks more modern, but is still clear and easy to use.

Siri will parse locally from now on. The multi-task switcher (double-tap home) will be significantly redesigned as will the notifications panel.

OSX 10.9
It will be called Lynx. Maps will be brought over. The interface will be updated as well. Biggest updates will be on the development side.

iRadio
Will be both ad supported and paid without ads.

Updated retina Macbook Pro
It will recieve the new Haswell CPU’s. The 15 inch models will get the high-clock / low integrated GPU chips with a dedicated GPU by nVidia or AMD. The 13 inch models might get the quad-core version with the good integrated GPU. Prices for the 15 inch might drop a little or the base SSD capacity will be bigger. I fear the maximum RAM will still be 16GB.

No retina Macbook Airs
The CPU’s just aren’t there yet. Funny that most rumors suggest new Airs will be announced.

Mac Pro or successor to the Mac Pro
If we see it at an event it will be this event. They probably won’t be released within a month from now, but they will be announced.

My guess is the case will be a lot smaller. It will still have a maximum of 2 CPU sockets, 2 harddrive bays, 2 PCI slots, USB3, Thunderbolt and upgradable RAM. Enough for most Mac Pro customers.

More expandability will be provided by an external box (similar design to the new Mac Pro case) on which the Mac Pro can be stacked, but it can also be connected to any other Thunderbolt device. The box will house at least 2 drive bays, 4 PCI slots and several USB ports. It will have a seperate internal power supply.

No new iOS devices
No new iPhone. No new iPod. No new iPad

Dealmakers will solve the TV problem

The current television problem won’t be solved by a hardware maker. It will be solved by a dealmaker.

In the future all the TV content will come over the internet, on-demand. Probably hosted by a service provider. You’ll only need one small box, connect that to the internet and connect it to your TV. Done.

You’ll pay one subscription and you can watch any content at any time from all the content providers in the network. These content providers can be the big existing networks, but also new and lightweight indy networks.

To make a service like that work there are many deals to be made. Deals that will get an entire network worth of content on the service. Those deals will make or break this much needed revolution. The interface will get solved, the apps will probably come too, but making the deals is really hard.

PS4: A device they didn’t show

Sony announced the Playstation 4 last wednesday. And as far as game console announcements go, this was one of the best presentations I’ve ever watched. We’ve now got info on the hardware, the controller, the games and the developers working on software.

These “hardcore” game consoles are presumably getting a lot of competition in the near future. And as much as I’ve always liked Nintendo, I believe Sony’s direction is the way to go.

That’s why it’s strange to read a comment like this on Daring Fireball by John Gruber:

“What was the bigger shitshow: Sony holding a long press event for a device they didn’t show and wouldn’t give a shipping date or price for? Or the gadget blogs that devoted hours of coverage to this?”

I guess the bigger shitshow is the gadget blogs devoting all the hours, because Sony gave out more information on the hardware than even Apple usually does with their iPhones, iPods and iPads. The first time Nintendo showed anything about the Wii, it was just the box. Not the controller, specs or any screenshots.

In gaming, the design of the console is getting less and less important. I recently purchased Ni No Kuni. It was the first game in half a year that I needed to touch my console for, since it came on a disc. All the other games where downloaded from the Playstation network.

The console box itself is just a shell for the hardware. The only thing that’s important is the size. You rarely touch the box, you rarely look at it.

They did show all the components of the system that you actually do interact with. Such as the controller and camera. They also showed what services we can expect on the console. And most importantly: they showed games.

A game console is as much about the hardware enclosure as your iPhone is about the servers powering iCloud.